Community: For good or for evil?


The idea of community is a hot topic for several different fields of profession and interest. sociologists, economists, political scientists, city and urban planners, social workers, architects, business men (and women), presidents (thats right, of the United States), organizations of faith … all take part in a conversation that is more of a debate than anything else concerning ‘community.’ The main question arising: what is community? Is it a geographical area? Is it the atmosphere of an institution? Is it a gathering of people? Is it a similar concern or goal? Pastors and authors and websites discuss the very nature of the word ‘community’ and what exactly is meant when it is talked about. Sometimes there is an agreement, sometimes there is not. But for certain, the word ‘community’ is loaded with meaning. For example, Los Angeles may be a community, but so is the greater LA area. So is southern California. And just the same, the fashion district of LA is a community, too. And so is the Armenian community of LA. What about China town? and Korea town? And little Russia? Are not these all communities within the community of Los Angeles? How, then, we can we possibly grasp any concept of community that is not only understandable, but agreeable?

Of course, this is hard. Perhaps a great reason for why there is often a lack of community involvement in some places. Who can participate in a community that they cant even name, or pin point, or describe? For the sake of this conversation, lets let ‘community’ mean a geographical place where several people have similar interests and goals and the people work together for a common good amongst each other.

As a new urban studies student at the University of Washington, many of my classes deal with ideas just as these — ideas of urbanization, and development, and community and even economy. I have professors who have Phd’s in urban planning and geographical information systems and society development, and I often feel over my head drowning in terms and theories and ideas of practice. Names like Lewis Mumford and Jane Jacobs are thrown out left and right… and I do my best to grab hold of some sort of train of thought that might lead to understanding. this is one of those train of thoughts…

I’ve always thought of community as my neighborhood or my city. As I’ve matured, and my thinking did so as well, I felt more and more that my school must be a community, too. So was my volleyball team. And my church. And my Facebook network. The idea of community, then, became endless. There is a great church discussion about establishing community within the hearts of the people. In my community development class this quarter, we focus on just that. the ‘how-to’ develop community. We study how bringing inclusion and goal-orientation and bonding to a group is the answer to human realities like poverty, crime, injustice, and broken families. The rise of a community is a rise of voice and a rise of authority and democracy.

But is ‘community’ as white and fluffy as it sounds?Tthere couldn’t possibly be a reason why anyone would be against ‘community,’ right?

Perhaps the book of ‘community’ should not be judged by its pretty cover. The very notion of community has actually left thousands, maybe even millions, of people feeling outcast. Community is a term of exclusion. There is a sense of oppression that runs hand in hand with any idea of “integration” and “inclusion.” With integration, there always comes segregation. and with inclusion, there is always abandonment. the general argument against community, here, is that ‘community’ oppresses the person who simply does not meet the desired mold.

Must ‘community’ only be approached with a utilitarian perspective? A gated ‘community’ may be the greatest good for a middle class suburban neighborhood, but what about the low-income peoples who are now left to live in the suburban slums, like downtown suburbia? An upscale business community complete with a shopping center is great for the working class, but what about the pregnant mother? What kind of community will this be for her? And if this community attracts mainly the white population, there is an even greater segregation between races now. With this segregation comes rivalry. Rivalry between races has been the origin of fights, gangs, crime, poverty, fear to live in one’s own neighborhood, etc…

So the real concern is ‘community,’ for good or for evil? Ff the community is a step forward for society, great! But if it’s not, if it promotes and adds to segregation and oppression, what, then, is the answer?

I have several classes and books and years ahead of me before,Ii believe, an answer as great as this one might be well understood.

The last article I read by E.F. Schumacher was about community and economy discussing the role of economics. Schumacher argued that economic activity and policy has done so little for the development of communities and community life. He argued that economics have played a role that has done little to engage with human realities. His last note in the article was that there is no democracy or freedom in economics if they do nothing to solve poverty, and injustice and abandonment. His solution: a fresh start.

As an end to this post: Schumache’rs last remarks: “Are there not indeed enough ‘signs of time'” to indicate that a new start is needed?”

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