Relationships: The Cornerstone of Cities and Neighborhoods and…

One of my recent areas of interest has become urban planning and how we can leverage relational building to build not necessarily bigger but stronger communities and neighborhoods.  A lot of thought is always placed on the bigger part but time after time we see that bigger is not necessarily better.  Not more is this seen then in the presence of relational building and instilling purposeful relationship in the neighborhood you choose to live in.

New York is a special place.  Underneath the sometimes tough exterior is a cornucopia of potential, both in the people and the bonds that they share with others.  No matter where you live, like often in New York, relational building is looked at as something that’s a byproduct of the community that we live – an opportunity to live a different way, an opportunity to take advantage of what’s going on in the social fabric of our surrounding – rather than building blocks of the type of community we want to live in.

Here’s this recent quote from The Atlantic Cities regarding relational resilience in the face of Hurricane Sandy:

Community-based groups such as Red Hook Initiative in Brooklyn (where I volunteered after the storm), which already had deep roots in the area, were able to call on existing relationships and get help where it was needed, even as government and national relief organizations were falling short…  What’s more, in places where different social groups had robust internal connections but didn’t really interact with each other, storm survival and recovery provided a framework for building new alliances. They haven’t always been seamless or comfortable, but they have been happening.

This article makes a great point: existing relationships serve as the best catalysts of change, recovery, and formation within communities.  Urban planners and community groups would be wise to focus on ways to ingrain themselves in projects that foster relational building if they are truly interested in building bigger better communities.

We also have to be willing to step outside of our comfort zones to serve as bridges to groups with similar goals/hopes.  This requires living in the tension in the hope that that tension will bring about a greater sense of peace.

Bigger is not always better but perhaps stronger is better when it comes to relational building.  What would our neighborhoods look like if we started building structures, groups, and living areas around the concept that big is not necessarily good and start focusing on the quality of strength of relationships in our lives?