I think a major layer of community building is the inferiority complex. I’m seeing it again as we are preparing to welcome Trader Joes into our community. We spend too much time thinking we need to spend money on expensive stadiums and art centers to be more urbane. If we are over that demon, we bemoan not having an H&M, Shake Shack, Trader Joes or whatever chain store, restaurant or “hot new establishment” that likes to over-hype themselves and make us think we are less than as a city without them.
I like to break down the battle within our civic psyches as the recognition of the setting and the unknown lights. I define the setting as the physical, cultural and emotional space of our cities, that other people compare and judge. It’s what already exists, but we see as being mundane or even demeaning. The unknown lights can also be mundane for some, but they are more positive activities. They are also activities that would be celebrated, if they were in a different form or from a different place.
For my hometown of Greensboro, the setting is:
-A mid sized city (270,000) in the traditional United States South (North Carolina)
-Economic devastation, brought on by the loss of textile manufacturing, something that established Greensboro as a worldwide leader.
-Racial polarization, from key incidents in 1960, 1979 and as city residents have lost jobs and look for explanations
-A shifting center of wealth to the northwest quadrant and outside of the city limits into townships that now serve as bedroom community suburbs.
-A lack of vision for many poor and middle class inner-city neighborhoods, including residential downtown
-An airport that is only a connector and not a hub
And our unknown lights are:
-A school system that is graduating 83% of its students and 100% of those that attend its alternative schools, which are run much like magnet schools in other districts.
-A very vibrant and equal local food market. Co-ops, farmers markets, community gardens and gourmet grocery continues to grow. Communities are mobilizing to provide links to fresh food and necessities.
-A vibrant arts community, with city funded arts classes, an award-winning regional theater company, a unique museum project funded by the Andy Warhol Foundation,neighborhood street festivals and independent handmade markets
-Low-cost downtown living
-Highway connections to larger cities and the entire nation
-Halfway(3 hours each way) to the beach and to the mountains
While some of the setting and the unknown lights are subjective, they are often based on objective notions of how cities run or people think they should be run and built. Killing this complex will help us all appreciate the homegrown elements of community and urbanism we already have. We also may save time and money by not running out to build just to be politically correct or keep up with the Jones’.
So I leave you with your weapons to destroy your city’s inferiority complex.
-Identify your setting and your unknown lights
-Take one part of the setting, gather a group and work on fixing it
-Take one unknown light and work on making it known
-Stop over-comparing your community to the point of disrepair and accidental destruction
-Be creative and repeat the other steps often to fix problems and encourage your community.
What is your setting? What are your unknown lights? What will it take to get rid of the inferiority complex in your city?
Image credit: Flickr user Gary Junglingunder a
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