Creating an AWE-Full Community

Creating an Awe-Full Community

I recently returned from a 5-day 2200-mile road trip through Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado and New Mexico. In those 5 days I spent lots of time in communities, with even more time observing the landscape between those stops and noting how my spirit rose and the way I engaged with a place changed with the appearance of inspiring visuals both natural and manmade. The common element in both arenas is the sense of awe awakened. And, once we open up to awe, we are empowered to use that transformative energy to develop thriving communities.

After doing a bit of research, I discovered a cache of videos, podcasts and articles about the power of awe produced by UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center. Earlier this year, GGSC hosted “The Art & Science of Awe” bringing together thought leaders, community members and others for “A day exploring the science and experience of awe. Attendees will gain eye-opening insights and practical lessons to apply in health and educational settings, as well as in their own personal lives. And they will experience jaw-dropping moments of awe throughout the day.”

Key Takeaways:

    • Awe transforms your mind, how you look at your social world and how you engage with others.
    • Awe shifts us from self-interest into being interested in other people
    • Sacrifice for your group, you become more connected to your community, good for wellbeing and physical health, connects us to others.
      • Awe is the counterpoint to these cultural issues:
        • Too self-focused? Awe expands your world
        • Too greedy? Awe makes you more generous
        • Lack of purpose? Awe brings focus to purpose
        • Too stressed out? Awe improves health

How Awe Transforms Community

In an earlier post, I noted that Transformative Capital is captured in the elements we know as Wisdom (I care about my family), Empathy (I care about your family) and Community (We care about our families). It is this transformative capital that activates the crucible from which commitment to community wellbeing is born. It is the invisible capital that shapes our lives to reflect our most closely held values, making a house a home and bringing individuals into a true community. It is what we all need more of as our local economies emerge, develop and deepen.”  After this road trip, I have amended those transformative capital elements: Awareness, Wisdom and Empathy.

Ultimately, we all have it within us to create a thriving community. I am absolutely certain it cannot happen without all of us engaging with our natural ability to experience awe, share our wisdom and practice empathy every day towards ourselves and others.

How Does a Smart City Become a Genius Community?

How Does a Smart City Become a Genius Community?

How can municipalities move beyond the title of 'Smart City' to being a 'Genius Community'? Here in Austin, it could be something as simple as turning off the car engines. With the daily conversation revolving around mobility and affordability, I have been advocating for the solution that equitably addresses both issues and activates the local economy: turn off the automobile engines and turn on the community wealth engines.

Activating Community Wealth

Activating Community Wealth – Educational Engagement Spaces

In the perfected pattern of nature, the caterpillar becomes a butterfly. There is no obvious hint of the caterpillar’s destiny, it all becomes manifest from the imaginal cells deep within the body that activate the process in which a deconstructed Earth-bound body reforms, sprouts wings and becomes a delicate beautiful butterfly which has a vital role as a pollinator of the ecosystem.

Much like the caterpillar, a seemingly inactive community has a lot going on below the surface. What is lacking are community-based spaces in which they can reform to actualize their natural potential to engage with and contribute to the ecosystem we call community.

Community engagement spaces are the chrysalises in which a community’s imaginal cells – the seeds of future potential, which contain the blueprint of a thriving community – are activated to complete the community’s transformation from surviving to thriving.


Educational spaces have always been a vital element of well-rooted and healthy community growth. However, in their current forms, these spaces generally do not have the ability to both value existing knowledge and leverage new technology to activate the wealth of the community. What is needed is a flexible platform within and upon which the knowledge brought into the space is valued equally to the technology tools. It is when these elements are combined and then engaged with the purpose of reinvesting in the surrounding community that it is shifted from a state of surviving to one of thriving. Without these platforms, community members – young and old – get the clear message that their natural wealth of knowledge earned by living in the community is invalid, and, therefore, not worth saving, nurturing or sharing with the next generation. This belief leads to the next generation being sent away never to return, thereby escalating the shredding of the community fabric, until there is nothing left, all wealth extracted and the community eventually disappears.

