Community is a verb

By: By Sheelagh Matthews

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Aug 06, 2014 01:33 pm

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High school graduates know about it. Retirees know about it. People moving to new jobs know about it.

It’s the total feeling of loss and fear one has when leaving a familiar community behind. Whether moving on to a new school, a new lifestyle, or a new job, it always seems we’ve got to be willing to do the hard work involved when it comes to making new friends and finding a new niche.

Even when cities and towns experience population booms, some people might fear losing what they had back in the good old days, like a taken-for-granted green space that’s about to become a housing or commercial development.

To me there’s no better definition of good luck than to live in a community where our values are embraced and honoured. But, there’s more than just luck involved when it comes to making this happen. It takes a whole of lot of had work, too.

Which is why I believe it’s not enough to think of community in terms a noun. Community is not just a way of describing a group of people or plants or animals who live in a certain region.

Community is also about putting in the effort to build, shape, and nurture a place in which you and your fellow beings can thrive.

This sort of work is not easily tasked out. It involves imagination, creativity, vision, daring, discussion, risk, and, of course, realization.

Community is not for the faint of heart; only the brave and bold need apply!

Placemaking is one of the ways to think of building a community with a shared vision. According to The City Repair’s Placemaking Guidebook, “Placemaking is as much about psychological ownership and reclamation of space as it is about physically building a space.”

Creating parks and public gathering places where people can interact with others—instead of adding to the epidemic of isolation thanks to our automobile-dominated culture—are part of placemaking.

Participatory democracy is at the heart of placemaking, and things can get pretty exciting when people realize their deeper relationships with each other create more momentum to directly transform where they live.

Instead of languishing in a world of blaming “them” and “they” for our discontent, all of a sudden it’s “we” and “us” who are making connections and finding creative solutions to collective challenges. How great is that?

One of the things often forgotten in our busy modern world is the notion of the “commons.” This refers to those things that belong to the community as a whole; like the water we drink, the air we breathe, the soil in which our food grows, the wild spaces we leave untouched, and so on.

British businessman and investor, Jeremy Grantham, often discusses the commons in his essays on economics.

This is what he said in February 2012, in what Grantham called his Longest Quarterly Letter Ever: “Damage to the “commons,” known as “externalities,” has been discussed for decades, although the most threatening one—loss of our collective ability to feed ourselves, through erosion and fertilizer depletion—has received little or no attention. There have been no useful tricks proposed, however, for how we will collectively impose sensible, survivable, long-term policies over problems of the “commons.”

To leave it to capitalism to get us out of this fix by maximizing its short-term profits is dangerously naïve and misses the point: capitalism and corporations have absolutely no mechanism for dealing with these problems, and seen through a corporate discount rate lens, our grandchildren really do have no value.”

Hmmm. If you’re having a bit of an ah-ha moment right now, join the club.

I had mine when I figured out that if I didn’t like what was going on around me, it might be because I wasn’t making the effort to offer up any alternative options for consideration.

Yes, it takes time and effort to figure out which alternatives might be best to suggest under certain circumstances. But, it’s worth the effort, and can be fun and invigorating especially when done in the company of others. Thinking and acting like community is a verb, and developing a shared vision as to how our communities look, feel, and function, including taking care of the commons—now that’s in our best interest.

For more in your best interest, follow Sheelagh @sheesays or visit her blog at


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