Everyone has different ideas about what makes a community. Eric Jacobsen, author and pastor, noted that “even if you get the physical elements right, there’s no guarantee that a place will function as a true community, as more than just a place.” That really struck me. Even if we create an aesthetically-pleasing facade for our streets, it doesn’t mean we will have a functioning and cohesive community.
The article I read this morning reviewed a fellow planner’s short list for keys to a stronger community. (You can read the full article here.) The planner, Scott Doyon, compiled the following list:
- Good governance
- Walkable, connected, mixed-use character
- Parks and gardens
- Neighborhood-responsive schools
- Tree culture
I must agree with Kaid Benfield, the blogger also commenting on Doyon’s short list, that I’m generally pleased with the list. I think it’s great to combine physical features with less tangible elements to create a sense of community. I also agree with Benfield when he notes that he would alter the list to include a point about controlling sprawl.
Here in the Lehigh Valley we certainly know about the sprawling development. But have we ever stopped to think about its effect on the sense of community? As development sprawls outward, we lose many of these elements that create a close and cohesive community. The neighborhoods aren’t walkable. It’s difficult to develop programming and events for people that don’t feel connected to one another. And I certainly agree that good governance is key; however, RenewLV would argue that this “good governance” should also be characterized by reduction of redundancy in the government. “Good governance” should be efficient and effective stewards of its resources, working through partnerships within the community and region.
Overall, I think Doyon and Benfield have the right ideas. Here in the Lehigh Valley we have such unique communities. But maybe it’s time we stop to think if we have all the proper components to be a truly cohesive and effective community. We must work together, and I think that means working beyond the municipal boundaries and extending to others. The Lehigh Valley has unique communities, but as a region I think we can work together to preserve and enhance these areas in order to become a regional community.