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3 Questions for Finding Community in a City

Updated: May 14

Relationships are messy, am I right? Not to mention trying to grow belonging in cities that never sleep where transient seems to be the norm.


I remember when I relocated to Atlanta; it felt like I was dropped in the midst of a forest now asked to navigate. Where do you start?


Reframe how you think about and find community.


I find it helpful thinking about cities like a forest. Imagine with me a lush forest, full of old, sturdy trees and also young trees. If one of its trees falls or were removed, the forest would remain. Even if all but a few trees were removed, it would still be considered a forest.


A forest within a hilled valley, fog descending upon it.

Now, imagine a city. Like forests, at a distance they look static, but at a closer look, there is a constant flow of new growth and transplants alongside stagnant structures. Many of us live in communities that are constantly changing like this. Community looks different in metropolitan regions, but it still functions as a place to share common interests, dreams, threats and resources.

When you think about the communities in which you live and work, where do you see things that are moving and where do you see things not moving? Why is this the case?

At Resilient Communities Center, when we think of a city, we see a region with large numbers of people and resources, greater layers of administration and power, and also smaller communities that are heterogeneous (not the same) but part of the larger community. Community is critical to one's well-being, regardless of it being in a small town or up-and-coming urban sprawl. To help us navigate community, there are three traits that I see in both a forest and a skyline from which three questions arise that can help start a process of belonging in a city:


Landmarks, climates and shared soil.


What is established here?

Starting with what is already present in a community is a great way to stabilize a sense of community. Traffic patterns, new developments and ever-changing careers can feel very unsettling, but what are some staples? What has been around 30 years? If you want to learn something about the community, who do you ask? Where do you go?


Even in community and capacity building, our team looks to the smallest, common expression of community. It might be a restaurant, a long-time resident, or an annual event. Most likely, underneath that location or resident or cultural celebration is a web of relationships. When asking what is established, you are looking for a relational landmark to help you gain a sense of your surroundings. From this place of looking at what is established, you can explore a second question.


What are people living for?

When considering the strength of a community, Dr. Tracy Brower says,

"People’s roles have meaning in the bigger picture of the community and each member of the group understands how their work connects to others’ and adds value to the whole.

In a city, this can mean the roles within a family or organizers of a community event. There's a shared sense of purpose and roles that intersect that purpose. Like a tree serving a greater role in the ecosystem of the forest, there are roles that exist for individuals and even between different communities.


For example, an annual event that is well-established might have roles for the long-standing restaurant to cater, the long-standing resident to provide word-of-mouth marketing and the financial institution to sponsor. Each takes their respective purposes and collaborates around a larger purpose.


This sort of community organizing and mapping we call "interlocking needs of a team." We see teams as not being just found within corporate or organizational spaces. A team is any small group who shares who they are and what they do toward a greater goal.


It can take place around supporting a family to think about the roles needed to have a healthy home or an affinity going after a common outcome. Like noting the types of species of trees in a forest, you can gain an awareness of the relational climate, the interests and resources that people gather around and support.


Who is beside you?

There's a good chance after having identified some landmarks and noted centers of gravity that attract people together, the final question to begin asking is, "Who is here with you?" Community is shared, and although relationships existed prior to your presence, there is an invitation for you both to learn your role and for others to learn about you. Something new can come and add vibrancy to what already was.


Soil is interdependent. Inhabitants of a forest contribute to and draw from soil's richness or assist in its depletion. In a similar way, space is an opportunity to enhance and synergize relationships or isolate and manipulate.


We believe that potential is always present, even if up to this point the space and soil has not been tended to well. Naming what is there though is required to ever then begin to build upon it. Even in its greatest absence, to name there is soil, space to grow, is starting from a place of appreciation. Cities are beautiful things. They are good. They are part of God’s design (Revelation 20-22). When we learn to value cities for their vast network of interconnected relationships, we can embrace the dynamics of city pace instead of fighting it. Over time, the health of these “trees” with whom you mentor and live alongside impacts the health of the overall community.


If you would like to explore more about your contribution to community or find yourself stuck toward growing appreciation or belonging, our team of trained mentors at the Resilient Communities Center would love to meet you and create space for you to discover your potential.

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