What’s a community?
Churches sometimes advertise themselves as “communities of faith.” You hear about the “black community,” the “Hispanic community” and the “gay community.” There are community centers and community colleges. Even without opening a dictionary it’s clear that there isn’t just one definition of the word.
I live in Downtown Los Angeles, which, depending on what you read, is revitalized, rejuvenated, enjoying its renaissance, or just plain hopping. A couple of months ago GQ called it “America’s Next Great City.” There’s so much going on here that my husband and I almost never leave, once we’re home in the evening. What a short decade ago was only a loose network of oases of civilization separated by blocks of desolation is now a bustling web of activity, of life. But Downtown LA – DTLA, as we call it – is more than a growing collection of businesses. It’s also a community.
Every time I step outside I see someone I know. In coffee houses, bars, restaurants and shops, folks look up and wave. If you want to stop and chat you can do that; if not, it’s OK just to wave back and keep walking. I’ve lived in several big cities but haven’t ever experienced a situation like this where there’s such a sense of, well, of community.
To be fair, DTLA isn’t Mayberry. Skid Row is just a block or so over yonder, a constant reminder that for all the benefits of rejuvenation (gentrification is the really loaded word, if you ever want to start an argument) our society has a long way to go in the take-care-of-our-own department.
But it’s a nice feeling to know the people who live and work near you.
As I’ve thought about the community where I live, as I’ve deployed the word assuming that everybody knows what it means, I’ve also thought about how it can in fact mean many different things for different people in different contexts.
The important thing is that we get to make our own communities. We can form them geographically or around common interests. Maybe my community is the regulars who hang out at the café on the corner. Maybe yours is your yoga class or your bible study group. We can belong to as many communities as we want. How great is that?
I may never see a yoga mat and you might never have a beer with me at 4th & Main – your coming down here for a beer is far likelier than my doing yoga – but what do you think is happening right this second, as you’re reading about community? Here we are together on mariashriver.com, a true community if there ever was one. It’s “Powered by Inspiration,” after all, and what else do you call a place where people can learn from each other, encourage and empower each other, amuse and support each other?
It seems to me that community is shorthand for strength, encouragement, empowerment, safety, fun. In a community we give and we get all that and more.
I’ve told you about my community downtown. What’s yours?