What is sense of community and why does it matter?

A lot of people talk about sense of community.  When you hear the phrase, you probably get an idea of what it might be.  But, if you had to define it, what would you say?  What is sense of community?  And, what good is it?

Generally, sense of community relates to a person’s affinity for a group of people.  It connotes a sense of belonging to, relating to, and contributing to a group and deriving some benefit from it.  You might feel a sense of community toward people in your religion, your work, your sports team, your weekend hobby group, or your online interest group.  This study focuses on the sense of community you feel toward your neighbours and toward your neighbourhood.

Why is sense of neighbourhood community different from sense of community in any other groups?  There are a few reasons.  One reason is safety.  Having friends and acquaintances in the neighbourhood means more friendly eyes on the street.  Criminals like anonymity and hate visibility.  When neighbours know each other, it is harder for criminals to act with impunity. Also, if there is an emergency, it is good to know there are people nearby you can feel comfortable going to for help.

A second reason is convenience.  Sometimes, you just need to borrow a cup of sugar or have someone to watch your kids for a few minutes.  As long as you don’t mind a little give and take, having trusted neighbours can mean the difference between a finished pie and a long trip to the grocery store.  It’s handy to have people you know close by.

Third, there are the social benefits of having friends and acquaintances near your home.  Is it better to live in a neighbourhood in which you greet your neighbours and occasionally stop to chat with them, or is it better to live in a neighbourhood in which nobody knows you?  While it’s true that some people would just like to be left alone, many others enjoy coming home to a friendly neighbourhood just as they enjoy coming home to a peaceful house.

Finally, several studies have pointed to the mental and emotional health benefits of having a strong sense of community.  While these benefits may accrue from various types of communities, there is an advantage to having this sense of community within our neighbourhoods.  We may or may not associate with other communities, but, at least for urban dwellers, we all live in neighbourhoods.  If we can gain mental and emotional benefits from our own neighbourhood community, isn’t that an asset?

So, what is so great about having a strong sense of neighbourhood community?  It makes our lives safer, easier, friendlier, and healthier.   Many would agree that a healthy sense of community is a fundamental part of what makes a neighbourhood great.

Want to learn more?  See “Maintaining a sense of community in high-density neighborhoods” and “How does residential density relate to residents’ sense of community?” by Eric Douglas.