Reading the City: Defining Community

This is part of a series of posts by Dalhousie students in the Community Design course, ‘Reading the City,’ where students explore the local urban environment to interpret what the city means, and how it comes to take shape.  This week’s post is by Andrew Hooke, Caroline King, Meaghan Maund and Paloma Pontarini.

HALIFAX – Defining a community goes beyond the creation of a neat little sentence that would look right at home somewhere deep in the Oxford English Dictionary; defining a community is about communicating to people what they already know and experience. Each of us, whether we realize it or not, participates in some form of community. Large or small, obvious or not, there are communities of all shapes and forms around us, which also inform the shape, form and design of our cities.

Instead of trying to condense this diverse reality to fit one loose generalization, we chose to take on the task of trying to highlight all the different layers of communities that compound to create the broader experience that we call ‘community’. To represent this experience we created a series of ‘dolls’ that each represent a type of community that we identified as being an element of the overall community experience.

All of the dolls are physically linked, representing the constant connection and interaction of all the different levels of community. The communities that we identified range from broad to small in context, including spatial, political, economic, virtual, cultural, religious, intellectual, support, family, individual and global communities, which together we consider to be a comprehensive representation of the broader urban community. Although all of these communities have their own elements and characteristics, they are all inexorably linked to one another, creating a complex network of community systems that are unique and multifaceted.

Our classroom presentation of these interconnected community dolls initiated a discussion on how these layers of community interplay affect us on a local, daily level. The Chebucto Road widening was one example that was discussed that highlighted the interaction of political communities with spatial (neighborhood) and individual communities, which were all affected by this one specific activity.

Following our presentation we asked our classmates to discuss several questions, to which they provided some insightful answers. We first asked: What are the essential elements of community?

  • It was agreed that all communities involve bringing together individuals with similar interests.
  • Communities act as a means of communication.  We need to have some sort of social interaction to form and maintain a community.
  • Community participation relies on its accessibility.  For example if a built structure was needed for the meeting area, but it was not open and available to all, the individuals would be less likely to participate and come together.
  • It is important to be aware of the diversity of communities.

Next we asked how do communities inform design? How do you think community design impacts the way communities form and function?

  • Community Design can help to enable interaction and social networking within communities.
  • Designers have the ability to create boundaries, refine communities and design for safety and security.
  • Types of services can help to facilitate community.
  • Community design is a catalyst; communities will use a space the way they want.

The final question we asked was how virtual communities have affected our understanding of traditional communities?

  • Virtual communities have caused less social and physical interaction between individuals. However, they have also enabled individuals to have more contact and interact with a large number of people at a single time.
  • Virtual communities are scattered, they don’t confine individuals to a single space the way traditional communities do.
  • Virtual communities are the same as traditional communities, but in a different context. Virtual communities have “mobilized” or inspired new movements, ex: environmental communities.

We’d love to hear your thoughts! Let us know how you think urban design in Halifax might better take into consideration its diversity of communities?

One comment

Comments are closed.