The word community is originally derived from the Latin words communitat and communita, the latter word being a noun that means “ joint possession or use, participation, sharing, social relationship, fellowship, organized society, shared nature or quality, kinship” (Oxford English Dictionary). The word then entered the Anglo-Norman and Middle French languages, with expanded use of the term to include “relations, association (c1150 or earlier in Anglo-Norman), nation or state (12th century), body of people who live in the same place, usually sharing a common cultural or ethnic identity (c1370), religious society (1378)” (Oxford English Dictionary).
Even from the early use of the word “community”, it appears to have enjoyed wide application and there are today tens of ways of relating to its use, making it a challenge to give a clear description of its meaning and use.
A number of writers have tried to categorise the term such as Brown & Isaacs (1994) where they introduced the model for successful community engagement into the six C’s, namely Capability, Commitment, Contribution, Continuity, Collaboration and Conscience. This is an individual way of cleverly finding six words which begin with the letter “C” to identify aspects of the community; however, the categories seem to provide a rather general description. For example, the "C" for "Conscience" is stated as meaning "guiding principles/ethics of service, trust and respect that are expressed in the actions of the community". This relates more to the writers' wish how the community should function, than a definition of the term.
In my view, the most effective and simple categorisation is nevertheless contained in Wikipedia that anonymously suggests that the term can be broken down into three categories: geographic communities, communities of culture and communities of organisation.
The first category “geographic communities” relates to communities of location, both on the micro and macro scale, ranging from village communities to the planet as a whole. The international community includes people from around the world who have diverse religions, culture and ethnicity, yet have a common interest in international issues, such as human rights and world peace. The United Nations is formed of 192 member states and is an example of a community whose members represent geographical locations.
The second category “communities of culture” relate to groups that have a common identity other than location including religions, sexual orientation, sports, politics, the arts and communities of the needy such as the disabled. Members of such communities often feel a closer bond to each other, especially when they are living in an area where they are the ethnic or religious minority - they may be more inclined to greet each other on the streets even if they have never met before so long as they are recognised as being a member of their community. Some have charity organisations set up specifically to support the needy of the community, and to provide care and support for mothers and babies, adults and children.
The third and last category, “community organisations”, has certain relevance to planning, as these include professional bodies (f0r example, the Royal Town Planning Institute), unions, local organisations involved with the community such as local sports and cultural activities (Wikipedia under definition of “Community”).
In the last decade, the above categories have blended more and more and some indeed overlap. The internet is a prime instance, as it connects all populations (geographical communities), hobbies and interests, for example through social networking (communities of culture) and is a source of knowledge and communication and bringing local people together (community organisations).
Changes in the Community
In my view, community feeling on a local basis has been declining in the United Kingdom, and also the Western world, over the last fifty years with more of the population living in metropolitan areas, commuting and working long hours and generally being more involved with their colleagues at work and networking through the web (for example, Facebook) than relating to their neighbours and local community (Daily Mail, 2010). Even on a national level, there is more resistance to be involved in foreign affairs and wars in areas such Afghanistan.
In 1997, Prime Minister Tony Blair explained how communities were becoming more divided, and the government needs to take action and to intervene by challenging the existing decline in community life. Blair was quoted as saying “We all know the problems of our poorest neighbourhoods - decaying housing, unemployment, street crime and drugs. People who can, move out. Nightmare neighbours move in. Shops, banks and other vital services close. Over the last two decades the gap between these 'worst estates' and the rest of the country has grown. It has left us with a situation that no civilised society should tolerate” (Blair, 1997).
A market research was published that showed that most British people do not know their neighbours’ names and would not recognise them in the streets and more than a quarter of those interviewed replied that they admit to being suspicious to those living nearby (Coulthard et al., 2002).
In this context, in recent times, leading world politicians have been seeking to revive the ethic of engaging in the community and encouraging individuals and organisations to go beyond their individual boundaries and personal needs, and using more encouraging oratory to inspire a change of direction. The Unites States President Barak Obama was quoted as saying: “Yes, our greatness as a nation has depended on individual initiative, on a belief in the free market. But it has also depended on our sense of mutual regard for each other, of mutual responsibility. The idea that everybody has a stake in the country, that we're all in it together and everybody's got a shot at opportunity. Americans know this. We know that government can't solve all our problems - and we don't want it to. But we also know that there are some things we can't do on our own. We know that there are some things we do better together” (Palmieri, 2008). The President was clearly not just referring to government intervention, but also to the need for the commitment of Americans citizens to develop the community participation.
