The Opportunities and Barriers of Community

Submitted by Rachel Elizabeth on February 25, 2014 - 12:38pm

Thanks to the support of Rick Goldring, the mayor of Burlington, we had the opportunity to explore community as part of one of his Mayor Roundtables.  Below are some highlights from a high-energy conversation.

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One person talked about how her neighbourhood group did annual Canada Day parties that really helped build a sense of connection and relationships in the community.  This ended up being important because when crisis hit people in the community, there were already the relationships in place to respond and support each other. The parties were big too, often with over 150 people involved in parties.  Since, then the support has waned but some of the relationships have community just in different capacity.

Sports can really bring people together. There were a couple people who were heavily involved in some of the local kids' sports leagues.  One of them shared the story of how soccer was important during turbulent times.  They didn’t hang out with the people they played with outside of sports but during that hour they felt like they belonged, no one judged them for who they were or what they did.  Sports serve as a common language that brings people together across cultures and language barriers.  Brings out your common humanity.  Having fun together.

Though these sports leagues are seen as core building blocks of communit,y there was a frustration that it fell on the shoulders to a small core team of committed individuals (often volunteers) to make the league run.  They wanted more people to get involved.

People talked about why Burlington was important to them: it was a place where they could come and belong.  There is something special about Burlington.  It’s a place where they feel like they belong.  A couple of people, though, expressed frustration at not being able to find a place to live in Burlington. Though they really valued the sense of community they felt with the people in Burlington the price of housing was beyond what they could afford. 

We had a discussion about where is it that people feel a sense of connection.  One of the common answers was the home with family.  For many of the people in the group, this served as the foundation from which they gained strength to face the rest of the world.

What is the common denominator from all of these stories?  One woman talked about how for her, it was relationships that created the deep and authentic relationships.  It doesn’t matter if they see you at your best and at your worst and they still accept you.  Mayor Goldring felt like he belonged in places where it didn’t matter that he was mayor. Where he was just Rick and example of this was his church or the group of guys he played sports with.  He talked about how he built a community through the people he connected with through his daughters sports which seemed to resonate with several people with kids in the group.

We feel a sense of belonging in a place where it is safe for us to be us: our messy imperfect self.  It is safe for us to be us.  The value to have a place where they love you, care for you and push you.  They are invested in you, want you to be the best that you can be.

Another woman in the group spoke with pride about how the community just seemed to come together and make things happen.  Everyone chipped in and helped out with each other.  She runs an organization that is often looking for resources to give to those who do not have enough.  She talked about how she never had problems getting what she needed.  One team she needed winter boots and so she made a call out and boots just came.

One theme was the importance of space.  We talked about how in North Burlington, there is a lot of development being done.  One of the things they struggle with is they do not have spaces, where the community feels a sense of ownership.  In North Burlington, they do not have this so they have to find ways to carve them out meeting in schools and churches.  One person asked, “if we keep meeting in them do they become our spaces with time.  Do they begin to feel like home?”  It is not the physical space but the relationships that exist within the physical space that creates the community.

One of the big barriers that was discussed was all the bureaucracy that stands in the way of community- how permits and insurance are barriers to community action.  A woman talked about how for one of her kid's birthdays, they wanted to have a neighbourhood road hockey game for charity. They had been planning to have the game in the school parking lot so they went and talked with the school about getting permission to do this.  The school responded by saying they did not want to know about any hockey game.  This way they have deniability in case anything bad happens.  They would be required to demand insurance for the event which price’s most people out.  This happens all over the place.  How many community events never get off the ground because of bureaucracy?  How can we streamline this process?