There’s no place like home in a supportive community
“Find your place on the planet. Dig in, and take responsibility from there.” ~ Gary Snyder
In this column, I have been enquiring into how our communities might cope and adapt to the challenges we face. I believe that being more civic minded and engaged in community life could be healthier, and is also the basis for a much needed economic localisation. But how do we go about nurturing a stronger sense of place and playing our part in improving our world, one neighbourhood at a time?
Feeling connected to those around you and taking pride in your village, town or city, actually contributes massively to our own well-being and is an essential attribute for the flourishing of our families and the places we live. In times like these, we need to cultivate our skills in placemaking.
Reflecting on the place we live is not something we do much these days. There is no real need to know our neighbours, or the annual rainfall. Where the water sources are and what the soil is like is local knowledge that is just not needed by most of us today. It is now common to be physically resident in a locality without knowing much about the place, the people, or participating in any way with the community’s development.
To buffer places against the impacts of a challenging economy, we need to explore different ways to improve the economic prospects of our local places. Margaret Wheatly, who writes about the complexities of communities through the lens of living systems, believes that places are interconnected systems of relationships, and that “whatever the problem, community is the answer.”
We will be better able to deal with adversity, and be far more resilient, by linking the positive qualities of our places, as well as the assets and people. Doing this will give us the ability to adapt and to respond to change positively, which will play a critical role in the viability of our communities in the future. But how do we go about developing the sort of communities we’d like to live, work and grow old in? For the last decade, I have been on a journey to do this, to find a place to walk my talk and put down my roots.
Seeking to develop roots in a place is, in many ways, a desire to become more integrated. It’s about forging connections to an area and building healthy relationships. Rootedness does not have to mean a return to territoriality or tribalism. Connecting and linking with other people in other places is also absolutely vital to a community’s ability to adapt and thrive.
Until recently, I have lived quite a nomadic lifestyle. Unlike my peers, I didn’t invest in property, and therefore, have not been tied to any place. For years, I lived in Dublin where I shared a large, rented house in Dartmouth Square, which was a hotbed for creativity, and was a great way to live. There was an extraordinary feeling of community, and although we were only renting, we had a great sense of place and a real pride in the area. Our household played a major role in securing and revitalizing the park opposite the house, which is now owned by the community. Outdoor yoga, talks, films and all sorts of public events are now held there.
Three years ago, my journey to find a place ended in Cloughjordan, North Tipperary. It wasn’t such a long way from Dublin. Since then, I have lived and worked in the new eco-neighbourhood there. The village of Cloughjordan is a very liveable place and is an Irish nominee for the UN LivCom awards taking place in China later this year. These awards have the aim of improving the quality of life of citizens through the creation of more liveable communities.
Living in community comes naturally. Although we are born to live together, in many ways, society today forces us to live apart. Already, I feel a strong sense of place in Cloughjordan. I have really gotten to know and work with a very diverse group of people. About 65 households have located to Cloughjordan over the last five years. Most live in the new ecovillage neighbourhood, and many have located here because it is a great place to live. There is a desire to create a place where our lives are simplified, diversity is welcomed, livelihoods are maintained, children play together in safety, and the environment is protected.
My journey is now about playing a part in building a sustainable community in rural Ireland and helping make Cloughjordan a destination for learning. However, in the process of doing this, I’m learning so much myself. Not just about placemaking and community approaches to growing and distributing local food or generating energy, but about empathy, clear communication, understanding the point of view of others, and working collaboratively to make a difference together.
So, how can placemaking help build healthier and more liveable communities? To nurture a stronger sense of place and to be effective catalysts for building our communities’ resilience, I think the following are useful first steps:
1. Step Up – Don’t step back, participate. To have a good life and ensure a healthier place to live, we need to engage with those around us. There is so much to do, so get involved in your community.
2. Celebrate What We Have – By appreciating the resources, assets and strengths of individuals around us, we can help our communities to realise opportunities and better address local problems.
3. Be Creative – More than anything, we need to work differently in the world. Supporting creativity can help maximise collaboration and problem solving in our communities.
4. Encourage Diversity – A resilient community values the perspectives and knowledge that different people bring. Involve all ages and people from different socioeconomic backgrounds.
5. Lead From Within – Leadership is not always about being in charge. Placemakers need to have the ability to inspire initiative and new thinking within those around them. To make a collective difference in our places, mobilise, encourage, connect and support initiative.
6. Connect – Build relations; not only with those around you, but also with those in other places and communities that are further afield. We need a new “glocalisation” where the health and governance of our local places is seen as critical to achieving global well-being.
7. Cooperate – Collectively, we can achieve a lot more than by trying to make changes on our own.
8. Share – Valuing access and the sharing of assets over private ownership has the potential to foster increased social connections, create local livelihoods and strengthen the resilience of our communities.
Fantastic things can happen when communities have the power, resources and capability to determine their own development. Place is about land, place is about people, and place is about the shared stories that hold our communities together. A stronger sense of place and stepping up to participate in the life of our community will help ensure a good life in these changing times.
Davie Philip manages the Community Resilience programme at Cultivate Living and Learning and is a board member of GIY Ireland. firstname.lastname@example.org
A one-day workshop on Liveable Communities and a course on Place Making are offered by Cultivate. Visit www.cultivate.ie