In selecting a social design issue for this prompt I wanted to be sure to select an issue that I had experience with and would be able to be an active advocate for. Many issues came to mind (e.g., homelessness, poverty, unemployment, immigration, child abuse, accessibility, cultural sensitivity, etc.); however through recent design projects I have encountered one recurring issue that seemed suitable for this entry and that is the issue of sense of community or community cohesiveness. It may not appear to be as significant a social issue as poverty and unemployment; however a sense of community and community cohesiveness may significantly impact other issues we encounter in society such as poverty and unemployment.
I should clarify that although the two terms â€˜sense of communityâ€™ and â€˜community cohesivenessâ€™ sound like the same idea I interpret them as being two distinct aspects of a community; however I also see them as being interdependent. â€˜Sense of communityâ€™ is a more psychological sense of community, the experience of community, and the attitudes and perceptions members of the community share in their ability to identify with their community. McMillan & Chavis developed a theory composed of four elements that constitute a â€˜sense of communityâ€™:
â€¢ Membership â€“ emphasizing the â€œspiritâ€? of community stemming from â€œthe spark of friendshipâ€?.
â€¢ Influence â€“ members of the group must feel they have influence over the group [community].
â€¢ Integration and Fulfillment of Needs â€“ a sort of â€œeconomy of social tradeâ€? where members of the community have shared values leading to the exchange of communal benefits for participating membersâ€¦ you must give to receive.
â€¢ Shared Emotional Connection â€“ the â€œdefinitive element for true communityâ€?, frequency and quality of interaction, individual and group investment, spiritual bond
â€˜Community cohesivenessâ€™ on the other hand describes the efficacy of connection, interaction and participation between community members and groups. The degree of community cohesiveness depends on a sense of community and how it is established among community members.
Helping people identify with their community is not the only benefit; other issues may be resolved through establishing a sense of community and building community cohesiveness. Studies have shown that stronger communities experience less violence, crime, and vandalism. When neighbors or members of a community interact more often, get together socially and are more familiar with each other in general, they watch out for each other and help each other out. A neighbor who is â€˜friendlyâ€™ and interacts with another neighbor will more likely do something if their house were being broken into or help out if anotherâ€™s house is on fire, which actually happened in my neighborhood. Neighbors who talk more may be able to network and help out someone who is experiencing troubles finding a job. Businesses who are active participants in their communities contribute to the cohesiveness. Nobody likes to feel out of place and feeling out of place in the community in which you live is no exception, in fact it may be more important to feel belonging to your community than perhaps at work. Designers have the ability to help create stronger communities in this sense.
Studying interior design has introduced me to projects where establishing a sense of community and building community cohesiveness are important to the clients and the businesses they are supporting in the spaces they need designed. Design can be very instrumental in supporting or facilitating sense of community and community cohesiveness. Creating public spaces that promote neighbor interaction can create a sense of belonging. Consulting with members of the community when designing new housing, public spaces, etc. will encourage member involvement and investment as well as make them feel as though they are a part of something bigger. Work with existing structures and spaces found in the community to maintain already established bonds between the members of the community and their environment. Physical and social environments, in which people live and work, help form an identity, especially in local spaces such as communities and neighborhoods.
As far as becoming an advocate for this social design issue, I suppose I have already done so and not really known it. Through my design work as a student I am an advocate by working on projects that require establishing a strong community connection, but also I am an advocate in my own neighborhood as well. In my neighborhood where I grew up the sense of community and community cohesiveness was very strong; and much of that was due to the parties my family hosted for the neighborhood. Every year it was my family who would host the neighborhood block party, which is now commonly referred to as National Night Out, as well as random neighborhood barbecues and our annual two-day Holiday Open House. I was always there to help and get the word out and make sure everyone came. Even now when my parents are getting to the point where they become exhausted from the time it takes to put on such events, I make sure they happen anyways. I enjoy seeing my neighbors and many of them have seen me grow up over the years. It is important to bring people together. It makes me feel safer knowing I have an entire neighborhood of people who would be willing to help me or my family in a time of need. I think the feeling is mutual.