For example, Robert Park, one of the first American Sociologists to define the term stated, “The essential characteristics of a community, so conceived are those of: (1) a population territorially organized, (2) more or less completely rooted in the soil it occupies, (3) its individual units living in a relationship of mutual interdependence”(Lyons, p. 5). In contrast to this, Minar and Greer defined a community so that it may include a large corporation, Kuhn said that a community may be an informal professional group such as the “scientific community”, and Nisbet stated that a even a philosophical and psychological commitment to communal lifestyles could be considered community (Lyons 1999). While all of these may be acceptable definitions of community to one person, some or all may be completely unacceptable to someone else. In my studying of community, I would define it similarly with Park. Community, in my opinion, can be defined as a group of people within a small area (generally smaller than a city or town), who share common social ties or have common social goals, and who have interaction among each other.
When studying community development, one must analyze what currently exists and then try to create ways for improvement or enhancement. Thus, I believe that the best way to do that is to simplify community into one of its smallest aspects without being so narrow that you’re only studying individuals or people without any common ties on which to compare. In addition to this, development within a community is often a rigorous process and thus cannot focus on too large of an area or group at once. If it does so then one end or segment of the city or town is often not considered as important of an area. Moreover, what may be the goal of one portion of the town may be totally dissatisfying to other segments, which could cause many problems if each community within a town is forced to develop among the same common lines.
The most common theme among definitions of community is that it consists of people. Another theme that is very common is that there must be some type of common tie to hold the people together. In each of the above definitions this is true. Robert Park spoke of a mutual interdependence, which is much like the social ties or goals that I use. In Minar and Greer’s “large corporation,” the common tie is the type of business that the corporation relates to or carries out. In Kuhn’s “scientific community,” science or perhaps scientific paradigms is the common tie. Nisbet’s philosophical or psychological commitment to communal lifestyles may or may not be a physical tie but shares the communal lifestyle as a common theme or bond. In each of the three latter definitions of community, it seems that the only tie that holds them together is that of people and a shared or common tie. While these are all important attributes of community, they cannot stand alone for the purpose of studying community development for many reasons.
Comparison is important in studying community. Thus, it would be difficult to study a comparison of a corporation, scientific communities, and philosophical commitments to communal lifestyles for the purpose or community development. The three are virtually completely independent and have no ties other than they each share people and within each particular group, share common ties. Moreover, Ferdinand Tonnies concepts of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft have long been and continue to be one of the most useful notions used for studying and comparing communities and community development. While some people may consider Minar and Greer, Kuhn, and Nisbet’s ideas as a community or type of community, it would be difficult to imagine how studying a comparison of each of these could have any useful bearing on community development, especially in terms of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft.
Finally, people within communities must have interaction for a community to exist. While the interaction may be fairly insignificant among certain peoples within the community there should be considerable amounts among most members. For example, in a larger, modern-day neighborhood, if each house was filled with middle-income, college graduates, each married with two children who are roughly the same age and whose children all attend the same schools (giving a social tie or connection among each family living in the neighborhood) there still could be no community among the neighborhood if there was no interaction among any of the people who live there. Without the interaction, each would be strangers living amongst themselves, and in doing so would take the community aspect away.
Robert Park’s definition of community is far more defining and inclusive than any of the other previous definitions discussed above, however, I don’t fully agree with him either. The second part of his definition mentioned being predominantly rooted in the soil. While I’m not quite sure whether he meant “rooted” as in being born and raised there or “rooted” as in just living there, I will assume that he was using the first or the two. If you look at the same large neighborhood mentioned above but with a few changes, I think I’ll be able to make my point more clear. In that neighborhood, if the same people lived there with all of the same characteristics, except for that there was a very high level of social interaction among the adults and children, it would be quite possible to think of the neighborhood as a community. Taking the example further, if within the neighborhood, there was a park, exercise facility, swimming pool, neighborhood convenience store, etc., and there was communal babysitting amongst certain members for the smaller children and carpooling to school for the older children, it would become more likely to think of this as a community. In that, if there were approximately 100 houses in which half were occupied for several years, another 20 were occupied for about two or three years, 20 for about one year, and the other 10 had become occupied within the last two or three months, there is really no sense of “roots” among many of the members, however there is still enough of a system in place for the community to exist and continue. Moreover, each member of the community or neighborhood might be from different parts of the country or at least from different cities and are therefore do not have family or historic “roots” within the community.
Granted, the above example is completely hypothetical, but there are similar neighborhoods popping up all over suburban America. Whether any of these neighborhoods meet any of the combined attributes to be a community, I do not know because I have not done any specific studies, however I think that there probably are some out there. While it is true that many different definitions for community exist, I believe that for the purpose of studying community and community development the best definition is a group of people within a small area (generally smaller than a city or town), who share common social ties or common goals, and who have interaction among each other.
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