Fortunately, technology can be a valuable tool for community members to rewrite this ending. I've been researching solutions for those who are being disconnected from educational opportunity in its old form. One of them is the distributed education model promoted by Dr. Sugata Mitra, founder of the School in the Cloud (Self-Organized Learning Experience) in which students engage in learning while guided (and challenged) by teachers in the learning space. In this model, the learning is a collaborative effort, the students learn from each other driven and amplified by curiosity, instead of using the old top-down model that attempts to push facts into resistant students. Teachers then respond to and shape the experience with the assistance of technological tools rather than old form frameworks. The end result is all participants feeling more valued and engaged, ready to stay invested in the process and, by extension, with their community.

Activating the power of technology to bring external knowledge sources into the classrooms is vital to preparing students for the emerging world. It not only requires new ways of engaging, thereby creating intellectual ‘muscle memory’ adding dimensionality to the learning, but also provides access to the tools empowering the deepening of the story of that community, keeping that wealth local. Despite the fears of some, when used correctly, this technology doesn’t displace teachers, it actually increases the value of every participant in the classroom. By moving from a closed box to a open cooperative platform upon which the co-creation of community becomes the natural process of activating the imaginal cells, the transformation of community mindset from surviving to thriving is on track for the next generation.

Transforming Waste to Wealth

Transforming Waste to Wealth to Strengthen Our Future

One man's trash is another man's treasure

One man's ceiling is another man's floor

One man's pain is another man's pleasure

And nothing's for certain, mister, that's for sure

No, nothing's for certain, mister, that's for sure

Song credits:  ‘One Man’s Trash’ ©1988 by John McCutcheon. Published by Appalsongs (ASCAP)

Whether promising to turn lead to gold or trash to treasure, the concept of transforming waste to wealth has always been a core part of the human story. These tales have mostly focused on monetary capital forms, however the process can be applied equally to any form of capital, it’s just a matter of developing a value system in which to equitably transform presumed waste into community-rooted wealth.

The two non-monetary sectors in which waste-to-wealth transformation is most easily understood are environment and food, both of which can be used to create biofuels, thereby not only reducing the damage to our ecosystem, but also producing valuable commodities. Additional models are in development by the Indian organization TARA in the fields of handmade paper, red clay brick production, stabilized soil block production, pulverized ash block production, concrete roofing, walling and flooring solutions.  On a more global scale, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation works with business, government and academia to build a framework for an economy that is restorative and regenerative by design.  Regardless of the scale, the goal is the same: improve sustainability by activating the potential of all elements in the ecosystem.

There are other harder-to-value forms that contribute greatly to community wellbeing. One of these is human capital, which becomes exponentially more valuable when catalyzed by knowledge capital to move the community from a state of surviving to one of thriving. An example of this can be found in the STARSkaters sled hockey program begun in Sugar Land, Texas by Jim O’Neill in 2008 to provide a sports participation opportunity for people with disabilities.  As a lifelong ice hockey player and fan, Jim believed that the STARSkaters league was a great way to create an inclusive community of support and engagement for those who needed a way to unlock the potential that was often disregarded due to their physical disability. The program has grown over the last 8 years and was recently featured on Stafford Texas' METV.  It’s clear that the participants embody the transformative power of shifting folks from feeling underutilized and disconnected to having a sense of being valued: Great American Pastimes – Sled Hockey.

Whatever the form of capital, the bottom line is that it’s vital that we think differently about what we throw away, disregard or otherwise allow to disappear from our ecosystem. Humans are complex creatures and it stands to reason that our continued growth depends on all of us bringing our whole selves to bear when we seek to strengthen our community roots and co-create a sustainable future.

Suggested reading:

Waste to Wealth: The Circular Economy Advantage, Peter Lacy & Jakob Rutqvist

Transforming towards a circular economy means a shift from the old school approach of “take, make, waste” to “take, make, take, make, take, make.”

Patagonia – The Footprint Chronicles®

The Footprint Chronicles® examines Patagonia’s life and habits as a company. The goal is to use transparency about our supply chain to help us reduce our adverse social and environmental impacts – and on an industrial scale.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation Publications

Thought-leading insight into the opportunity of a circular economy. Here you can download or buy all of our circular economy books, reports and publications.

