Moving to a small area in Brooklyn in my mid-twenties was the first time I made the distinction between neighborhood and community. In common language and on the news, the words are often interchanged but they are not remotely similar.
A neighborhood is a collection of people geographically bound by some physical or official designation such as a street or border. Neighborhoods might be friendly but not productive. A neighborhood exists physically but the people do not necessarily have any connection with each other despite their close proximity.
A community does not require physical boundaries but its members, either actively or passively, work to produce something, like nurturing schools or a friendly environment. In community, acts of friendliness may be performed regularly to help neighbors and people may just stop on the street to chat to people whom they are not connected to via social media. People in communities care for one-another, something not necessarily present in a neighborhood.
When I lived in a certain part of Queens I never knew there could be anything different from a neighborhood. There were people everywhere but no one spoke to anyone caringly. I lived on the same street for decades and knew few people on the block. Very little was done collectively to improve the overall circumstance.
In this part of Brooklyn people say hello, gather at people’s homes, share things and have a willingness to give and help. Businesses are supported by locals out of pride and solidarity. Email groups bind residents together with the dissemination of information, stories of personal experience, and freecycling offers. Families are important and not just to the family members. Most staggeringly, people care, in general, as a way of life, about their blocks, streets, and neighbors.
Can communities be constructed? Surely seeds can be planted but to aggregate a caring people with similar ethics may simply be a matter of luck.
How does one find a community? Communities are now often bound by online information distribution through groups, forums, or fan pages. I would begin my search by seeking those out.
How do you know when you’re in a community? A friend of mine once said, “I love that kind of stuff, where people are friendly and it’s not all about ‘me, me, me’ but feels like part of a community.” If you feel like you’re part of a community, you’re probably in one.
What is the single most important factor in sustaining a community? The absence of anger.