Peter Block is a well-known consultant and best-selling author. Two of his recent books – Community: The structure of belonging and The Abundant Community – focus on how we participate in, and create, healthy vibrant communities.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Peter about how we understand and enact community within the framework of our lives that exist in place-based communities, taking into account the complexities of our simultaneous allegiances to multiple communities. Peter also offers a reflection on his personal experiences with community.
How do you think we can benefit from taking a break from our home communities? For example, retreating to conferences, taking part in long-term residential educational programs, or by simply choosing to live in another community for a specific period of time?
Conferences and educational intermissions are places for reflection. Place where thought is valued. Time slows down to a natural speed. Priceless, regardless of content or keynote speakers. Living in another community is also priceless. It opens us to the stranger, which we need to wake up again. It is the antidote to the dulling and life consuming effects of like-mindedness.
Your work emphasizes place-based or neighbourhood communities. Do you see a role for online communities? How can we best imagine the possibilities for online media to contribute to, or create, community?
Online is romanticized community. It offers logistical advantage. So it ranks up there with the phone call, the mail, and the automobile. It is an easy way to know where we are meeting. It does nothing to insure or support the quality of relationship that community rides on. It suffers from a lack of accountability and touch. It most often becomes the substitute for community.
What can place-based or neighourhood communities and institutional communities (e.g. schools, workplaces, etc.) learn from each other?
Every place has a story and needs to produce its own narrative. It is useful in the act of creation. What sharing does for us is give us faith. Benchmarking is built on the promise of enhanced methodology, but all transformation has to ultimately be customized.
In your experience, what is the best example you have seen of youth contributing to community building?
Children, along with music and food and art, are the ultimate connectors. We need them in the room all the time, especially teenagers. They bring energy and passion into the room, plus they are not easily fooled. The best example is Elementz, a Center for Hip Hop and Respect in Cincinnati, Ohio.
What was the most powerful experience in building community in which you were personally invested?
First, starting a business at too young an age was life changing. Risky, interdependent, all on the line, strict measures that could not be denied, hard decisions to stop what was not working and asking people you cared about to move on. Had to show up. Second was my decision to become a citizen of my city, Cincinnati. To care about it. To act as an owner. It was not so much building community, as it was to join and find my voice in it, regardless of outcomes which have been very elusive. Ultimately led to the belief that all the youth in the city are my children, all of the difficulties in the city I have a hand in sustaining. All there is in the end is faith in each other despite evidence to the contrary. We live in a period of growing fear and fundamentalism, and community is our best, and maybe only, response.