For Release October 9, 2001
What Does It Take To Make A Community?
by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent
I am known as a techno-guy. The neo-typical denizen of the digital domain. So it comes as quite a shock when people find out that I am very fond of books. I have a great love for the printed page, especially older books. My secretary’s daughter knows I like books and recently stumbled across one that she thought I would like.
This small paperback book is called The Community Handbook. It lacks a copyright date, but in the foreword there is mention of a 1935 survey. Based on that, and other references, it was probably published in the mid to late 1930s. It was published by the Progressive Farmer-Ruralist Company in Birmingham, Alabama. It was written for people (farmers) living in rural areas that were striving to develop a sense of rural community. It covers the entire range of organization, how to run meetings, activities for youth to senior citizens as well as marketing and publicity. As I have read it, over the past two months, it has struck me that this 65 year old document has a lot to say to any community in the 21st century.
What is it that makes a community? Is a collection of homes in a village, town or city a community? Is a group of rural homesteads up and down a creek a community? No. These are nothing more than an assemblage of living and working establishments. They are merely structures where we spend our time. Perhaps it is nothing more than word play, but I consider it much like the difference between a house and a home. A house does not become a home until life and all of its activities fully encompass that house. When a family moves into that house and personalize it with all their activities, then it becomes a home.
A community is not houses, schools, businesses and the infrastructure that holds them together. A community is not all the people that live within a designated geographic boundary. It, or they, does not become a community until, as the authors of this book state it, "..there develops among the people a common feeling of loyalty, pride, and identity of interest."
The Community Handbook goes on to point out that for the community to truly develop there must be: community organization, community self-knowledge and community centers. The organization can come in many forms, but it must be the community agreeing on what these organizations stand for and strive towards. Community self-knowledge is nothing more than the community finding out who it is and what it wants. Community centers can be schools, churches, town halls, civic and social groups, even libraries. They are anything that brings members of the community together for common purpose. In other words, we have to know who "we" are, and what "we" want.
Two things kept coming around as recurring themes. The word common is used over and over. A community must find its common interests and common goals. It must do that by asking, discussing and respecting what everyone has to say. The other recurring theme was that the community needed to do all this work themselves. Mention was regularly made of where to go for more information, but ultimately the work of developing and maintaining "the community" had to come from the members of the community.
Decades later, there is still so much truth in this little book. Communities still must find their common missions themselves and they still must work hard at trying to reach the common goals. A community doesn’t just happen. A community can not be purchased off the shelf. Each community must be made, and it is hard work that requires everyone’s time and effort.
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