The past year has brought about feelings of uncertainty and anxiety unlike any many of us have known. The coronavirus pandemic and subsequent sheltering in place has put all of us in unprecedented levels of isolation, and while today’s technology has allowed up to remain social with our friends and family via social media and video chats, the same can’t be said about the small daily interactions you have with the members of your community on a daily basis. Whether it be help from the owner of your local hardware store, a friendly chat with the barista at your favorite coffee shop, or a weekend barbeque with your neighbors, these are all pieces of the puzzle that make up the community you reside in.
As a native of Miami whose family has lived in the area for generations, I was raised to understand the importance of building a strong community around you. My grandparents were small business owners, having opened a wine and gourmet food store in the 1950’s, and their shop would not have survived without the support and patronage they received and subsequently gave back to their local community. As someone who has been a commercial real estate developer for over 40 years, I myself have witnessed first-hand the positive effect of building a community, whether that be in the suburban shopping centers of the 1980’s or the urban streetscapes being developed in downtown communities today.
Even before the country began its nearly nationwide quarantine, in today’s digital age it has been increasingly common for strangers to know more about you via your social media profile than your own neighbors do, and companies like Amazon continue to grow larger as local businesses are left in the dust. But human beings are social creatures — we are naturally inclined to cooperate in order to not only survive, but thrive. Science has proven that social distancing is an effective and necessary way to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, but as the country slowly starts to re-open, we should put our pent up social energy towards building stronger communities wherever we live. Below are just a few reasons this should be the case.
A strong community aids local businesses
While it may not be quite as easy as clicking a button for an Amazon order or grabbing dinner from a fast food restaurant, there are far-reaching advantages to building a community in which you support the local businesses around you. For one, by patronizing your local businesses you are also supporting your local economy. Local businesses are more likely to utilize other local businesses, such as restaurants that source their produce from local farms, and independent retailers return more than three times as much money per dollar of sales to the community than chain competitors. For every $100 you spend at a local business, $68 will stay in the community.
In addition to the monetary benefits, there are also notable intangible merits that come from supporting businesses in your local community. For one, local businesses are owned and operated by your friends and neighbors, meaning they are just as much invested in the well-being of your community and its future as you are. Because of this, they are more accountable, and tend to donate more money to nonprofits. The carbon footprints of small local businesses are also often much smaller than larger companies, meaning that by supporting them you are also aiding in doing your part for the environment.
A strong community can provide you support
During the pioneer times, it was not uncommon to attend a “barn-raising”, where members of a community all came together to aid in building a barn. For one family alone, the task would have required more labor than they could likely provide, but together as a community it could be completed quickly and was also a great excuse to hold a party after. Yes it was exhausting work, but you helped because you knew when it came time for you to build your own barn, you could rely on your neighbors for help just as they were relying on you.
Today, while barn-raising is a thing of the past, the idea that a strong community can uplift and support each other in need is still very much prevalent. A community can help with your home care or lawn care, whether that is providing expert service for your needs or simply walking over to a neighbor’s and helping with a project. Rather than hiring a stranger, knowing those in your community means you have an arsenal of people you trust in your back pocket when you have needs such as after-school care or babysitting. When you create a strong community, you also build for all a strong system of support.
A strong community is a place of togetherness and opportunity
A sense of togetherness is a natural feeling when it comes to being human. From our early days as cavemen, we have adapted and evolved to be interdependent and care for our fellow beings. From our childhood days to adulthood, we observe and then partake in care for our family members, our relatives, our neighbors, and our friends. This leads to a need for togetherness among people that is fostered in strong communities. They create feelings of togetherness through block parties, festivals, or really any social ritual together. When you surround yourself with a support system of those in your community, you present more opportunities to feel that warm fuzzy feeling of biology telling us we are acting in line with nature by coming together.
By building a strong community, you also create more opportunities for yourself and those around you. Big or small, a community can provide countless opportunities for growth and experience. By being a part of a community, the next time you need an introduction whether it be for work or otherwise, it is likely there is someone in your community who you can depend on that has a contact for you. When you are presented with a new problem or challenge, you can reach out to those in your community and find out if anyone has had an experience that could be valuable to you, gaining knowledge that may have been much harder earned had you gone it alone.
With a community of people looking out for your best interests and working together for a common goal, there is no shortage of opportunities to strive for something that you want. Whether that is looking for your first job or starting your own business, a strong community can give the support you need to succeed.
A strong community provides an environment of safety and security
At the most basic level, communities provide us with a group of people we can interact with in a safe way. This allows us to get our social fix and reminds our brains that we are still accepted and part of the larger group. By getting to know your neighbors and building a strong community, you create for yourself a feeling of security knowing that those around you are looking out for you. You can feel a peace-of-mind during activities like running at night, or sending your kids out trick-or-treating when you know the people around you. No place is perfect, but you should always feel a sense of security when a part of a community.
Besides the physical feeling of safety, being a member of a strong community means knowing that there are people out there that you can rely on and turn to on a regular basis. We all run into roadblocks, undergo personal crises, and may have felt lost at certain points in our life, and the feeling of having a social safety net is reassuring and empowering. If you find yourself in a tough spot, you know those in your community have your back and will be there to lift you up. Home-bound people across the country have made heroic efforts to remain engaged with their community, even when social distancing doesn’t allow it. Young people are going grocery shopping for their elderly and immunocompromised neighbors, families are grabbing to-go meals and groceries from their local restaurants, and I even know someone who started a key lime pie-making chain, delivering one to her neighbor and asking that in return they bake one for someone else. By staying involved with your community, you do the double-duty of helping not only those around you, but also yourself.