There is no one definition of community, and I think that's great, actually. But a lot of things get called "communities" that may not really be all that communal, such as towns and neighborhoods (Most places I've lived, it seems like the predominant attitude among my neighbors is to pretend that none of the rest of us really exist). And some people may have never experienced a feeling of community at all, which would make it hard to identify. Community is as much a feeling as a concrete entity. And a community can be a thing that lasts only for a day. Communities don't have to be really strong and tight-knit for us to get something out of them. But if you did want to create a strong, long-lasting and positive community, it might look something like this:
A group that works towards a shared purpose while also providing fulfillment for individuals.
Like I said, this isn't a definition-- nothing in this post will be. It's my own personal idea of what community means, taken from life experience. Bear in mind that you and I could be in the exact same group of people, and while you may consider it a community, I may consider it something else entirely. At the end of the day, whether or not you feel that warm and fuzzy community spirit is really an individual thing. Now I'm going to hopefully not intimidate you much with a list of what I've found to be important aspects of community. Because how can I try to build it when I haven't given thought to what it actually entails?
- Shared purpose (mentioned above) is really, really broad. It can be as basic as a group of friends who want to have fun together. What people want to gain from the community will vary, but if everyone has a vastly different purpose, I don't see the group lasting. (In previous time periods, the shared purpose might have been "survival".)
- That a community needs to fulfill individuals was also mentioned above. If you give and give to a community but get nothing in return, you won't want to be a part of it.
- Investment. Not everyone needs to be equally invested, but a community is not one person's project. "Commitment" is another way to put it.
- In communities I've been a part of, what really made them seem communal and not like a random group of people was a welcoming attitude from the people who were already there. That's probably why my college sorority felt like a community rather than a secret society. It was also my experience with my Girl Scout group in high school. Even though I was from a different school than everyone else and no one knew me, they welcomed me. I'd dealt with a lot of mean girls, so that was one thing that made me really value that community.
- I have never been part of a community that didn't have its own meeting place. Sometimes, the community can even be created by the place. When I lived in San Francisco, I met friends every week at this bar that served free pizza. The fact that we always met at the same place at the same time started to give me community-oriented feelings about this little group. The "meeting place" concept was taken to the extreme in my sorority, where we all lived together in our own section of the dorm.
- I also have a hard time considering something a community if there is no regular contact. I feel like once a week is the minimum that I need to really start feeling like I'm in a community. It doesn't need to be a formal meeting, or a gathering of everyone in the whole community. There should be some flexibility for people who want to be in contact more often, and people who want to be in contact less. But in my opinion, for a community to really prosper, some members need to be at the meeting place (see #5) at least once a week.
- A community should have no forced conformity. And people should be there only if they want to be. If your leaving is met with death threats, you're probably in a gang or a cult (which are some of the negative sides of people's desire for community).
- Related to #7, larger or more "public" communities should provide different places for diverse people. An example of this is my high school's Organic Gardening Club, which was an important community for me during that time in my life. In high school, my social skills weren't yet good enough to really befriend any of the other people in the club. But just chatting with one or two other people while gardening made me feel a lot less alienated at school. If you want to make lasting friends, I think communities are ideal places to do that. But if you just want to maintain the garden and not talk to anyone, I think your contributions should be valued as well.
- And related to #8, larger or more political communities should provide involvement at different levels as well as changing methods of involvement. There should be easy ways to jump in, as well as ways to increase your involvement. There should not be closed upper echelons. Also, people's involvement needs to be able to adapt to the rest of their lives. This is one problem with activist communities where the people involved face a lot of burnout.
- I don't think communities necessarily contain "constantly changing relationships", as David puts it. But I do think it's inevitable that any community will contain a variety of relationships. Again, my sorority was the best example of this. Although we were all "sisters", there were a few people in the group, maybe 4 or 5, that were among my closest friends. There were others that I considered friends, although we were less close. And there were still others that I either didn't know very well, or didn't especially get along with.
- Size doesn't matter. The Organic Gardening Club I mentioned had only two other active members that I can recall. But it was still an important community to me. Years later, the garden is still there.
- More than just being personally fulfilling, being in a community needs to be enjoyable. It's hard to over-emphasize this. If it's not enjoyable, you might as well be at home reading some book that you want to read. Seriously, life is too short for communities that feel like grim tasks.