Re-energizing that Community Feeling

With all my writing on structure and creativity, I can’t help but perceive the world with these ideas in mind.  I can’t escape them either; the relationship between structure and creativity can be observed in everything we do.

One area that interests me particularly is “community.”

I live in the downtown core of one of the busiest cities in North America.  When you live and grow up in a city like Toronto, it’s hard to recognize and break free from the “big-city mentality” (or structure!).

Where the notion of community is concerned, the big-city structure isn’t healthy.  You know exactly what I mean.  Why is it awkward to smile and say hello to a passing stranger?  Why do we avoid eye contact?  Why is Starbucks the only option?  Put these observations in contrast to smaller towns and ‘communities’ where saying hello to a passing stranger is perfectly normal.  That’s healthy!

I’m scratching the surface, but you get the idea.

I asked Pier Giorgio Di Cicco about this once.  Giorgio wrote a book called “Municipal Mind: Manifestos for the Creative City” which targets architects, politicians, urban planners and the like, and encourages them to reflect on the importance of community and how to optimize it.  I asked: “How do we re-energize that ‘community feeling?’”

Needless to say, it’s a multi-faceted problem with deep issues and deep consequences; one can’t help but feel cynical about the future.

But I’m still curious!  So, I’m conducting a little experiment.  Your feedback and participation are most welcome!

Lately, I’ve been spending more time reading and writing at the local coffee shops (Second Cup and Starbucks).  We all know that starting up conversations and making connections with strangers in public places has become unnatural and awkward.  This isn’t healthy; how do you break this pattern?  Here’s what I’ve been doing:

When ordering, I tell the cashier that I’m going to buy the next customer’s coffee (they always look at me funny, but I’m insistent).  If the next customer is right behind me, I ask them if they’re ordering a coffee and I buy it for them.

My goal is to prompt natural, genuine exchanges with strangers – a characteristic of healthy communities.  I don’t expect this to improve the big picture, but maybe it’ll start a trend.  At the very least, I’ll get some personal insight and somebody will get a free coffee.  I think it’s well worth the two bucks.

Try it; let me know how it goes!

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