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Community cultures of control or creativity?

Hazel Ashton writes:

The flowers in the vase on my kitchen table give me much joy.

They are colourful, wild and exotic.

I picked them at the local community-run park.

They remind me of happier and more bountiful times.

They were times when many could share in the use of unfenced or unregulated spaces and children and adults could meet without needing money or some pre-defined purpose.

It was also a time before flowers, like many other things in life, became widely commodified as products to be bought and sold.

A century ago, novelist E.M. Forster famously wrote “Only connect… Live in fragments no longer.”

He was referring to the need to connect and harmonise diversities at all levels – from the contrasting qualities that exist within each person – through to the diversities of age,  socio-economic and cultural and ethnic background that exist in society and the wider world.

More recently, in 1996, the philosopher and sociologist Alberto Melucci wrote about the need to enable creative responses in every situation. He believed that in order to develop a culture of creativity, there is a need to create room for wonderment, spaces where wonder can take root and work its creative magic.

I went to the park yesterday because I felt conflicted by a range of pressures, some quite major. I had been around people who were experiencing considerable pain and distress. I wanted to be effective with my support.

I headed to the back of the park, which has spaces where one can sit undisturbed. I sat under a tree and watched as the flourishing and abundant life unfolded before me.

The wonder worked its magic.

I left an hour or so later feeling nourished, restored and able to see some creative possibilities for handling my difficulties.

I picked a bunch of flowers on the way out of the park.

I look at them on my table at home now and smile. They continue to radiate back the beauty and joy that I felt in the park.

I’m happy for those of us who can still find spaces of wonderment, but I worry that much of society seems to be moving in the opposite direction.

I see increasing bureaucracy; bureaucratic control of communities and community groups that adopt bureaucratic methods.

For my MA research I interviewed people involved in establishing this very non-bureaucratic community park.

I recall one such person saying she did not see herself as community worker, but as a gardener.

At the time I thought her response was a way of being unduly self-deprecating about her role: not the important community worker, but the modest gardener.

I must admit, at the time, I didn’t warm to the idea.

However, given the bureaucratic directions taken by much of what passes as community work, I’m wondering whether the gardener who  knows the importance of creating free places where wonder can continually work its magic, is the way community work needs to go.

I’d be very interested in your views, in particular whether or not you would agree that bureaucracy is unduly permeating and controlling community at the expense of wonder and creativity? Your comments (below) and contributions most welcome.

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1 Comment

  1. Peggy says:

    On Wednesday a new-comer-to-the-park called at my house with some small pottles of some very small transplants- tomatoes, silver-beet and one parsley plant. She paid her $2 membership to “belong” to The Friends of the Park. The park is a CCC Reserve. It is open to everyone at all times so what can it mean to “belong”to such a place? To me, in this circumstance, it simply means supporting a community effort to arrange things a little differently in a small publicly-owned urban space. I think that the good world needs people willing to belong….to be other than individual consumers. When you sit quietly in a special place and let it give its beauty and peace to you, you also impart some of your spirit to that place and help make it a sanctury…..you contribute to the sense that here is something worth belonging to. That doesn’t mean one can’t party and have fun here too ….that happens too!