A Theory of Community

 

  1. Human beings are innately social. We live together in groups.

  2. Living together brings a number of benefits: we can protect ourselves, we can pool resources, we can find safety when vulnerable due to illness, we can raise children, we can better shelter ourselves from elements. These things motivate our group life. In part, they are why we live in society rather than apart.

  3. Living together also brings with it a set of challenges, related directly to the benefits:
    • Crime. Fellow group members threaten us (either physically, or our property). How do we protect ourselves?
    • Economy. The place in which we live become a locus of exchange. How do we make it one where we can thrive?
    • Poverty. Differences in how exchange takes place creates some who have too few resources. What do we do about people who have trouble surviving (poverty)?
    • Health. Proximity brings with it increased disease. We depend on others to care for us when vulnerable. How do we care for group members?
    • Education. Our young ones must acquire the norms and habits that we require of one another. How do we create citizens of our group?
    • Environment. The byproducts of life become concentrated (waste, extraction of resources). How can we manage this?

  4. These challenges are not problems to be solved, but conditions to be managed. The possible ways to address them are myriad, require collective actions, and there is not an objectively correct outcome.

  5. Any group of people living together in a place will face such challenges. These are the challenges that come with being a “community.”

  6. These problems, in varying degree, face everyone in the group. Everyone is therefore trying, in their own ways to address them. This is happening throughout the group, always.
One definition of community:
  • The places where, and collective means by which, such opportunities and challenges are collectively addressed.

Notes and Comments from Rockville Town Square and Town Center Community Meeting, 10/9/2018

I attended a community meeting (10/9/2018) to discuss Rockville Town Square and Town Center this evening. Many thanks to Mayor Newton, the City Council, city staff, the Rockville Chamber of Commerce, Federal Realty Investment Trust, and VisArts for making it happen. It was an important meeting — hopefully the first of many.

43505838_10155539988392553_3325004118233186304_oSo many important local elected officials attended: Mayor Bridget Newton, City Councilmembers Beryl Feinberg, Virginia Onley, Julie Palakovich Carr, and Mark Pierzchala, State Senator Cheryl Kagan, State Delegate Kumar Barve, County Councilmembers Marc Elrich and Sidney Katz. I also saw former Mayor Larry Giammo and former City Councilmember Tom Moore. I am certain I missed others who were there that I just did not see.

I did not intend to make any significant reports, but it seemed like it might be helpful to do so. So I started to keep track of the statements that jumped out at me. This is just my own list of what struck me — it is not complete nor comprehensive. I organized the statements into “concerns,” “ideas for solutions,” and “other thoughts.” They are roughly in order that I heard them or thought to jot them down. Others can add to them.

Strong concerns:

  • Parking — cost, confusion, convenience
  • Rents for businesses
  • Smoking & homeless (expressed by police)
  • Need more density for viability
  • Duplicitous Federal Realty behavior (multiple business complaints)
  • “Losing the heart of the city” (small independent business)
  • Ice rink up too long, how about Nov-Feb?
  • Families let down — mix of businesses (“reasonable retail” toy store, haircut)
  • Who gets the parking money?
  • Loss of Dawson’s as community hub

Ideas suggested:

  • Make Dawson’s a coop
  • Invest in the arts as a magnet
  • Transit infrastructure — improve connection with Metro
  • Local business kickbacks to draw local small business (eg Seven Locks Brewery)
  • Frequent shuttle from Montgomery College
  • Fight as a community to keep Dawson’s
  • Permanent farmers’ market
  • Eastern Market-style market
  • 4 hour free parking
  • City-Federal Realty ombudsperson
  • Dog park nearby (across from Starbucks)
  • Raise parking charge — reduce rent proportionately to better keep business
  • Target local businesses (eg Compass Coffee) and provide incentives
  • Think about how you want to spend your money the next time you shop online

Other ideas:

