Community. What does that mean to you? Having a local farmer’s market once a week? A community theatre project? Lots of festivals and musical events around town? Municipal garbage collection and snow plowing?
Personally, I struggle with what community really means. And, quite frankly, it probably has a different definition and ideal to everyone. Everybody has a different level of comfort with how social and “out in the community” they can handle. And maybe overcoming a lifetime of learning that competition for resources is the only way to build not only strong character, but a strong nation… is too much for some to overcome. At the very least it’s apparent that community is fostered through cooperation, not competition. Competing for resources sets up an “us vs. them” attitude that is, in the long run, counterproductive.
As Lyle Estill puts it in his recent Small is Possible: Life in a Local Economy, humans can compete very well, but they can also cooperate very well. And in order to replace the defunct notion of Big Brother government handling our “homeland security” he argues that it’s really in our own best interest to build community, and hence local security. He turns the notion of competition as security on its head.
Not a new perspective, but one that’s really got me thinking about the importance of getting out of my shell and doing something for community. It’s all too easy to veg in front of the TV or computer and ignore the goings-on in the wider neighborhood. And I’m as guilty of this as anyone. The hours can while away quickly just surfing the ‘net and answering emails. Reading Mr. Estill’s book has given me a new perspective and impetus to kick myself in the butt and not get too tied up in self pity about my supposedly woeful lot in life.
So, how do I extend this to my local situation? Maybe picking up the idea of starting that community garden in the empty lot between our condo park and Reid golf course. Living in a tiny condo for the last year has inspired me to start thinking about moving out and buying a little house with a yard to do some gardening… maybe my energy would be better placed to stay put and build that community garden.
Overall, living in this condo has exposed me to a living situation where neighbors are physically close and “yard space” is shared in common (although it remains very manicured and largely off limits to personal gardening). Although a tiny back patio (about 10’x10′) with adjoining “garden” space (3’x10’) is better than no outdoor space at all, I still yearn to have a good sized vegetable garden to play around with.
In the end it’s probably the best use of resources for me to stay here and divert some of that energy I’d spend on a personal yard space and home maintenance to building this nebulous sense of “community” around here. Sure, there are going to be objectors to the idea of putting in a community garden next door that could potentially become weed-filled. But, should we limit ourselves by those “sticks-in-the-mud”. That’s probably the toughest thing about community: being able to tolerate, placate, ignore, suppress, and soothe those naysayers among us. It’s very easy to give up the good fight when countered with such sour attitudes. Maybe baking them brownies would help 🙂
I had originally grabbed this book from the local library “new books” shelving thinking that anything with small in the title might be worth my time… and some relevance to small-house-building.com. Lyle Estill does talk about housing, and his attempt to foster a real estate development that focused more on offering a chance for people to build their own affordable housing. They named their development “Abeyance” and had a vision of attracting young families with children that would play in the woods and migrate from household to household in their play time. They even offered a covenant with NO minimum square footage. For awhile it worked, but over the years it devolved into the usual neighborly squabbles as families grew up and ownerships changed. It would be interesting to see it today.
“Small is Possible” is an example of all the local economic and social interaction in Mr. Estill’s Chatham County, NC. You could almost look at it as a biography of a community that has succeeded in building that elusive sense of community, but displays all the warts along the way. Surely not a smooth process, but one with great rewards. As Lyle says “forget homeland security… we need homeTOWN security”. Keep your dollars, time, and energy in your local economy… what better way to build local security?
Check out Lyle Estill’s Energy Blog at Piedmont Biofuels for his latest essays. A good read!