Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Investing in Community

Big cities, like Seattle, have lots of culture and activities, restaurants and entertainment. But often I find that when people gather in the city they are still wandering the town as individuals rarely getting the opportunity to interact. In a culture of iPods and smart phones, it is no wonder many of us spend more time listening and looking at our gadgets than each other! I'm guilty. I was listening to my iPod on the way home today on the bus. If I'm not doing that, I'm reading. In fact, I barely know the two neighbors that share a house with me. Guilty, guilty! I definitely act like I live in a big city. Do you?

Part of building stronger communities, however, is getting to know each other. There is much power to be had when people unite. People help each other out in hard times, look after your house when you are gone, spare an egg when you can't make it to the store, offer up a spare bedroom after you've lost a job, share apples from their backyard trees, and opportunities arise for children to play together. Heck, maybe you are even so bold to start potluck meals once a week with your neighbors. Why do people do these things? Because people who know each other care about each other. Even greater power comes when people join even more people and advocate for their neighborhoods and schools and make their communities livable and happy places thus giving our concerns for each other and our communities a real voice.

It is in this context, I set out the other night to get more involved in my community. It all began in an empty parking lot. I was soon welcomed by a ski bus that usually runs weekend skiers up to the mountains. I can't ski but that is irrelevant. I got on the bus and it quickly transported me about a half mile down the street to the Duawamish Long House. I got off the bus, gave my thanks to the driver, and walked in to a beautiful building built of cedar, the interior covered in history in the form of maps and artifacts of the once thriving Duawamish Tribe. The reason for my visit, was to attend the annual Sustainable West Seattle winter potluck. Sustainable West Seattle is a community group of people passionate about environmental issues including energy, transportation, food, and stormwater pollution. They are very active in West Seattle and work on several projects to improve the community and promote a sustainable way of living that is good for people and the planet. Judging from the potluck, they have a substantial following and I wanted to be more and more a part of it.

As I walked in to the main hall, homemade food was arranged neatly on the tables including casseroles and salads, main dishes, and desserts. A keg and bottles of wine were not in short supply. The building was filling up and a stage band began tuning their instruments. I could just tell it was going to be a fun time. And it was. I was able to network with some of the Sustainable West Seattle group members as well as visit with other folks attending the event. Music filled the room, dancers took to the floor, and many a conversation were to be had. I spent a good deal of time with a family with three generations present. All raised in West Seattle.

Community and neighborhood gatherings, like this one, are occurring in small towns everywhere across america. Why our cities have to be different I have no idea. It takes each of us, one by one, to build communities that we care about and feel like we're members of. I am convinced by investing in community we will find ourselves much happier and enriched people.

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