  • Properly identify the problem first — what problem are we trying to solve?
  • Federal Realty should do more to develop relationships with current business tenants (“how is it going, how was your month?”)
  • A resident: “I want t be on a committee” that works on this
  • West side of 270 (and elsewhere outside of the central area) disenfranchised
  • This meeting could have been a conversation not just a feedback session; residents have questions that could be answered and discussed in the room instead of waiting for an email response
  • Another meeting in two weeks

My own thoughts: The concerns and energy expressed by the standing-room and overflow crowd were overwhelming. I hope that we can turn this from an initial discussion into something more meaningful. It would be a mistake, I think, to leave everything in the hands of JUST the City, or JUST Federal Realty. I think some sort of ongoing mechanism for shared responsibility between the City, Federal Realty, local business owners, community members, and others would be a great step. If we had a way to create a sense of joint ownership of our shared space — tonight’s energy convinces me we would ALL benefit.

As one resident said, enthusiastically: “I want to be on a committee that works on this!” I hope many others do, too.

 

The Pioneers of Courage

Independence Day is my favorite holiday of the year. The day we declared ourselves a free people. Our efforts were imperfect then, our freedom parsimoniously shared, our efforts remained imperfect through the decades, and they are imperfect now. We have much progress to make. But I relish this day, as I meditate on the courage — born of frustration and injustice — that our forebears showed in collectively saying “enough.” It was treason. Its success was unlikely. I imagine some felt as if they were signing their own death warrants, should the effort have failed.

When I am alone and fearful, in the dark mornings, contemplating some challenge, some task, some call to action that I must answer yet before which I feel cowardly — I think about them, and other pioneers of courage. If they could act, under much harsher conditions than I will ever face, then so must I be able.

Photo by A. Jarrell

And this courage is and has been on display not just on national matters of consequence. My neighbors display it. I see it all around. People quietly, courageously solving the local problems we encounter every day. I believe we are living in times upon which we will look back and say, “there began the rebirth of communities.” And the rebirth will have emerged as a result of national dysfunction. Here, where we live together, we face challenges. No force from on high will intervene. The mechanisms have ground to a halt.

So here we are.

Our nation is not some institution, some complicated mechanism established and set in motion. It grew. It emerged from villages, towns, cities — communities. It remains a land of communities, knit together by a mixture of geography and of ideas.

I am not blind to injustice nor infamy. I am not blind, either, to the precarious place the globe has become. But I feel I cannot afford to be overcome by despair nor by rage.

Today, the anniversary of our declaration of independence, I will spend time with neighbors and with family. And I will reflect on how best to improve my immediate surroundings. From a thousand, nameless, similar small acts, this land of communities might start to heal itself.

That is what I am thinking about today.

Complementary Production and the Village of Hawk Creek

The story of Tom Newman and the Village of Hawk Creek gives a good example of “complementary production” (the kind I was trying to describe here).

There is a man, Tom Newman, in Cleveland, Tennessee who has spent years slowly gathering five frontier log cabins to his property and turning it into a kind of museum:

Over a period of more than 40 years, Newman purchased five log cabins, carefully taking each one apart, moving them to his property and meticulously putting them back together again.

Not only is he interested in capturing and preserving the life of colonists on the frontier of Tennessee, Newman said he wants to share a message with today’s youth.

“I want to show young people the skills and the hard work that it took the early settlers to build their house, to build their home,” Newman said. “I took those logs down, moved them in here and put them back up. That’s hard work! But that’s nothing compared to what those pioneers had to live with. I think young people need to know a little bit about that, if they can. This land was built on hard work.”

The default is to think of “schools” as being in charge of schooling students. (In fact we even call them “learners.”) If instead we think of “education of youth,” and not “schooling,” as a multifaceted and community-wide challenge, that will necessarily involve a wide array of actors, then possibilities open up. You will then look for solutions that involve more than just institutions (“schools”) and professionals (“educators” and administrators) and that are likely to involve complementary actions. Hawk Creek is one such part of a community response to the challenge.

Note that Newman is doing this thing because he is interested, but he is importantly connecting with others in the community and he sees it as an educational resource. The people of Cleveland, TN have an educational resource now that they did not have. Institutions called “schools” can now imagine new ways to, potentially, “teach” history.