Living in a Strong Community
–by Neal Lemery
“One of the marvelous things about community is that it enables us to welcome and help people in a way we couldn’t as individuals. When we pool our strength and share the work and responsibility, we can welcome many people, even those in deep distress, and perhaps help them find self-confidence and inner healing.”
― Jean Vanier, Community And Growth
I’ve been taking a look at my community, and wondering how we measure up, in these challenging times, when some are wondering if our society is in decline.
Here’s a checklist of seven attributes of a healthy community:
- Good governance
- Walkable, connected, mixed-use character
- Parks and gardens
- Neighborhood-responsive schools
- Tree culture
Being in community is vital to my own mental health and emotional well-being. Given the continual national stream of tragic events fueled by racism, prejudice, bigotry, and selfishness, I often feel the weight of despair and hopelessness. I am increasingly more sensitive to reaching my limit of how much of that “news cycle” and horror I can be exposed to.
Much of that angst is relieved when I immerse myself in building up my community, and being present with others who are caring, selfless people engaged in taking care of themselves and each other in these turbulent, emotionally exhausting times.
In my town, we are doing it right. I think we get high marks on Scott Doyon’s list of a healthy, engaged community.
In the past three years, the state highway department has funded a major revamping of the traffic pattern (our previously confusing junction of two major highways), narrow downtown streets, and a dilapidated, underused waterfront.
This week, we are celebrating the completion of that project, as well as other efforts by the city and the business community to rejuvenate and invigorate the downtown, making it a welcoming and prosperous town.
Now, we have new sidewalks, a smoother flowing traffic pattern, a town pedestrian plaza, bike paths, a food truck cart center, bike racks, a fresh look in two waterfront parks, and a walkway encouraging people to walk to other parks and attractions. New bridges span the slough at the north edge of the downtown. New landscaping adds a fresh, inviting look. The local restaurant scene is vigorous and inviting. Open mics, featuring local musicians and writers, are now the norm.
Downtown merchants have also gotten on board, with renovations, fresh paint, and interesting shops. We have a number of new downtown events, including a monthly Art Walk, a thriving community art gallery, and a museum which not only showcases local artists, but a continuing schedule of regionally renown speakers and presenters.
Community organizations are thriving, and numerous activities are filling up the community calendar with a wide variety of events for every interest. New ideas are being discussed, and plans are underway for even more activities and ways to build a healthier community. We have a “can do” attitude now.
Our “Year of Wellness”, a public health collaborative to focus on ways to improve individual and community health, has brought together the entire spectrum of health service agencies, government, and individuals to collaborate on improving public health and a sense of community spirit. We are challenging ourselves to live healthier, more informed lives, and doing it from the ground up. Grass roots activism at its finest! We’ve decided a year wasn’t long enough for the tasks we identified, and now the work is seen as long term, with increasingly challenging and meaningful goals. Community wellness is now part of our collective experience.
The library is spearheading the building of a new downtown park, and library programs are enjoying wide popularity, engaging the community on a variety of experiences and informative activities for all ages. Public use of the library is setting records.
Teachers are developing state of the art educational experiences for students, and we are becoming increasingly well informed about the impact of childhood trauma, domestic violence, hunger, and addiction recovery.
The best part of all this is that we have a sense of belonging here. Each of us is important, and each of us is a valued contributor to the common good, the whole community. An individual has something unique to offer, and is a valued, unique player in the common effort. I feel I belong here, and so do all my neighbors.
In this town, one person makes the difference, and others listen to their voice, and value their experience, their perspective, and their talents. And, we have the will power and the courage to take on the difficult, ugly issues that our community, and the nation, has. Much of the work is hard, and the tasks are daunting at times. We don’t always achieve 100% success, but we are trying and we see a lot of progress in what we are trying to accomplish. And, that feels really good.
In this town, there is hope, and there is a sense of collective purpose. We are committed to be winners, and the changers that create a better world. Now, we are a town of optimism and determination.
Community partnerships are everywhere, knitting together our community fabric in a fresh spirit of resolve and collaboration. There’s an attitude of “get it done” and pitching in to just do it.
As my friends say around town, “Onward!”