Cities: ideas and insights on the cities we live in

photo by Anne James

‘Community center’ is often thought of as a singular place at the heart of a physical community. This is easy to imagine in a prototypical small town scenario, but seems less clear in the case of suburban developments, rural areas and even dense urban areas with millions of residents. When you think of it more deeply, its hard to pin down any one idea of what a community center is or where it might be. Just as a community is a complex and multifaceted thing, the individuals that comprise it are equally varied and unique. For any individual there is most likely, a different perception of what community means to them and what a community center is or could be.

I think that its worth re-thinking the meaning of the community center in the sense that each community has not one center, but many. Multiple centers (religious, economic, cultural, commercial, social, educational, etc.) demonstrate the rich diversity of a community and together work towards serving the community as a whole. Centers may be physical built spaces, virtual online spaces, ephemeral gathering spaces, a state of mind, etc.

For me, often the most elemental place to start when re-thinking something is to start with the meaning of the words themselves. From the dictionary, I found the following meanings for community and center:

Community
A group of people living in the same locality and under the same government. The district or locality in which such a group lives. A group of people having common interests. Similarity of identity. Sharing, participation and fellowship. Society as a whole, the public. In relation to ecology: A group of plants and animals living and interacting with one another in a specific region under relatively similar environmental conditions. The region occupied by a community.

Center
A point of place that is equally distant from the sides of outer boundaries of something; the middle. A point around which something rotates or revolves. A part of an object that is surrounded by the rest; a core place where a particular activity or service is concentrated. A point of origin, as of influence, ideas or actions. An area of dense population.

Piecing together elements of the definitions of community and center, I tried to formulate a definition of community center that started to get at  the meaning of the words and the concept for me.

Community Center
The origin of influences, ideas or actions around which the act of sharing and participation revolves or rotates. A place where a particular activity or service is concentrated for a group of people living and interacting with one another.