[Hpn] Fw: Community ["Will work for Food"]
Mon, 21 Aug 2000 09:36:37 -0500
In a message dated 8/18/00 8:06:23 AM US Mountain Standard Time,
<< But the homeless people and felons I've worked with all agree that holding
those signs can be more lucrative than working 9 to 5. As long as our society
defines our worth by our income, those sign carriers are more "successful" as
entrepreneurs than many of us service providers!
It seems the only thing stronger--and more readily available--than quick
profits is community. So why is community building so low on our national
priority lists? >>
Starting with the last question: In order to lift 'community-building' to a
higher priority, wouldn't we need to define what we mean by 'community'?
After years of trying to do just this (and feeling like the efforts have
largely failed), I wonder if the government (any part of it) has any idea
what this means. Actually, I don't think so.
Is community synonymous with place? Or people?
If community is place, then why don't all our efforts to clean up,
'revitalize' properties, demolish dumps, entice infill, paint and prune,
plant trees, install sidewalks, landscape, etc. result in the body of
residents of same area becoming more caring, involved, respectful of each
other and united in a common purpose/goal/vision/whatever?
If community is place, then why do we insist that it has a common formula?
Why must it have diversity: of housing (everything from mini-mansions to
HUD-subsidized apartments), of wealth (CEOs to sign-carriers), of ethnicity
(proper ratios of whites and minorities), etc.? If community is place, why do
we work so hard to change communities like Sunnyvale (An Interesting Zoning
Case) OR a ghetto IF the residents of both are caring (of and for each
other), involved in their small corner of their world, respectful of each
other and united in a common purpose/goal/vision/whatever, and - more to the
point - don't want our 'helpful' changes?
If community is people, then why don't all our efforts to 'help' the poor,
disenfranchised, homeless (or victim by any other name) by such means as
paying off the sign-carriers, providing an endless list of free stuff,
enrolling them in program after program, subsidizing
food/rent/transportation/whatever, result in people who become more caring,
involved, respectful of others, resolved to give back, goal-oriented and
If community is people, why would we destroy a small commune of homeless
people hidden in scrub growth along a river (this happened here) and insist
on moving them into homeless shelters/programs or scattering them to the
winds? Why would we level a ghetto in a thinly veiled condemnation action
(that happened here), break up generations of families and friends, scatter
them across the city in much better housing and call that progress? If
community is people, why then can't those people choose for themselves what
it will be?
Our approaches to these two very different versions of community vary with
the type. If the community is defined as place, the government will treat the
nouveau riche on Snob Hill (in-charge people) very differently than the
poor/immigrant/homeless (not-in-charge/victims) in the ghetto. In the first
case, government provides topnotch services, responds in a heartbeat to
complaints and otherwise stays out of residents lives. In the second case,
government barely provides basic services, but is quick to target these areas
for federal/state/local programs, all designed to 'uplift' the 'community'.
Government views the Snob Hill folks as bosses and the ghetto folks as
'customers' for their services.
If the community is defined as people, government views the rich and powerful
as useful, appointing them to leadership positions and enlisting them in
campaigns to raise taxes, build sports stadiums, sell bonds, stop violence,
clean up the air, etc., etc. Government tends to view its
poor/homeless/immigrant/undesirable populace as either threatening or
threatened. Their response is either big brother or nanny. As big brother, it
keeps a watchful eye on panhandlers, peddlers, prostitutes, transients and
others, especially if they gather in groups (community?) in an area that
generates a lot of profit to the first-mentioned set. As nanny, it views
poor/immigrant populations as victims, unable to make decisions, care for
themselves (particularly their children) and surely discontent with their
station in life.
So, what is community? If community is place-oriented, should I simply work
on physical improvements and give up lofty notions of involving residents
with each other and their government? If it is people-oriented, should I give
up on improving the place and do more to bring people together (in bowling
leagues?) and try to get folks more involved with each other and our
What do we mean by community? And who should be trying to build it? Insiders
or outsiders? Is it, after all, a concept as ethereal as a unicorn?