Cornerstones of Community Wealth

Cornerstones of Community Wealth

Community Wealth is all the monetary and non-monetary capital (relationships, respect, trust, environmental, energy, knowledge, etc.) that create the basis of shared experiences leading to wisdom, empathy and community. It is these capital elements which transform a neighborhood from a collection of individual families sharing a ZIP code to a real community in which every member understands the purpose of Community is to produce the individual and mutual wellbeing of all the participants, in an ongoing way.

Although it can be difficult to measure the value of non-monetary wealth, it is not impossible. We can see and engage with these intangible elements of wealth whenever we enter our cornerstone community spaces: places of education, the corner store, and the spiritual centers, i.e., the mind, body and spirit of every community.

Places of Education – Shaping the Mind of the Community

Over the last 25 years, educational scholar Mike Rose has written about the power, purpose, and promise of education to engage & reflect the community in a series of books called Lives on the BoundaryPossible LivesWhy School?, and Back to School. In those years there has been an ongoing public debate about the form these educational places should take, however, there is no argument that education is an essential part of increasing the opportunity for every community member.

With the lack of investment in public schools, for either repairs or new builds, it is the kids in the poorest neighborhoods who are in the greatest need, and often have to be sent away to access educational opportunities. As they are separated from their network of support, the fabric of connection and identity is weakened until there are only the barest threads holding it together. Soon, there is no felt sense of education based on community values. Fortunately, this is a pattern that can be changed, because it’s not the form that makes the institution, it’s the function and, with technology, that can happen anywhere.

Where It’s Working – School in the Cloud, Dr. Sugata Mitra – Allows learning to occur everywhere.

The Corner Store – Embodying Community Identity

As noted by Anders Meyer in his blog post We’re Losing Character in Single Family Zones, “There are many street corner grocery stores scattered throughout the community, serving as neighborhood meeting places…[as] unpretentious owner operated corner groceries of various architectural styles add color and serve as foci for neighborhood identity.”

Many communities today have lost those places of identity, often through economic gentrification which is an outcome of the next generation leaving the community for greater opportunity and not returning, creating opportunity for outsiders to influence the community identity.  With nobody to take over these local businesses and continue the community story, it’s not surprising that a bit of the neighborhood identity is forgotten with each passing generation.

Where It’s Working – Lower 9th Ward Market, Burnell Cotlon & Family, New Orleans LA

Spiritual Centers – Expressing the Spirit of Community

Churches and other places of worship have always had a special place in communities. It is where you can literally commune with your neighbor and receive support that cannot be found in your workplace or other secular spaces. Even if you don’t regularly attend services, these places often take on the spiritual work of the community providing food and shelter to those in need. These centers are another way to express community identity and are one of the first spaces built when folks come together to create a neighborhood.

Where It’s Working – Community First! Village, a project of Mobile Loaves & Fishes, Austin Texas


Ultimately, communities are reflections of the humans who inhabit them. It is these cornerstone elements that serve as the platforms upon which communities can be built (or rebuilt), lasting for many generations to come. And, by leveraging technology, the community can develop new pathways and platforms to share history, experience the present and co-create the future.

Rewriting the Story of Community Wealth

I recently watched the movie The Hundred Foot Journey for the third time. It’s a charming story of cultural collisions, good food and community. In the movie, as expected, the brilliant chef Hassan leaves his family and the tiny village to pursue a higher level of success and acclaim, which he achieves. He eventually realizes that wasn’t giving him what he really needed to feel successful.

Towards the end of the movie, the characters of Hassan and Marguerite have this exchange:

Hassan: Remember that perfect recipe for the raw cepe ravioli? Did we sweat the onions in oil or butter?
Marguerite: Hassan, it's not how you sweat the onions, it's where you pick your cepes. And the good ones, they grow here.


For me, this short exchange summed up the power of reconnecting with your community roots to gather the elements needed generate a purposeful life. The core of a thriving community lies in the power of family, expressed in the sharing of history, values and hope for the future. Traditionally the next generation is children, but it can also be ideas, services, products or anything that fulfills the story the community wants to tell as part of a generative economy.

Generative Economy is a term coined by Marjorie Kelly to define "a living economy that is designed to generate the conditions for life to thrive, an economy with a built-in tendency to be socially fair and ecologically sustainable.” Generative economy attempts to reorganize the purpose and structure of an organization, to the extent of being self-organized around serving the needs of life, i.e., human centric. Generative economy aims to be based on designs that are rich in biodiversity, not monoculture. Examples of these types of organizational designs are employee ownerships, cooperatives, credit unions, community land trusts, co-housing communities, community wind, family-owned businesses, and foundations-owned companies (common in Northern Europe). Its goals are to create fair and just outcomes, benefit the many rather than the few, and enable an enduring human presence on the planet Earth.

Scaling back from the big vision of planet Earth and focusing on the local community, it’s easy to understand why it’s so important to keep the next generations engaged in the shared purpose of the original community makers. Since the beginning of time, community members have invested their hardest to measure, yet most personally felt capital (e.g., time, wisdom, empathy, relationship, emotion, etc) into the next generation who, in turn, become their greatest measure of wealth. As noted by Neal Gabler in his recent article, The Secret Shame of Middle-Class Americans,  “People want to feel, need to feel, that they are advancing in this world. It is what sustains them. They need to feel that their lives will improve, and, even more, that the lives of their children will be better than theirs, just as they believed that their own lives would be better than their parents’.”

So, what happens to communities as this ‘wealth’ is forced to leave to pursue education, work, and other experiences and opportunities…yet doesn’t come back? Well, those communities slowly fade away and become places which trigger memories of the past but don’t inspire visions of the future.  There is no next generation, without which, the story ends.

Fortunately, with the advent of technology, those stories can now be rewritten to not only inspire the return of that generative wealth, but also to create scenarios in which they don’t leave at all. Some frameworks that can work to keep Generation D (i.e., Generation Distribution) invested in their communities include:

1.      Distributed Learning – Dr. Sugata Mitra

a.      School in the Cloud

b.      SOLE: Student Owned Learning Engagement

c.       TED Talk: Hole in the Wall

2.      Distributed Manufacturing – GE + Local Motors

a.      FirstBuild – This co-create platform was made for makers. It is the place where all of our community's ideas come together.

3.      Food Production – Michael ShumanNational Good Food Network

a.      FarmWorks Community Economic Development Investment Fund (CEDIF)

b.      Slow Money Beetcoin Program

                                                              i.      Bauman’s Cedar Valley Farms

                                                             ii.      New Roots and Barbour Farms

                                                           iii.      Sustainable Iowa Land Trust

This is only a tiny sample of the opportunities that exist, there are more coming to light every day, thanks to the ever-expanding technology options. Although some folks fear that technology will separate the generations, it is clear from these models that when used to increase the human engagement potential, much stronger community bonds are generated and roots are deepened. And, as we all know, that makes for a much more interesting story.

Unlocking Knowledge Capital to Build Community

Unlocking Knowledge Capital to Build Community

Today marks the 6th anniversary of my husband’s death. Keith Hogan was an extraordinary person in every way, from his incredibly positive attitude towards life to his genius way of problem solving. He was well known for his blue eyes and is well remembered for his infectious laugh. He also happened to have a form of Muscular Dystrophy called Spinal Muscular Atrophy which limited his physical movement in the world, but, thanks to technology, he was able to share his knowledge capital to create a lasting legacy of opportunity for others.  (You can see Keith in action in a short film called The Lucky Mutant).

So, what is knowledge capital? As defined by the Business Dictionary, it is the know how that results from the experience, information, knowledge, learning and skills of the employees of an organization. Of all the factors of production, knowledge capital creates the longest lasting competitive advantage. It may consist entirely of technical information or may reside in the actual experience or skills acquired by the individuals. Knowledge capital is an essential component of human capital. There is more complexity to this capital because it’s shaped, honed and refined by each individual’s experience of the world. Everyone carries this capital with them from birth, but it’s not valued equally, often dependent on the acceptance of the body in which it is carried.  As with most folks who have disabilities, the knowledge capital Keith was blessed with would have remained locked up and unexpressed if it hadn’t been for the technology made available to him—beginning with language—which allowed him to share his knowledge and create an incredible life far beyond the expectations of many, but no surprise to those who knew him best.

Imagine this experience writ large, in every community, with thousands of people holding the knowledge capital needed to rewrite the story of their lives, their families and the community at large. The ‘disability’ these folks suffer is the lack of access to the mechanisms to activate the knowledge earned through living in the community.  How would that story be different if that natural knowledge was expressed and valued for the important resource it is? What would happen if community members were empowered to create thriving communities that reflected the values that expressed their history and vision of a future? While these might seem to be overwhelmingly large questions, there are organizations and platforms that are actively supporting this shift in mindset from ‘waste to wealth’ with a shared goal of co-creating stronger communities that move beyond surviving to thriving.  Activating this capital allows for the creation of sustainable economy at the community level shifting required expenditures (food, housing, energy, water, etc.) from spend-to-survive to invest-to-thrive.

Two ideas in development that could unlock this local capital:

Grassroots Marketplace: A food/craft accelerator and demonstration space for applied technology

  • Commercial Kitchen
  • Commercial Bakery
  • Maker spaces
    • Designated areas for:
      • Growing – greenhouse, aquaponics, etc.
      • Marketplace – fresh food, crafted products, etc.
      • Shared services – printing, business services, etc.
      • Educational space – applied learning, conferences, etc.

Tech Roots Lab and the Game Roots Collaborative will be further developed into three product/revenue streams for the accessible/aging/disabled community:

  • Hardware – Tangible products
  • Software – Virtual products
  • Wetware – Intellectual property & ideas from members of the community.
  • These could all be used as revenue streams as well as job creation for designers and beta/product testers for members of the accessible/aging/disabled community.

A sample of the organizations committed to working with communities to answer these questions:

Parish Collective – offers deep support to local churches, faith-based groups, and any follower of Christ that desires to grow roots in their neighborhood and links across cities for parish renewal.

Strong Towns – The mission of Strong Towns is to support a model of development that allows America’s cities, towns and neighborhoods to become financially strong and resilient.

Thriving Community Solutions – understands building local community self-reliance is the new community growth strategy. This is accomplished through the actions of community making entrepreneurs.

Knowbility – Operates with the mission of improving technology access for millions of youth and adults with disabilities all over the world.

So, yes, there are big questions being asked, however, there are many hearts and minds working on the answers.

Driving Community

Transformative Capital

The subject of this week’s post was going to be the purpose and possibilities of a generative economy. However, I read this article and it felt like a great way to share a story about the power of transformative capital to create a more inclusive solution to an issue faced by every community: how to provide safe transportation.

The article caught my attention with a very provocative headline:  Here's Why Women Everywhere Will Delete Uber On April 19. As a woman, I’ve always had to navigate the world presuming a higher risk to my personal safety. And, although I have friends who drive and utilize Uber in multiple cities, I have never had a good feeling about the company based on their extractive economic policies, whether in the form of financial, human or community capital. Naturally I read the article with great interest. What I discovered: Chariot for Women meets all my most important criteria for support. The company was borne out of personal experience, founded on a deep commitment to safety and committed to expanding its value through positive actions far beyond the vehicle:

  • Wisdom – As an Uber driver, founder Michael Pelletz had experiences in which he felt endangered as a driver and, most importantly, he saw how women were at an even greater risk.
  • Empathy – He felt those experiences would have been more dangerous if he had been a woman. As a father of 2 daughters he was inspired to create a solution.
  • Community – He & his wife created a new service that strengthens the community in the form of safe transportation and charitable give back: 2% of the ride cost goes to local or national charities of the passenger’s choice.

Ultimately, the core of community lies in the power of family, whether a family of origin or a family of choice, expressed in the sharing of history, values and hope for the future.  In relation to community, transformative is a term for our unbending intent to ground our post-event converged, coordinated and collaborative actions and targeted outcomes in our commitment to continually expand community wellbeing. Transformative Capital is captured in the elements we know as Wisdom (I care about me & my family), Empathy (I care about you & your family) and Community (We care about each other & our families). It is this transformative capital that activates the crucible from which commitment to community wellbeing is born.

I applaud this new venture created by Michael & Kelly Pelletz and hope it inspires others to activate this unseen capital that not only creates a better life for ourselves, but also allows us to join together with others with whom we come in contact, whether for a short ride or a long journey.

Flipping the Script: From Affordability to Ability to Afford

I live in Austin Texas where the two most common topics of conversation these days are affordable housing and manageable traffic. When I think about them I’m reminded of the “Your Home Sweet Home Is My Home” episode of the old “Dick Van Dyke Show” in which Rob & Laura find a house that seems perfect until they get to the basement in which an enormous boulder resides consuming the space. The real estate agent wants to sell the house and encourages them to think of ways to make the boulder useful or at least disguise it and Laura even goes so far to suggest that they all take a few steps back and perhaps then the rock won’t seem so big. Needless to say, it’s quite funny, yet ultimately futile, and they decide against purchasing the house.

Why does this seemingly random pop culture reference come to mind? It is a great illustration about how issues shaping our lives are handled in many cities, including Austin. Housing and traffic are huge elements affecting the quality of life experienced by the average Austin resident. The policymakers and developers really like selling the idea of Austin and know neither issue can be equitably solved without the active participation of the community members who are living with the problem every moment of every day. Residents are encouraged to step back from the issues and gain perspective. And, just as in the Dick Van Dyke episode, many long-time residents are choosing to opt out and are looking for another ‘house’.

How can this be solved? The simple labels of ‘Housing’ and ‘Traffic’ are covering up a complex set of issues that can only be solved in partnership with the community bearing the heaviest burden of those problems. There is not one simple top-down fix that will make housing affordable or traffic negotiable. When the city creates an ‘affordable’ housing solution, it often shifts the financial costs from the housing column to the transportation column.  And this only looks at the monetary costs saved, excluding the physical and mental health costs plus the time away from friends, family & community, all the things that make life enjoyable…definitely not a sustainable exchange. The loss of this community wealth might not be noticed by the newer residents, but is leaving large holes in the fabric of our community, without those holding the history of Austin sharing that wealth, the future is incomplete.

This brings me back to my opening thought: flipping the script from ‘affordability’ to ‘ability to afford’. At first glance these might seem to share a similar message. However, the former measures value from the outside based on averages and potentials; the latter speaks to changing the model to strengthen the individual’s ability to access more knowledge and options. Investing in people is always the best bet, it is where innovation is born and commitment to community resides.  I don’t think it’s too late to rewrite the future of Austin, or any other city, however it is going to take community members to come together around shared values to demand a seat at the table. And, if they are denied, to make their own table and get on with the task of deepening their community roots, planting and growing the trees that will provide shade for generations to come.

This week’s inspirational article…

The Cost of Community vs. Living Close

Rachel Quednau, Contributor & Communications Specialist at Strong Towns.

How much additional gas, parking passes and car repairs must residents spend as a result of living in auto-centric areas, and, after calculating that, are they really saving anything with the cheaper suburban house?

Community Wealth

“I’ve never seen a tree grow from the top down.” – Ruth Glendinning, Founding Principal, Thriving Community Solutions

Community Roots

I grew up in an educated, financially comfortable, middle class family in suburban West Houston. Most of my friends’ dads worked for oil companies and it was normal for them to spend a couple of years living in other parts of the world, eventually coming back to Houston, only to leave again. My dad was an optometrist so we stayed in Houston as this revolving door kept turning, and life proceeded.  This pattern didn’t create the deep roots that I now know are vital to building real community. Neither did it create sustainable community wealth.

What is community wealth? It’s not just financial capital, which is certainly useful, it’s all the non-monetary capital (relationships, respect, trust, environmental, energy, knowledge, etc.) that create the basis of shared experiences leading to wisdom, empathy and community that transform a neighborhood from a collection of individual families sharing a ZIP code to a real community in which every member understands the purpose of Community is to produce the individual and mutual wellbeing of all the participants, in an ongoing way.

I had always felt something was missing from the marketing definition of community, that the surface story of green lawns and malls didn’t tell the whole story of the why of community and disconnected folks from the how of community. Those questions were answered for me both through personal experiments growing community in Austin and rural Oklahoma, and grounded in a deep education in the history and future of community from David Armistead, my business partner in Thriving Community Solutions.  David grew up in West Texas, was part of community building conversations in San Francisco, worked with Native American tribes and learned from Buckminster Fuller. From those experiences, David developed the flexible intellectual framework we’re using to create an inclusive, collaborative foundation for the unfolding path ahead.

The Seven Principles of a Rooted Community

The requirements to realize the community purpose in an ongoing (sustainable) fashion are:

  1. Community Social Contract – the social network among the participants in the community must continually self-organize up from a shared commitment, held by each participant, to coordinate their living together to produce community thriving. This is the principle of Community Social Contract.
  2. Integral Community – The community must be thought of by its participants as a complex adaptive system within itself, and as an element of the locally and globally interconnected ecosystem.
  3. Full Spectrum Capital – All basic capital forms (such as materials, energy, finance, labor, social capital and knowledge) must be fully considered in all community development activity.
  4. Community Wealth – The aggregate working capital stock, committed to provisioning the community to thrive both now and in the future, is the wealth of the community.
  5. Local Recirculation (i.e. Metabolic or Circular Economy) – This working capital needed within the local network of commerce for community thriving must be maintained in a working status.
  6. Local Co-Reliance – Community thriving must be produced primarily through the participants’ local coordination of their personal actions for effectively living life through locally emergent network of commerce that enables the community to progressively provision itself with the primary factors of living such as water, food, shelter, power, communications, education, and health.
  7. Eco-Balance – The eco-footprint required for the community to thrive must be balanced against the reproductive capacity of the local ecology. Failure to maintain this balance will break the recirculation of the natural capital of the community.

The Current Situation – Community Absence

It is a common observation that the predominant (i.e. – prior) world pattern has functioned in a way that has produced many places in which people live in close physical and functional proximity to one another, yet in that place they lack a meaningful experience of connection to their neighbors. These places lack community, and in these places the physicality of living in proximity is often confused for the functionality of community.

Wherever this occurs, the condition arises from the absence of the requirements for community. This often takes the form of this progressive decline:

  • collapse of the Community Social Contract
  • failure of Local Co-reliance
  • breakdown of Local Recirculation
  • collapse in the production of Community Wealth

This event flow drives an ever increasing systemic focus on ‘my, me, mine’ at the expense not only of the common good, but also of the systemic capacity to produce wellbeing for anyone, profoundly limiting community adaptability and sustainability.

In these places there is an ever increasing conversion of the wealth that naturally flows from the healthy activities of effective daily living out of community working capital and into financial assets that then concentrate in few hands. This oversimplifies the local network of commerce, diminishing and hollowing out the locally available jobs, which drives separation and isolation of the local residents from one another and from the real issues of provisioning life with food, water, shelter, education, finance, etc.

The result has been places that do not generate wellbeing, leaving most people in those places living in a daily struggle to make it, focused on finances and not wellbeing, often compromising their personal and family health for cash flow. And this happens across the whole range of economic classes.

These ‘hollowed out places’ do not thrive and do not enable thriving, regardless of how much financial activity may be engendered there.[i]

The Solution

Thriving now requires a local renewal (re-cultivation) of community. To move into this renewal requires a shift away from the old pattern that looked at community as an object (aggregated land, buildings and people), instead taking the more functional ‘new pattern’ view which looks at community as a dynamic social network of people coordinating their living of life together.

Seen through this lens, community can be defined as a social network in which the participants share, as a core element of their relationships, the tacit social contract to coordinate their living together so they jointly produce individual and shared wellbeing, community thriving, provisioning for thriving now and also in their shared future.

Where It’s Working

Braddock PA

Young entrepreneurs and artists have been lured by Braddock Redux’s vision: employ art and green initiatives, and recycle empty buildings. A prime example, in size and location, is the Ohringer Building on Braddock Avenue. When Braddock Redux offered free studio space in the 80-year-old structure, 30 artists showed up; foundations then gave grants for a redesign. Now, Braddock Redux owns and pays taxes on the property (though problems with a Duquesne Light transformer have kept upper floors dark). Down the block, a building still emblazoned with the flaking name Unsmoke provides seasonal workspace for other creative types. And the former St. Michael’s convent acts as a hostel for temporary visitors curious to connect with those creative pioneers.

