Community: The Elements
edited: Thursday, June 14, 2007
By Erik Hare
Not "rated" by the Author.
Posted: Thursday, June 14, 2007
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This is a work in progress. For my "day job", a working definition of community that allowed for project evaluation became necessary. I am attempting to use this elemental approach for that purpose.
I have informally studied the concept of “community” both online and where I live for about 25 years. I have reached a few conclusions about what is necessary to make a vibrant shared space, and I would like comments.
The approach I am taking does not appear new, but I have not seen it in this form before. I would appreciate references to anything substantially similar. The basic idea is that there are eight, to my count, essential elements that make up a community. These make up the spaces inbetween the buildings and other physical aspects that are usually seen as important.
Think of these elements like the five food groups. To make dinner, you need something from at least most of them, but which kind of meat or vegetable you choose is up to you. The art of cooking is something else, and there are always spices to add as well.
My most basic assumption is that community is something people generally want or need – even if they often come and go, taking it or leaving it as they feel like it. I also believe that communities of all kinds have similarities because they all come from the same basic human need. I do not believe that structure, either political or otherwise, is essential since community comes from the heart and not the brain. There are communities within communities, as churches or mosques exist within the wider space around them. No two communities are the same, but they do have basic elements that can be identified.
I believe the characteristic elements of any community are:
A shared history links people together, often out of simple habit. Coming to a church regularly or simply seeing an institution that has “always been there” is part of the daily life that reminds people where they belong. Online communities rely on a few “regulars”, much like a bar, to keep the community intact. A richer history of the community long past builds a stronger sense of loyalty as the stories are retold.
Shared values are critical. They can be as simple as “friendliness” or “charity”, but people who do not have the same social understanding, or at least the same goal, will not form a community together. This is especially true on-line, where there is no physical connection. Churches are based first and foremost on this element.
While shared space is essential, spaces apart are equally vital. The secrets of a community define its boundaries. Some secrets, such as how to get special treatment at a restaurant, mark your acceptance by the community as you learn them. Online communities rarely know much about the other members, and this is part of the allure.
Since the dawn of civilization, marketplaces have been where people saw each other and caught up on gossip. Commerce is part of life, and it must intersect the community at some point to make it interesting. Online communities based on stocks are some of the most lively. The market can also go as far as shared resources among poor or simply like-minded people.
Keeping up appearances is both a sign that people value what others think while at the same time competing with them a bit. Both are part of community. Esprit de Corps is how the membership in a community becomes part of a personal identity.
Physical safety, either from violence or traffic, is needed simply because scared people are too cautious to be good community partners. When these break down in one place, the boundary of a community is often located. People do not associate with a place that threatens them, online or in the real world. Buildings that are run down do not appear “safe”.
The center of a community is a place that people spend a lot of time simply hanging around in. The look and smell and everything else about it are familiar and warm. Online communities have a look that everyone is used to as well. Being inviting is useful for bringing people into a center, but they have to be able to simply spend a lot of time there. A commercial strip is less valuable than a two-dimensional center, but it can still work.
8. Fun (and/or fulfillment)
No matter what, people have to enjoy being part of a community for it to sustain itself. If it is too much like work to keep it going, they burn out. Some communities exist mainly for fun, such as a bowling league
Architecture and planning are the primary tools of “community development” in the physical world. I happen to think that these are not useful unless they address the larger issues that genuinely make a community. For example, consider a transportation project. It can help build community in several ways. Does it improve safety along a major commercial strip? Does it create a center? Does it improve the ability to get good jobs and improve the market of the community? Any civic project should be scored on these values, yet my experience tells me that transportation projects are notorious for making life more dangerous while not enhancing anything else. The interplay of these various aspects of community is why scale is so critical in urban planning.
In the on-line world, developing community usually takes the form of developing a center and the sense of common values. Chat space on a topic is usually centered on the look – the eye candy. In that sense, it is not significantly different than a typical development project, in that the aesthetic appeal is supposed to bring people in and get them to linger. Safety issues, such as predatory “trolling”, are often overlooked. The other parts of community are up to the users to create.
My hunch is that if you polled the members of a community as to how each of these scored on a 1-10 ranking, you would find that a strong community gets at least 60 out of 80. A weak one would be much lower. Such a poll is only useful for identifying areas that need improvement once you assume that a strong community is desirable as you have defined it. There are certainly specific ways that each of these elements can be developed or enhanced.
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|Reviewed by Randall Barfield
|in the blog part you talk about 'getting'/is one getting, etc.? but you don't mention giving. perhaps a community is a lot like life--we 'get' from it what we put in it...so, in order to 'get' we need to also give our share, etc. it's the way i see it but i may have missed something and maybe you, in the article, do refer to giving. anyway, it's quite interesting.|
|Reviewed by Errr oooo
|I find this threatening and will not take it. You have no idea of the arsenal that I bring. Reveal yourself, or pay the price.|