Monday, May 3, 2010

Creating Community

What makes us feel connected? What makes us feel engaged? I’ve been pondering these questions a lot lately, partly for my own self-betterment, and partly for different projects I’m working on right now. Out of context, these questions are pretty vague. However, they are also the most important to address when trying to understand a community, learn how they work, interact, and where there is the potential to develop.

Let’s use Eugene, Ore., as fun example to test out these questions. Eugene is a warm, inviting town that anyone can quickly call “home.” However, like every home, there is always something that needs to be fixed, sometimes tension between generations, and every once and a while … it’s just a big mess.

I’ve called Eugene home for most of my life. At times I feel a loving comfort from its familiar faces and spaces. But sometimes I also feel a disconnect. I sense the mounting tension between the wealthy and the desperate, the young and the “mature,” and those who wish to evolve and those who fear change. How can we overcome these groups individual isolations and come together as the engaged, proactive, united community that I know we all wish it to be.

Maybe it’s just my wishful kum-bay-ya approach to life, but I really feel that the more opportunity people have to contribute, the more they will. If you reach out to someone for help, more often than not he or she will come to your aid. Why don’t we take this approach to the whole community? Let’s let people create the change they desire, let’s let people have fun.

I work at the Eugene Saturday Market. Every week the Eugene Park Blocks attract people from all scopes of life who talk, listen to music, eat, and most importantly – enjoy the company of their community. How can we apply this sort of all-inclusive feeling to every day life?

A year or two ago I discovered the legal graffiti wall behind Amtrack on Shelton McMurphey Blvd. What a great idea this is! Eugene already loves its murals; what if there were more spaces for continuous, expandable, adaptable, engaging outlets of creativity? Let’s not reserve our communal artistic aesthetic for planned programs. I want to see a space for anonymous expressions of creative thought. I want to see a visual conversation created between two people who may never meet. What would it matter if someone abused the free space and painted something obscene? They would only be adding to the discussion, and someone else could come along and challenge it with a fresh coat of expression. The current graffiti wall is a fantastic start, but it’s pushed to the edge of town – out of site, out of mind. Let’s push community involvement and interaction to the front of our minds.

This is just one way in which we could become a more engaged community. There are many more out there, and even more brilliant-but-untapped minds who can provide their thoughts. Don’t ignore the tensions of a community, let’s address them and create an opportunity for involvement. Let’s make our town a home.

*Photos by rerinha and Dynamic Street Art

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