If one thing has become clear over the past year, it’s that our communities are stronger when we look out for one another. This global pandemic has been a good example of the fact that we are at our best when we act not just in personal interest but for the wellbeing of the whole. When we do this, we don’t just overcome adversity but find ways to thrive through it. In a world that rarely has any shortage of challenges, maintaining a strong community will continue to be vital.
When you’re a figure of leadership in an urban area, this isn’t always easy to achieve. City life can be complicated, and the lack of government support can mean that the vulnerable amongst your community will go unseen.
This is why we’re going to take a moment to look at some key learning points that help to strengthen community bonds. What are some tips and strategies you can employ? Where can you and your neighbors draw practical inspiration from?
In any urban community, some elements require dedicated attention from leaders. It’s one of the aspects that can sometimes seem a little overwhelming. As such, it can be a good idea to bring community members together to take a more formal approach to specific types of projects. This helps to make sure that activities proceed in a more organized and intentional fashion.
The challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic have revealed examples of how effective this approach can be. Over the past year or so, communities of color and marginalized groups have found themselves disproportionately vulnerable — often as a result of spotty government assistance. However, organized groups have been instrumental in picking up the slack upon recognition of the need to act. Project Dream Fridge was organized by non-profit Dion’s Chicago Dream to stock a community refrigerator in response to rising food inequality during lockdown. Compassion for Oakland has organized groups to assist and accompany elderly residents of the Chinatown area to mitigate risks associated with the increased violence and abuse against Asian Americans. These types of targeted projects help to handle specific issues effectively.
Arrange regular community meetings to assess the ongoing and rising needs. Utilize this to ensure each member can have input into how projects and organizations are formed. Democratize this to make sure that those with the most appropriate skills are involved. These can also be opportunities for existing project groups to share each other’s expertise to meet challenges. For instance, groups dedicated to reducing violence against community members should also pair with other niche groups like trans and LGBTQ rights organizations to make sure that all members of the community are equally served.
A strong community celebrates the diversity of its members. One of the differences between a basic neighborhood and a community is a sense of inclusivity. However, that means as a community leader you need to make sure that there is a commitment to making certain that everyone has equal ability to be involved with and contribute to all aspects of local life. This can be achieved through continuous improvement of accessibility.
You can begin with a general audit of community services. Talk to local business owners, religious institutions, and government offices about the measures they have in place to give access to all people in the community. In many cases, they will have accommodations for those who fall under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). However, this is fairly limited in its scope and as such is unlikely to address accessibility for everybody in your community.
As such, once your audit of services is complete, it’s important to reach out to members of the community to talk about the challenges to access they face with a view to making improvements. Some will require more medical assistance than others, and may even be struggling to navigate the quite complex system of Medicare and insurance while also handling their conditions. Indeed, part of the accessibility challenge may be making sure there are resources to have their questions about the system answered concisely. The imperative here is to get a full overview of the hurdles at hand, and then be a contact point between the community and service providers to bridge gaps.
Encourage Mutual Responsibility
As a community leader, it might sometimes feel as though you’re taking much of the responsibility for activities in your urban community. After all, people look to you for influence and guidance. Often, though, an important way to strengthen community bonds is by encouraging and empowering members to be mutually responsible for one another’s safety and wellbeing. While you can still guide how to accomplish this as a leader, this helps to spread the load. It also builds greater trusting relationships among locals.
This can begin with formalizing steps to keep everyone responsible for overall community safety. At times of uncertainty or even in an environment that is seeing increasing civil unrest, creating a plan that involves the whole neighborhood can help bring the community together. Importantly, it helps everyone to feel closer and more supported by one another. This can be in the form of a neighborhood watch scheme, which sees neighbors being actively involved in vigilance and plans to keep their neighbors safe. Indeed, regular meetings can help everyone to understand where the safety issues lie and work together to solve these.
Mutual responsibility doesn’t begin and end with security, though. It can also include care schemes. Work with one another to ease the burden of care that some of you may be experiencing. This could be checking in on elderly neighbors, or driving vulnerable members to hospital appointments. It’s also worth remembering that affordable childcare is not always easily accessible for working parents or those who have returned to school. As such, there can also be some benefit to mutual childcare on a rotational basis.
Strong communities don’t happen on their own. They need guidance and strategies that bring them closer together. Arranging formal projects that address challenges is a good start. However, serious work also needs to go into making services accessible to everyone. Perhaps most importantly, a culture of mutual responsibility can forge greater trust among members and build positive relationships.