It’s not as though Canadians approach the onset of fall by stocking their shelves and bundling up in their parkas. No. When nature begins to close the gate of good weather and jack frost hints at the months to come, we’re determined to enjoy the remainder of above freezing temperatures and all the sandal wearing weather the season will permit.
There’s a huge opportunity for good in this annual interim period.
As we stand shivering at the thought of snow storms and winter boots, we should take a moment to greet those around us, exchange a few kind words, and strengthen our most important civic asset, neighbourliness.
Each business and individual has networking connections it creates through its activities, much as a spider forms its web. When those ties are made on the basis of common attributes, such as language or interest or even type of computer (I’m a Mac man myself), then all members of this group are united by an association. Common purpose and strength flow from our concentration in these groups, but we should be careful not to mistake interests for communities.
They are commonalities. Our sharing of an attribute.
As members of cultural associations, social groups- both person to person and online, and clubs we affirm important values that lend strength to those shared attributes, but none of them define us.
However, as an iberophile twittering speedskater with a nostalgic affection for briquets, I am on my way to a unique combination of interests and abilities (or in the case of my speedskating a lack thereof) that helps define me.
Returning to our spider’s web analogy, we can now see a different approach to the ties that bind. No other business or individual has the diversity of connections that is unique to you. It is a pattern of relationship of which you are the centre. Like association, it also brings purpose and strength, but in this case unique. How do we access this web? Through you!
In contrast to commonality, community is that happy accident of individuals who find themselves associated by mere proximity. An I–belong-because-I-am-here sort of thing. New arrivals are automatically included, since they are also here. Easy. No choices.
The basic unit of this community is “the neighbour”. Diversity is a given, since each neighbour brings a unique pattern of interests and connections that is his network web. Respect is the common currency, since a failure to recognise the unique qualities in others denigrates my own.
It is only here, through this portal of understanding regarding the diversity of relationships around us, that civility is cared for and practiced. Only the idea of “neighbour” carries within it the seed of citizenry, and for this seed to grow and flourish here are a few simple gardening tips for planting your winter wheat.
Fall is a great time to discover your personal neighbourhood, and the benefits of strong connections within it. As a business or individual, take time to stand in the street and look up and down, across and over. Who are all these people raking their leaves and sipping their coffee, members of this Canadian hiber-nation? How do I connect?
Taking a moment to organise an activity that brings neighbours together, connecting through diversity rather than commonality, can be as simple as issuing invitations for a potluck, creating an online forum for community discussion, organising a pumpkin carving party, or celebrating our environment with a creek cleanup. Anything that brings neighbours together, with invitations to all, will create connections.
The benefits of strong neighbourhoods in time of crisis and emergency are well-known, as are the savings in public funds for medical and social services that flow from quality relations among neighbours. Our informal network of trust and care means support in so many small ways, avoiding expensive programs and interventions that inevitably must flow from neglecting our everyday duties as neighbours.
Many communities have active programs to target volunteerism and community activity. Kitchener has a unique example in its Festival of Neighbourhoods, a community-capacity building initiative supported by my architectural firm, the City of Kitchener, and the Social Planning Council of Kitchener-Waterloo.
Now in its seventeenth year, the festival asks citizens, businesses, and institutions to think of themselves as the centre of their own unique neighbourhood. Perhaps just a few streets around your school or church, the houses around your park, or even the stairs and corridors of your apartment building or condo can form this community.
Each has neighbours who can benefit one another by coming together, meeting, and linking their unique network “webs”.
By taking this small initiative, diverse connections are made that strengthen our community as a whole, promote shared understanding, tolerance, and build our capacity to help one another. Kitchener’s Festival of Neighbourhoods has the added advantage of information, encouragement, and
a festive Grand Finale, held October 24th at Kitchener City Hall.
In addition to awards and recognition for registered neighbourhoods and their activities, one lucky neighbourhood will win a $10,000 capital grant, from ballots drawn at the finale itself.
For information on the Festival and fun ideas for reaching your neighbours, visit www.kitchener.ca and follow the award program links to Festival of Neighbourhoods, or drop us a line at entries@festivalof neighbourhoods.ca.