Creating Our Community

I am reading Peter Block’s (so far) excellent book Community: The Structure of Belonging. He builds his thoughts on living in community upon several different philosophical foundations, but they all lead to the idea that we‘re better together, and knows that each member of a community has gifts to contribute. This differs from the current, most prevalent model that says a community or neighborhood must be viewed as a group of people with needs or problems to be fixed. Block calls this the “stuck community.” The stuck community focuses on fear, problems, increasing laws and oversight, and depending heavily on leaders and systems to solve a community’s problems. Citizens very often end up feeling powerless and unwilling to take ownership in their own futures. We focus too much on the past and are convinced that not much will change. So why try?

Block flips this idea on its head. I love the language he suggests we use when talking about community renewal. He believes that “the most organizing conversation starter is ‘What do we want to create together?’ (page 25). How would our neighborhoods and communities change if we asked that question instead of the ones we often ask, such as “What are we going to do about the crime?” or “Who is going to clean up that mess?”

So what do we want to create? Thinking this way opens up a world of possibilities. At the risk of putting words in your mouth or thoughts in your head, I’ve listed a few ideas to get us started:

  • We want to create a community that considers everyone valuable
  • We want to create a neighborhood where each person has the opportunity to belong
  • We want to create a city park for our neighborhood
  • We want to create a block where we look out for our neighbors and no one is a stranger

Because each individual and group will have creative and different answers to this question, each group can respond to their own hopes, dreams, gifts, and assets instead of waiting for someone else to make them happen. It’s the kind of grass-roots action that people get excited about; that gets things—important, life-giving things—done.

What do we want to create together?