The Connexions Annual:
Introduction to Community, Urban, Housing

We humans have lived, worked, and played in community groupings since the beginnings of our history. Our communities have been crucial to us not only for our physical survival, but also as the source and ground of our social life and our values. Our sense of belonging to a community, of community as a bond between us, has held us together and enabled us to live and act in common. The health of community networks and community–feeling are vital indicators of social health.

Today, communities everywhere are in crisis. Industrial societies have proven themselves to be remarkably efficient destroyers of traditional communities, without, however, being able to offer viable alternatives to replace them. The automobile especially has led to the shattering of human–scale, face–to–face communities. Where people once lived within walking distance of their workplaces, their churches, and the local markets, they now tend to be dispersed and anonymous. ‘Home entertainment systems’ — television, radios, stereos, etc. — have further contributed to atomization and the erosion of community networks and collective traditions, as have countless other patterns of modern life.

The erosion of community has also eroded much of the basis for potential movements of opposition and change. Successful movements for change require that people know and trust each other, through working together, living in the same neighbourhood, or through voluntary association. Without the existence of natural communities, this becomes much more difficult. Indeed, those in positions of power have often consciously pursued a strategy of encouraging divisions along the lines of race, gender, language, ethnicity, and religion, precisely in order to prevent people from coming together in unions or in community groups to challenge their dominance.

It is no surprise, then, that we are seeing everywhere the signs of a social breakdown which can be linked to the breakdown of community and shared values. The dominant value system can increasingly be reduced to the idea that the only thing that matters is to get as much for yourself as possible. The real estate speculators and the street criminals both live by this motto, and both contribute their share to making cities less liveable. Governments at all levels make planning and transportation decisions which only worsen the problems.

In the face of all this, people are attempting to organize resistance and to work for alternatives.

One key issue bringing people together is concern for the environment: the air we breathe, the water we drink, the noise and the toxic wastes in our neighbourhoods. Another crucial issue is housing. All across Canada the number of homeless or inadequately housed people has been increasing. Unemployment, skyrocketing prices, a failure to build affordable housing, and government policies of ‘de–institutionalizing’ those in need of care, like psychiatric patients, by dumping them on the streets, are all contributing to the crisis. Community based organizations know that the disappearance of secure and affordable housing is a major contributor not only to homelessness, but to many of the other social problems with which they are trying to deal.

One response has been to initiate non–profit housing projects and to urge governments to do the same. Increasingly, co–operatives and community and church groups, rather than private developers or governments, have taken on the task of building low–income housing, albeit with much slimmer resources.

Some groups have also raised the vital, but explosive, issues of land ownership and control. They argue that land and housing should not be commodities bought and sold to enrich a few. They have proposed heavy taxes on speculators, and they maintain that land use should be guided by planning based on human needs and respect for the environment, not simply determined by whether someone can make a profit.

Groups across the country are working on these issues. Most are locally oriented, and some are also seeking ways of joining with others to increase their impact and potential.

Ulli Diemer

Aussi disponible en français: L'Annuel Connexions: Introduction la Communauté, l’Urbanisme et le Logis
También disponible en español: El Anuario de Conexiones: Introducción a Comunidad, Urbano, Vivienda

Other Overview Articles from the Connexions Annual:
Introduction to the Connexions Annual
Introduction to the Arts, Media, Culture section of the Connexions Annual
Introduction to the Community, Urban, Housing section of the Connexions Annual
Introduction to the Development, International section of the Connexions Annual
Introduction to the Economy, Poverty, Work section of the Connexions Annual
Introduction to the Education, Children section of the Connexions Annual
Introduction to the Environment, Land Use, Rural section of the Connexions Annual
Introduction to the Health section of the Connexions Annual
Introduction to the Human Rights, Civil Liberties section of the Connexions Annual
Introduction to the Lesbians, Gays section of the Connexions Annual
Introduction to the Native Peoples section of the Connexions Annual
Introduction to the Peace section of the Connexions Annual
Introduction to the Women section of the Connexions Annual
Resource and Reading List from the Connexions Annual

Other Resources and Links:
Connexions Online: Selected Community, Urban, Housing Links