In most cities, there is a whole lot of emphasis on economic development. Municipal governments build expertise in creating tax increment financing districts, using sales taxes as a mechanism to expand business and creating special areas where commercial interests can grow. They compete with other communities and measure success in taxes.
While dollars can certainly build up a community, the sense of community is a matter of how we treat one another. It is especially evident in how strangers are treated — think Midwesterners gawking in New York City, a pale person in L.A. or anyone visiting Paris.
So the question is, if we are going to develop our community, what should we emphasize? It is not only about how we treat strangers — whether they are homeless or Walmart store location reps — but how we treat our neighbors.
Belleville’s Community Development Network is asking Belleville’s residents and friends to tell them what is needed to build our local sense of community. Homelessness, inclusion, public safety, community health and wellness, youth development and economic development are all listed in a public survey on the city’s website to figure out perceptions and help set direction.
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This is an opportunity to help shape our community’s character, boosting the good and fixing the bad. Diversity — whether that is your race, your gender, your age, how you were raised or how you think — will make the results more valuable. Failing to participate would be sort of like saying you never vote and then complaining about the politicians in office.
In a democracy, we also get the community we deserve.