More on Community-Building

(This piece is a sequel, not that anybody asked for one, to my September 4 musings about community. The above title should not be confused with moron community-building, which has more to do with what results when, smart though we be, we design our individual and collective lives without the time or the space for things that have sustained and enriched us since we lived in caves, igloos and mud huts. Breathe, brother. Breathe. Some of these simple things appear as suggestions below.)

After last week’s mutterings about air conditioners and the sharing of neighbourhoods with strangers, I promised to get positive. So what follows is a list of suggestions I’ve borrowed from a group called Imagine Ottawa, whose prescriptions target this particular city but are easily applicable to any collection of homes and businesses and play places. I’ve had their list on my bulletin board since Earth Day last April, and offer it in CAPITAL LETTERS. I’m not shouting at you; I’m just highlighting some fine ideas, and distinguishing them from my own rambling commentary, which follows in brackets. There are countless sources of sustainable-community thinking (like this one), but here’s an interesting start to thinking about how to make our neighbourhoods feel more like home:

TURN OFF YOUR TV. (Yup, first on the list. Interesting. We all know it’s a great time-sucker, and the idea is to create more time for all the other fine and interactive things that people do together. For all the hype, computers and other media that trumpet their interactivity are a pale substitute for good old-fashioned exchanges with people we know. Too many people are lonely and isolated, and most of our video/audio consumption these days is done by ourselves.  Reminds me of booze. I don’t do alcohol myself, but I’ve always thought that those who insist on never drinking alone are wise. Maybe we could start with the same rule: Don’t video solo.)

LEAVE YOUR HOUSE. (They can be fortresses of loneliness. And here’s a poet who knew: “Whoever you are: some evening take a step outside of your house which you know so well; enormous space is near…” That’s Rainer Maria Rilke. I use this slice of wisdom over and over.)

LOOK UP WHEN YOU’RE WALKING. (Much easier in the small town I grew up in, but it’s one of the mini-windmills I like to tilt at on city streets, too. People are surprised when I catch their eye and nod or pitch a hello, but they seem to like it. Anywhere, it’s good to acknowledge that other people exist. Smiles go miles. And so on.)

PLANT FLOWERS. GARDEN TOGETHER. (Community gardens are about the most radical, exciting urban development going. I want to be my neighbourhood’s Composter in Chief.)

SIT ON YOUR FRONT STEP. (Most of our houses are built backwards. Our front approaches are dominated by cars and garages. Our enjoy-the-outside zones tend to be out back, behind fences, where our neighbours get the message that they are excluded unless we make conscious efforts to invite them.)

TAKE CHILDREN TO THE PARK. PLAY TOGETHER. (It’s one of the perils of affluence: when everybody has everything – tools, sports equipment, entertainment units – nobody needs to share. One author termed it “the poverty of abundance”. I think sharing is a human need, a psychologically enriching thing. Ever noticed how many basketball hoops there are in private suburban driveways, and how seldom they are used? As great as basketball is, it’s more fun to play with others. Kids are more likely to play together when neighbours join together to make/improve/use a play zone in their court or park.)

USE YOUR LIBRARY. (Libraries are public monuments not only to learning but to a shared responsibility for education and the life of the mind. They are temples of equality and a hushed kind of social justice. And they make me crazy with literary lust.)

BUY FROM LOCAL MERCHANTS. (The car-magnet area super-mall is also a kind of temple. But it has more about it of profanity than sacredness, and the people there neither know nor care who you are. Sometimes older folks go there for walks in the winter. I call this making a communal silk purse out of a commercial sow’s ear.)

SUPPORT NEIGHBOURHOOD SCHOOLS. (In Ottawa, our cute little neighbourhood school, two blocks from our house, had been lost before we ever got to know and love it. So our Sam has been a primary school bus rider for three years. The good news? We’ve gotten to know the families who put their kids on the same bus. A bit of silver in that lining.)

FIX IT EVEN IF YOU DIDN’T BREAK IT. (Take that shopping cart back to the grocery store. Pick up a little litter.)

HAVE POTLUCK SUPPERS. ORGANIZE A STREET PARTY ON YOUR BLOCK. (Take a pizza – even better, a casserole – to the new neighbours on their moving day. My girl warmed me with a first-date home-made borscht soup when it was freezing outside. She warms our neighbours with muffins and peach crumble.)

ASK FOR HELP. OFFER YOUR SKILLS. (So often, we look to the Yellow Pages to find a skilled person who might live next door. My neighbour Kuljit put in our new windows. Bernie fixed my light. I did some nerdy editing for Andrea’s résumé and Duncan’s proposal.)

OPEN YOUR WINDOWSHADES. (Open everything.)

The worldwide Bahá’í community has been preaching planetary unity and the inevitability of global peace since the 19th century. The Bahá’ís have always been advocates of world vision, and a grounded, localized expression of that vision. Here in the first decade of a new millennium, I’m fascinated, as a participant/observer of this community’s work, that its core activities are rooted in neighbourhoods. Bring a little spirit. Learn together. Enrich the conversation where we live. Train and encourage the young to be superb neighbours AND world citizens. This is where we live.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *