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 Boundary, Possible Lives, Why 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.
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.