What comes to mind first when you think about the community you live in? What is your community environment made of? Possibly things like a town hall, or police and fire departments, businesses of course, schools, public utility services, and perhaps some cultural activities. You might also include interest groups, spiritual services, libraries, and parks. Smaller communities may have fewer such resources, and larger ones could offer more.
What about the feelings you have for your community? This could take different forms, for example, comfort about having friends close by, perhaps liking your neighbors, looking forward to a stop at a local store, being able to address a local business owner by first name, or maybe even having some involvement in local organizing or government. But even if you don’t experience any of these and/or have negative feelings about your community, you still do have a feeling reference about where you live. Big or small, Brooklyn, New York, or Carrollton, Alabama, your community carries with it a sense of place.
What is critically important about this sense, and crucial to any way of addressing community development, is that our sense, or feeling for a place, indicates what a community means to us, and what it doesn’t mean: what we have and what we feel is missing.
This state of mind has implications as to what we may want from the place we live. It’s why some of us think about moving somewhere else, and think about it often even if we don’t act on it. And why some of us return, year after year, to a place of special meaning, even if we don’t ever live there.
Personal community and commercial community:
It’s not all the same
Increased access to resources can be an advantage for anyone, and might have greater impact on certain groups like seniors, youth, someone retraining for a career, or immigrants. And it certainly can affect how anyone can feel about the place they live.
These notions of resources, community, and the feeling of being part of an identifiable group are attracting attention in many areas. They are becoming popular themes for business and media content providers. This is a new era of community awareness and community design, a refocusing on the local and the personal, including a new look at the idea of networking.
This refocusing on the smaller group identity is expressed in business and media, with terminology like: community management, community integration, community professionals, VP of Community, community tech, community team, brand communities, community-centric marketing, community platform, community gamification, community advocate, branded customer community, internal and external communities, and of course, online community.
In today’s worlds of community relations and business marketing, there’s tension between two very different ways of viewing community and personal communication: the common online Facebook way of mass marketing, and the smaller more localized or personalized approach.
Community is coming to a town near you!
Just as there is a need for media literacy, we should know something about how the word “community” is being used so we can better understand who is trying to sell us, what their motivations may be, and what alternatives we may have. At the heart of these “community” ideas is one central issue: the way people interact within a defined group.
Big businesses, like Amazon and Facebook, would have us believe that their network services make our lives better and more efficient. And sometimes it seems to work that way. Online networks do represent a kind of community resource, but as to its focus on promoting actual social contact, these services are marginal at best.
The application of managed networking is shifting: businesses and even nonprofits are trying to find ways of relating to more identifiable and smaller groups of people – where everyone can feel more connected. Relationships are being used as networks.
Government resource management
The city of Raleigh, North Carolina, states on the top of its website: “To pursue world-class quality of life by actively collaborating with our community towards a fulfilling and inspired future for all.” And in their mission statement: “To build a stable platform of evolving services for our community through which we champion positive and sustainable growth and realize visionary ideas for all.”
The site reflects a desire to communicate clearly, showing a full range of services and projects offered by the local city government.
The Community Company is the name of a for-profit business that appears to address a trend towards greater community awareness in the entrepreneurial world of business start-ups. One of its founders coauthored a book; here are the first sentences: “This is a book about building relationships. Relationships that exist for mutual benefit. Relationships through which something wonderful can happen. It is a book about community, and community building, and the very real need for connection. It is a book for anyone looking to enhance his or her relationship-making ability, both professionally and personally.” I couldn’t state it any better. The Community Company does brand consulting and content providing.
The number of resource providers competing to become your own will only become more numerous and “insightful” as time goes on. Any of these may prove to be reliable and useful resources, but those closest to home can offer the ability to become known – personally.