The spaces we inhabit

In an interview, permaculturist Chris Shein says, “Permaculture in general is not about self sufficiency, it’s about mutually beneficial relationships and community self reliance.” I enjoy the phrase ‘community self reliance’ because it suggests a shift in the location of the self, from the individual to the community. Identity becomes shared. Places like community and school gardens, then, are physical manifestations of this communal identity; they are repositories of identity.

Strathcona Heights Community Garden.

Strathcona Heights Community Garden. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For their Motion series, Louise Sayarer and Eva Vikstrom have invited people to join them in “investigating site, context and collaboration in our project space and extended home.” Similarly, the Finding Home project opened a temporary research center in 2012 which they used for ” having a huge amount of dialogues, recording interviews, speaking with passers-by, sitting and reading with others.” They subsequently made these interviews available to those who wanted to listen to them. Do these project spaces function like manifestations of a communal identity? Or is their aim something else? Both in the case of Motion and Finding Home, a space was made public, in the sense that people were allowed entry into it and were invited to participate in a project. Both projects aim to   make observations about the surrounding community. Perhaps the difference between the types of places that Shein mentioned, “community gardens, school gardens, back of front yard shares, rooftop gardens” and project-spaces, like Motion’s and Finding Home’s, is that the former is a community-run space and the latter are spaces that intend to reflect and observe the community (by including it and inviting it to participate). I want to clarify that I don’t mean to be any value judgments, or to suggest, in this exploration, that one kind of space is ‘better than’ the other. (Personally, I think Finding Home is a particularly inspiring project.) This kind of judgement would be inappropriate, seeing as these two kinds of space are extremely different: apples and oranges. And yet, they bear a resemblance, at least in appearance, to each other, and that is what I am interested in.

It interests me precisely because I hope, someday and somewhere, to create a space is both community-run and that observes and reflects the community. But this is difficult. Projects that attempt to ‘look at’ the community must necessarily maintain some distance from that very community. Participants from the community have to be guided and directed in various activities which then give light to a greater idea. Projects that are community-run don’t typically have an extensive self-analytic motive. This isn’t to say that community projects aren’t self-conscious, but that the primary goal, for example, of a community garden is to run a successful garden in a community-setting. It wouldn’t be a very effective or efficient garden if the majority of time and energy were spent on recording and analyzing the structure of the community that gardens. This is, of course, reductive; but the point remains that it is difficult to conceive of a community project that would both activate and analyze.

This is something I continue to think about and would always welcome your thoughts and comments on. I have just been thinking out loud, and nothing I wrote has the status of a steadfast belief. I am always re-evaluating.

I want to include, lastly, a response I received about the meaning the community. F.Low, from The Cheats Movement, responded: When I think community, I think family. A band of people coming together for the greater good of living. People who help one another in a time of need, people who come together, period. This idea of community may or may not even exist in the mind of others but as long as its an idea, it is very well possible to become a reality. I’m old school and I remember that kind of community. I want it back, and I’m sure it all starts here, in RVA. – F.Low

Send any responses, thoughts, and comments about community to thecommunitytalks [at], or just post it in the comments!


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