Saturday, September 12, 2009

How can I leave this island when there's Sunday morning coffee?

I think this is what it means when people talk about "community." In the past, I've studied and even written about community in the educational context: "community based organizations," "community-school collaboration" etc., but I feel now like I never really understood what it could mean to be in a vibrant, healthy, active community where a weekend in August means non-stop music and free food at the Island Village Barter Fair, Sunday mornings mean brunch and yoga at Sweet Earth Farm or coffee at Credence and Andreas, and there are so many potlucks you're always afraid you'll run out of enough quinoa to cover them all.

I guess that's a lovely small town for you.

And not just a small town, but a town that seems to attract a certain kind of individual who cares about his neighbor more than the average Joe.

I guess some folks come to the island to retire and hide out and lay low, but it seems like most people, especially the young ones, are looking to carve out a niche in a place that's different from your run-of-the-mill city. A place where you can go see your lamb being slaughtered, where you can work-trade a jar of jam for a haircut, where you know your server in a restaurant and the cashier at the supermarket and the teller at the bank, and so on.

I've only been here 6 months, but I already feel the island creeping under my skin. It's a beautiful place, but it's not just that. It's also that there's this overwhelming sense of connectedness and support and enthusiasm for each other that is like a super contagious mega-virus, the tropical kind that you think you've kicked, but that comes back to haunt you 10 years down the road.

I heard a story on NPR today about Flint, Michigan considering a physical downsizing of the city as a means to lowering costs and improving services to a core of city-dwellers. Interestingly, the story offered a community garden as an example of the potential benefits of this sort of plan, the idea being that as residential buildings were consolidated, it would leave more land for parks, gardens, and other shared community spaces.

I know this touches on many different issues: sprawl, infrastructure costs, homeowners' rights -- but I'm most interested in how this sort of change will actually affect interactions between people, everyday.

How do you experience community? In your family, in your neighborhood, through an organization or club?

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