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Community building is a field of practices directed toward the creation or enhancement of community among individuals within a regional area (such as a neighborhood) or with a common interest. It is sometimes encompassed under the field of community development.
A wide variety of practices can be utilized for community building, ranging from simple events like potlucks and small book clubs, to larger–scale efforts such as mass festivals and building construction projects that involve local participants rather than outside contractors.
Activists engaged in community building efforts in industrialized nations see the apparent loss of community in these societies as a key cause of social disintegration and the emergence of many harmful behaviors. They may see building community as a means to increase social justice, individual well-being and reduce negative impacts of otherwise disconnected individuals.
Leadership, geography, history, socio-economic status all are traditionally used to explain success of community and its well-being. Robert Putnam in his book Bowling Alone finds that a community's well-being is dependent on the quality of relationships among the citizens of that community. He refers to this as social capital. Social capital creates a sense of belonging thus enhancing the overall health of a community. Putnam goes on to identify and examine the decline of social capital in America. Pressures of time and money, suburbanization, the effect of electronic entertainment, and perhaps most importantly the generational change appear to have all been contributing factors in the decline of social capital. Public libraries are anchor institutions that promise visions of community and establish a sense of place. In times of disaster and economic struggle public libraries are the heart of their communities.
"We must learn to view the world through a social capital lens," said Lew Feldstein of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation and co-chair of the Saguaro Seminar. "We need to look at front porches as crime fighting tools, treat picnics as public health efforts and see choral groups as occasions of democracy. We will become a better place when assessing social capital impact becomes a standard part of decision-making."...
Peter Block in the book Community: The Structure of Belonging (pg. 29) states "The context that restores community is one of possibility, generosity, and gifts, rather than one of problem solving, fear, and retribution." This context allows a new conversation to take place. It requires its citizens to act authentic by choosing to own and exercise their power rather than delegating to others what is in the best interest of that community. Focus must be inclusive for all, not just the leaders but each and every citizen of that community.
While building a community, beliefs are at the base of that community. A few of those beliefs are regarding ethics, values, spirituality, human rights and diversity. While building upon those beliefs, learning is necessary. This learning takes place through team learning. Mental models must be acknowledged, providing an arena for creative tension. Knowledge is gained through the collective. Verbal, non-verbal communication can be expressed through cultural, ritual, ceremony and sharing of a community’s history. Communication involves analytical intelligence. Emotional intelligence made up of self-awareness, self-regulation and motivation also are integral. Using social intelligence to understand others, provide leadership and engage in co-operation is also needed. With a sense of belonging developing, conversation, possibilities, commitment, connection and loyalty are sown. With caring, sustainability provides a breeding ground for sacrifice and unselfishness.
"Community is something we do together. It's not just a container," said sociologist David Brain. Infrastructure, roads, water, sewer, electricity and housing provides the shell within which people live. It is within this shell that people do the things together that allow them to sustain livelihoods. These include but are not limited to education, health care, business, recreation, and spiritual celebration. People working together with shared understandings and expectations are what provide a place of strong community.
- Putnam, Robert D. (2000) Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (Simon & Schuster, New York).
- McCook, Kathleen de la Peña. A Place at the Table: Participating in Community Building. Chicago: American Library Association, 2000.
- Block, Peter (2008) Community: The Structure of Belonging (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. San Francisco).
- Brain, David, "Placemaking and Community Building," Presentation at the University of Miami School of Architecture (Coral Gables, Fl: March 2004).