Community is more than the sum parts of physical infrastructure, much more than the social environment in which people live and fundamentally more than the services which people have come to expect. Community is the primarily intangible environment where people co-exist, raise families and build memories. The challenge of building community capacity and subsequently using this capacity to create and maintain a community economy is fraught with perils, some internal and many more which are external. The process, through which this is accomplished, because of its nebulous nature and long term necessities, evolves consistently, encountering many obstacles which often create vulnerability. This vulnerability is a reflection and a microcosm of the community and the people who live there and their own vulnerable nature.
Sudden shocks are very unsettling, the fragility is in the moment, in the short shocks that rattle people, shake their confidence and open the avenues to potential despair. Some moments last a long time and some are so disruptive that they totally unsettle the foundations of community resulting in long lasting effects with the possibility of eventual dissolution of community and all that it means. Once the environment of community is shattered, the sense of community is lost and has to be rebuilt in a whole new context; which is what many communities are now addressing. In many places community will be lost forever leaving its populace adrift.
In true communities people rally, come together and find resolutions to whatever the problems that must be faced. But in these type communities people have commitment to each other and to the intangible environment that is community. In times of radical change people have to dig deep within themselves and ask - what next.
The process of development and evolution, marches slowly forward as people wend their way along the road to community enlightenment, thoughtfulness and activity. This process will influence the communities social and economic environment, if it is given time. It will even influence government policy programs and services and how they are delivered to communities, but this usually takes even more time. For this to happen this community process must be given understanding, appreciation and the support to first help people in communities, especially those experiencing radical change, deal with their anguish and then their required learning. The focus of this learning has to be about themselves, their communities and the opportunities that might be available to them. It is through this learning process that vulnerabilities are shared, reality exposed, common support given and true community experienced.
William (Bill) Pardy is a longtime CED practitioner who splits his time between Corner Brook, Newfoundland, and international assignments. Read more of his articles and contact him at www.wwpardy.com