Community – More Than Buildings
When we work on making our communities better, we often start with infrastructure: a new pool, a new arena, freshly paved streets. That may seem like a logical place to start, and for elected officials it is certainly the most visually obvious issue. However, it doesn’t make your community better, anymore than buying a new house makes your family better. Too often we focus on the buildings and ignore the deeper need to build a quality community.
You may have heard me say how important beauty is to the future of your community. The appearance of a community reflects its soul, but its soul is more than its buildings. It is its people, values, sentiments, and character. That is what you need to support and grow if you want to build a community.
New buildings and infrastructure can enhance the beauty of a community, but they are no replacement for a beautiful soul. In fact, I have seen a lot of older communities with aging infrastructure that still show beautifully. I guess the adage is true: Beauty may only be skin deep, but ugly goes right to the bone. Attractive infrastructure only gives you skin-deep beauty. If you want a truly beautiful community, you need to focus on its heart and spirit, otherwise you risk creating nothing more than a group of attractive but soulless buildings.
There are a lot of ways to make your community great from the soul outward. And it varies a lot based on your community’s size, natural amenities and environment, location, and proximity to other communities. Every community is unique, and has at its core all that it needs to be successful if it just nurtures it properly. It’s much like a child that is naturally talented at the piano. You can add infrastructure (a piano), but without lessons it is very likely the child’s talents will never become great.
Success usually starts with how a community is designed. Many city planners have begun to rebuild their communities using new techniques that design out crime. Some of the techniques involve changing lighting and traditional fencing methods in order to remove hiding spaces, but many involve designing, or redesigning, neighbourhoods to improve socialization. In simple terms, they are designing communities instead of subdivisions and removing the dark corners where crime typically hides. Those techniques are also useful in smaller communities that want to make their community, not just their infrastructure, more attractive.
In fact, most of the techniques employed to make cities better and more prosperous work for smaller communities too. Integrating urban agriculture, creating an attractive business climate, planning walkable neighborhoods, creating a vibrant downtown that promotes socialization—these are as important to the culture and soul of a large urban center as they are to a smaller community. Cultural diversity, artistic creation, recreational options, and educational opportunities are the seasonings that entice others to sample what your community has to offer.
This is but a small list of opportunities to enhance the soul of your community by focusing on more than just its buildings. Of course, buildings are important, but they shouldn’t be projects unto themselves. If you can find the soul of your community, and ensure that the infrastructure investments you make show off the character and charisma of your community, then the external structures will reflect your community’s internal values. You can’t fake it or hide who you are with fancy new buildings. A community is not simply defined by its buildings. It is defined by its soul. Start there and you will know how to build you community for success.