As he sits next door to the community center in his loft lined with black-and-white photos of Braddock, John Fetterman admits that maintaining equilibrium between what long-term residents need and new ones want is tricky. “We need to achieve this balance between the community we have and the community we need to continue to grow in the right direction; that philosophy underpins everything we attempt to do. I’d say we’re right where we need to be.”

Spur TX

In July of 2014, Spur uniquely proclaimed itself as the Nation’s first “tiny” house friendly town, and the vision for what that implies is steadily becoming a reality.  We invited the tiny house community to settle in Spur because our little town is brimming with potential and opportunity.  The tiny house movement is full of creative innovation and has attracted do’ers from all walks of life who value self-sufficient sustainability and practical progress.  People who value lifestyle and community over the bustling anonymous over-worked and under-employed city life will find Spur very welcoming.

Spur is a classic West Texas town which has undergone a dramatic population drain to the big cities over the last few decades.  Once a town of several thousand, Spur has all the infrastructure you would expect of a city, with paved roads, city electric/water/sewage, and even fiber optic internet.  But with only about 1,000 people, the city has hundreds of vacant lots and abandoned buildings and several vacant commercial buildings.  It’s the perfect place for the next generation of pioneers with an open mindset to come and create something amazing while realizing their own aspirations.  We’re in a transitional stage right now and would love to come out of it ahead by ignoring the status quo and becoming a model for 21st century towns.

Modena/Reggio Emilia Italy

Reggio Emilia is one of the most prosperous economic areas of the country and is noted for its high standard of living and per capita income, which have always contributed to its excellent quality of life and social cohesion. The city and its surrounding territory enjoy a high level of employment, thanks to a network of small and medium-sized firms, which guarantee an excellent employment rate for graduates of the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia. The sectors of Mechanics, Food and Agriculture (with products like the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, one of the gastronomical trademarks of the territory) represent a longstanding tradition and are world-renowned. In addition, more than 200 firms make up the “Mechatronic District”, the crowning glory of this province. The manufacturing industry is at the heart of the local economy, despite recent changes and the Globalization process. Reggio Emilia has also seen a progressive growth of activities connected to media and the arts (from design to dance, from the performing arts to communication, and from advertising to music), The talented people and companies operating in the sector enjoy widespread public attention. The city’s framework is becoming increasingly one of a “creative district” specialized in the new media, as witnessed by the city’s participation in the Urbact European Project on “Creative Clusters in Low Density Urban Areas”.

Neighborhood Centers Inc. Houston – East Aldine TX

People who grow up here love this place. At a community meeting led by Neighborhood Centers, a young man working on his GED declares that he wants to become a certified welder and put down roots. A woman who runs a beauty salon says, “I could have opened my business in The Woodlands, but my heart is here, in the Aldine area. I wanted my business to prosper in the community, with the community.”

What’s Next – Become a Community Weaver

We commonly hear the call for Community Builders or Community Makers. I propose that we become Community Weavers:

Wisdom to know a commitment to shared wellbeing is the core of community

Empathize with the struggles of others

Accept the responsibility for enacting change

Value the unique elements that make your community home

Engage with your community

Respond to opportunities

Share your solutions –

I appreciate you taking the time to read this post. I want this blog to become a platform for cooperative learning and action. Please let me know what’s working in your community, or, what’s not working, so we can collaborate on solutions in this unfolding story.

[i] Physical security is a fundamental aspect of wellbeing. Wherever thriving breaks down, physical security becomes destabilized and eroded. The less thriving is experienced in a place, the less physical security exists in that place. Simply possessing financial assets does not resolve this problem, but it does tend to mask how physical insecurity reduces the wellbeing of the upper class, who tend to respond to this by spending money on force strategies intended to provide physical security. These strategies cannot work. Only the regeneration of functional communities can begin to provision our common physical security.