In England, recent governments have understood that the public needs incentives to encourage and promote their individual communities and create ‘places where people will want to live and will continue to want to live’ (ODPM, 2003 p.5). David Cameron’s “Big Society” echoes this theme. A short document setting out policies agreed by the coalition government includes introducing a national citizen service programme for sixteen year olds, reforms to the planning system to give communities more control over developments, letting public sector workers form cooperatives and giving the public access to government data (Cabinet Office, 2010).
Relevance of the Community to Planning
The new coalition government’s agenda for planning is to create a localism approach by decentralising the planning powers and giving them to the local communities, to the extent possible. The proposals are intended to engage the community in the planning process and decision making. The needs of the local community will be taken into account for all planning permissions, whether commercial or residential. Local interest groups, from those concerned with the environment to businessmen, will be part of the process. The needs of the community, both present and future, will be considered, such as parks and facilities for the local population, including schools, hospitals and leisure centres.
The above programme will hopefully revive the interest of the local residents in their communities. This will, in turn, promote social cohesion, make them more committed to society and encourage local industry and commerce.
Challenges ahead for the Community; Vision
The community is clearly a vital ingredient for civilization. The challenge is how to integrate the lives of individuals into the community and how to blend not just different social and economical classes into the community (as was the challenge until the last few decades), but to intermingle and unify the different racial and religious groups into the community, both on global and on local levels. Terrorism and crime result partly from the failure of the community to address the individual interests and differences. Politicians should continue inspiring their peoples with a vision for the future but at the same time, change is required to instil a more communal spirit and caring world; it is time, for instance, that the international community understood the importance of combating global warming and overcoming the shortage of food in many parts of the world when at the same time food is destroyed and dumped in the more prosperous Western countries. The global communication through the internet community, with instant news and the ability to contact and reach any part of the planet should be used as the means to make the required changes. The former Vice President and Nobel Peace Prize winner Al Gore wrote concerning global warming “There is an old African proverb that says, ‘if you want to go quickly, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.’ We have to go far quickly” (Gore, 2009).
Blair, T., (1997) "Bringing Britain Together". Political Speech presented at Stockwell Park School, Lambeth, UK.
Brown, J., & Isaacs, D., (1994) ‘Merging the best of two worlds the core processes of organisations as communities’ in P Senge. Available: <http://www.theworldcafe.com/articles/mergingbest.pdf>. [Accessed 25th Nov 2010].
Cabinet Office, (2010). Building the Big Society. Press release, issued 18th May 2010. Available from: <http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/media/407789/building-big-society.pdf> [Accessed 25th Nov 2010].
Coulthard, M., Walker, A., & Morgan, A., (2002) Rep. People's Perceptions of Their Neighbourhood and Community Involvement - Results from the Social Capital Module of the General Household Survey 2000. The Stationery Office. Available from: <http://www.statistics.gov.uk/downloads/theme_social/Peoples_perceptions_social_capital.pdf>. [Accessed 27th Nov 2010].
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Gore, A., (2009). Our Choice. Illustrated. ed. New York: Rodale Books. P.418 (2)
Legal and General (2010). Next Door Strangers - Research on the changing face of the British neighbourhood divide in values and sense of community [online]. [Accessed 27th November 2010]. Available from: <http://www.legalandgeneralmediacentre.com/imagelibrary/downloadMedia.ashx?MediaDetailsID=468>.
Office of Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) (2003), Sustainable Communities: Building for the Future, February 2003, ODPM
"Community, n." Oxford English Dictionary Additions Series. 1997. OED Online. Oxford University Press. 27 Nov. 2010 <http://dictionary.oed.com/cgi/entry/50045241>.
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4D Planning, (2010). Submitting a planning application. [online].. Available from: http://www.4dplanning.com [Accessed 25th November 2010]