In one word: internet. This electronic communication method has connected numerous individuals across the globe, allowing for powerful positive as well as negative action. The internet’s potential for uniting common interest groups and informing the public should not be ignored but living a solely ‘wired’ reality is reclusive and unfulfilling. Although chatting on Messenger or Skype may be a great way to keep in touch long distance, most would ultimately prefer a night out with their friends.
People continue to treasure a physical sense of community since it unites them in a feeling of commonality, a support group of individuals who can come together over issues that concern them. When searching for a new home, people seek out the type of ‘community’ offered, hoping for a constructive as well as safe environment. It's true that people often identify with their cities but the lack of their interest in maintaining or even forming local communities illustrates one of the major challenges to improving social bonds in urban landscapes.
Fear is the largest factor in people’s hesitation to connect with those around them. Violent news stories discourage trust in one’s neighbours and, with increasingly busy lives, many people feel they simply cannot afford to take on the social responsibility of letting others into their lives. Since cities are too large to foster connection, the optimal environment for stable communities consists of an area containing a few hundred people, enough to offer diversity but not so many that everyone becomes a stranger. Many established communities have disappeared over the last few years. Sources of community breakdown include:
1. declining local economies due to technological advancement and the draining of wealth from communities by large, external corporations
2. loss of citizen control as decisions affecting the future of a community are made by higher levels of government and businesses that have no personal stake in the community
3. environmental degradation as local supplies of water, air and soil are poisoned by industrial and consumer waste
4. social degradation and neglect of human needs as increasing numbers of people are abandoned to homelessness, joblessness, and unsafe living conditions
5. erosion of local identity and community cohesiveness as people increasingly identify with the images of mass consumer culture
6. dissociation of identity with place, resulting in a loss of responsibility to communities. This is generally a result of globalisation.
The next question is: ‘why should we care?’ From an environmental point of view, communities that are self-sustaining and cooperative generally consume fewer resources and take better care of their landscapes. A sense of personal pride in a community garden or local nature trail encourages both an awareness and understanding of the natural world while enabling its preservation. Through the miniaturizing of neighbourhoods the need to drive long distances for basic necessities is reduced. Awareness and trust between community members means that the need for outside services are reduced.
To foster social connections, common meeting places, such as parks and markets, should be encouraged, bringing people with needs and people with skills to meet those needs together. Exposure encourages knowledge acquisition about and care for the lives of the people around you. Besides the environmental benefits of living in smaller neighbourhoods, people familiar with their local residents tend to be happier. While there will always be those whom you dislike, having relationships of any kind fosters a sense of unity and purpose in the monotony of human life.
Carl Frankel. In Earth’s Company: Business, Environment and the Challenge of Sustainability. Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers, 1998. Print.
Clifton, Robert L, Dahms, Alan M. Grassroots Organizations. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press Inc., 1993. Print.
“Sustainable Development Begins at Home: Community Solutions to Global Problems.”Communities, Development, and Sustainability Across Canada. Ed. John T. Pierce and Ann Dale. Vancouver, BC: UBC Press, 1999. 3-23. Print.