Before we can begin to understand how to “build” a community, we have to dissect and understand the true meaning of what a community actual is. Technically speaking, communities are not “built”, they form naturally. Societies, on the other hand, are. A community is not simply building structures and populating an area with newcomers. Societies are. Also, communities are not defined solely by its geographic location or neighborhood name. True communities are much richer than bricks and mortar and people. In its traditional form, a community is a “way of life”, where norms and values are upheld by members of the group. They are close-knit, social systems that work for the greater good of all involved.
While there over 100 different definitions of the term “community”, one common theme among the definitions is that there is social cohesiveness-–.bonds, common values, beliefs, and structure– among people, neighborhood assets, and organizations that makes them effective and sustainable over time. This social cohesiveness, the glue that bonds communities together, is lacking in urban America. Because our organization discusses communities as a functioning, working unit, we’ll define a community as the following:
A group of social units and systems within a geographic area linked through networks of affective and instrumental connections, whom all share common culture, values, and norms, to carry out the functions of the residential area.
This working definition allow us to answer the ‘who’, ‘what’, and ‘how’ of a community. A community is made up of a group of social units (i.e. people and organizations) and systems, meaning, how we collectively go about making decisions that are in the best interest of the group. Traditionally, it has been the church and business leaders who has played an essential role in decision making for the Black community and creating a network of resources. While the church is still a vital network for Blacks, younger generations are moving away from relying on church leaders to make decisions for the them. Instead, these decisions are typically made within peer associations.
How a community functions is imperative to how it is defined and perceived. Some communities function at a high-level, while others aren’t functional at all. ____Berger points out that there are six essential actions, known as locality-relevant functions, that traditional communities must perform in order to be effective:
- Communities should have a set of norms that defines appropriate behavior patterns and values for its members. In other words, communities determine what is acceptable and what is not, ranging from juvenile misdeeds to how often lawns are cut.
- Generating and maintaining social solidarity among community members. There should be a bond among members.
- Providing the goods and services that a community needs. Basic needs and other services should be provided directly by the community.
- Socializing community members to community norms. Basically, everyone who lives within a community should know, or be taught, what’s appropriate and expected. Institutions such as schools and churches are also responsible for teaching these community norms, as well as opportunity for social and economic advancement.
- Controlling the behavior of community members and others who are present. For those who are in violation of community norms, they must be dealt with immediately through sanctions imposed by formal agents, such as the police or church leaders.
- Providing a locale in which community members may interact and obtain mutual support. Community members must have a common meeting place in which ideas and views can be are shared.
Components of a Viable Community
In order for a community to be effective, there are several components that must be in place. Each of these components must work in conjunction with one another to create social cohesiveness and civic capacity. Without social cohesiveness and civic capacity, communities lose their power and therefore their potential to attract investment.
- Safe and Affordable Housing
- Strong Educational Ethics and Opportunities
- Commitment and Involvement of Local Government
- Economic Opportunities and Jobs
- Arts and Culture
- Volunteerism and Philanthropy
- Gathering Spaces/Engaged and Informed Citizenry
- Effective Coordinated System of Services
- Access to Viable Transportation
These are the building blocks for which Rebuilding Your Community is based on and what guides our work.
 Alan Berger, The City