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7/12/13

Building a Sense of Community

Building a Sense of Community


Many people have different perceptions about the meaning of sense of community. A widely held academic definition of this term is " the sense of community is a feeling members have of belonging, a feeling that members matter to one another and the group, and a shared faith that members needs will be met through their commitment to be together" (McMillan and Chavis, 1986). Many of the respondents commented on the value and true meaning of their own sense of community in Northfield. Most people spoke about the interdependence of the Northfield. People asserted that they know that if they are having a hard time, someone in the community will come through and help them out. This aspect of people's sense of community in Northfield can either be very simple; like Bob Jacobsens opening up the store for a women who just missed the closing of the store on a Saturday evening to very complex and life changing. No matter how serious people's level of involvement in the community, there are four main elements that compose a person's sense of community.

Membership
The first aspect of Sense of Community is membership in that community. People become members of a community when they feel emotionally secure, personally invested and a sense of belonging or identification in the community. These features of membership "fit together in a circular, self reinforcing way, with all conditions having both causes and effects" (McMillan, 1996). Many respondent's asserted that it is the diversity of people that compose the Northfield community that makes Northfield so unique. One downtown business owner stated, "there are many different flavors in Northfield and it is these flavors coming together that makes my sense of community here so valueable." Several respondents asserted that they really appreciate what St. Olaf and Carleton contribute to the downtown's
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7/12/13

Building a Sense of Community

sense of community.

Influence
Secondly, people that have a sense of community must feel that their opinion can have influence over what the group does. The most influential people within a group are those who acknowledge the importance of other peoples needs, values and opinions. This element of a person's sense of community did not seem to be extremely important to the people that I interviewed about their sense of community in Northfield. However, in close knit groups of friends this element may be increasingly more important.

Integration and Fulfillment of Goals


Another element that is fundamental to people experiencing a sense of community is that people are rewarded for their participation in the community. This attribute is fundamental for people maintaining their sense of community. Ahlbrandts research clarifies the importance of this attribute by asserting a community "must attract individuals by positive rewards and satisfying experiences. However, if they fail to do so, people withdraw their commitment, participation and rewards" (1984). People are drawn to the community for a variety of reasons, many respondents asserted that they value the interconnectdness of everything in Northfield. Some people explained this as a "web of connections." The small scale of Northfield allows people to see and interact with people that they know at almost every transaction that they participate in the city. People need to be able to acknowledge the interdependence of an economically viable community. The businesses in Northfield depend on their customers to continue to support them and their purchases support the income of the people that work at all of the businesses in town.

Shared Emotional Connection


The final element that creates people's sense of community is that the members have a shared emotional connection. This element seems to be the defining feature for people to experience a true sense of community. There are many features that facilitate people having shared emotional
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7/12/13

Building a Sense of Community

connections. One feature that connects to the physical features of a community is that people have an emotional connection with each other when they have a shared history (Mcmillan, 1996). Many respondents commented on they felt a very close sense of community to other people who worked in downtown Northfield because they could relate to each other on so many different levels. These business owners also addressed the interdependence that they have with one another. Many respondents asserted that they know that when they need help doing maintenance work or finding a particular product for their store that they can always ask a fellow store owner for help or advice.

These tables and chairs are often full of people socializing with new acquaintances and old friends. Shared emotional connections are often experienced in public spaces. Public spaces can generate or restore a deep sense of community through providing people places to socialize and interact with each other (Hayden, 2000). People need places where they can socially interact with each other on a noncommercial level. People's sense of community is deeper than the positive interactions that occur between the shop owners in Northfield and their many loyal customers. The public realm is the distinctive recombination between open space and buildings. There are four types of emerging public realms: corridors, traces, watches and ways. Corridors are primarily transportation routes through canals, roads, rivers or railways. Corridors can also be used as a link between the cities people live in and their natural environment. Examples of corridors in Northfield area are the Cannon River and the Cannon Valley Biking Trail system. Traces organize multiple places, buildings and activities around a collective concept or constituency. Traces create a connective link among locations that are not close to one another. An example of a trace in Northfield would be the connection between the Northfield Historical District and other historical districts in Minnesota form the same period of time. A watch is a district of land defined by the individual that is viewed as a valued community asset. Watches are created by groups of people who choose to assume responsibility for the stewardship of this resource. In Northfield, a viable example of a watch is the Cannon Valley River Watershed. The final type of public realm is a way, which are walkable traces. They allow people to explore and connect with the natural environment through constructed pathways. There are three main ways in Northfield: the River Walk (located in downtown Northfield along the cannon River), the Arboretum at Carleton and the St. Olaf Natural Lands (Vale, 2001).

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7/12/13

Building a Sense of Community

People socializing outside at Bridge Square, a public park in the center of downtown Northfield. Return to main page

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