The oft referenced ‘Wikipedia’ offers the following definition of community:
“A group of interacting people, living in some proximity (i.e., in space, time, or relationship). Community usually refers to a social unit larger than a household that shares common values and has social cohesion.”
Experiences of Community
As I’ve mentioned previously on this blog, I grew up in Hamilton within a townhouse condominium complex at the (then) fringe of the urban area. I have incredibly fond memories of my time there.
In my early years, there were many children of similar age living in our complex and we made full daily use of the basketball court and playground equipment on-site as well as the nearby meadow, forest stands and farmer’s fields. Our parents took turns hosting the kiddie pool in their yard (my mom always added bubbles) and there were frequent community yard sales, BBQ’s and evening drinks in the common areas on summer weekends. If I fell and scraped my knee, I could go to almost any door for comfort and a band-aid. If a child were behaving poorly, any one of the adults nearby felt comfortable in providing some direction. Doors were generally unlocked and with our closest neighbours there was a knock, holler and enter policy in effect. If a neighbour were ill, there was someone to water their flowers or grab a few things for them at the store. These experiences have shaped my understanding of ‘community’.
Sadly, over the years the condo complex has seen some significant changes. The basketball net was removed as a result of complaints about the noise of the bouncing ball; the playground equipment was taken out shortly afterwards due to concerns about injury and liability; and, the beautiful shade trees in the common area were removed due to interference of their roots with underground utilities. Adding injury to insult, a few years later, the local pharmacy & grocery store were converted to offices when the large corporations that owned them decided to merge their neighbourhood stores into mega-stores in a new commercial mall several city blocks away.
Today, a handful of the same residents remain and it’s always nice to catch up and see some friendly faces – but when I return to the place it feels very different. You see, the people aren’t outside. There are no kids running amok. There are no parents hustling down the sidewalk to get to the grocery store with kids in tow. People seem to go from their car to their door and back out again.
Community in Meaford
In honesty, I think that one of the reasons why I moved to, and have remained in Meaford is that I have found a similar sense of community here. There is a warmth about this place. At the coffee shop, they know my name and my favourite treat. My daughter is on a first name (and hug-giving) basis with the staff at our downtown grocery store and when you walk down the street, people smile and say hello.
I’ve recently been trying to convince some family members to move to the area from the city and in listing our local services and attributes I realize that one of the most important assets, our civic identity and social cohesion, is exactly what is hardest to put down on paper. How do you label, list or weigh the joy on your three year-olds face when they realize that an unknown passer-by has dressed the naked snowman they built the day before?
Given my appreciation of this incredible asset, I am even more so appreciative of my role with the Municipality. Our Official Plan identifies that
“ it is the intent of this (Official) Plan, to provide Council with the tools to consider and mitigate the impacts of change on the qualities that make the Municipality a desirable place to live.”Most certainly ‘community’ is one such quality - one that I feel privileged to have an opportunity to foster through my work.