Saturday, September 25, 2010

Same Circle Syndrome

I left Minneapolis early early morning (sorry I missed saying goodbye Andrew, you were a wonderful host!) in order to catch the ferry from Manitowoc to Ludington. It cost a pretty penny, but on the last leg of my journey…anything to keep from driving more, no? So I hopped aboard the S.S.Badger, cruising ever closer to the last stop on my 3-month road trip…DETROIT.

Detroit is everything I imagined only on an infinitely larger scale. In a way, the abandoned buildings served as a reminder of home—forgotten streets and forgotten neighborhoods fading into history—but there was a pervasive shift in the wind which was in no way similar to the some wind patterns in Buffalo these days. I’m speaking of the winds of change, of course. Perhaps that is an overly negative judgment of my hometown; there are plenty of amazing people and organizations within Buffalo, but there is less of a cohesive energy...? Less of view that the entire city is behind this shift in the wind?

The first people I visited with in Detroit were from two different training and conservation corps. Instead of speaking directly about their organizations, I want to mention something that came up in the conversation which has really gotten me to reexamine my own experiences in Buffalo and the role I want to play in the future. What we discussed was something I like to call "same circles syndrome." It's awfully easy and comfortable to find yourself surrounded by the same people who are working within the community building realm. We're all on similar committees, we hold events which we all attend in support of each other, and we see each other in both professional and informal settings. If we never wanted to, we could successfully avoid interacting with our actual communities at all! ...But how does that reflect the wants and needs of the community? How can we call a neighborhood or our work successful if we base success on numbers in attendance versus on who attends or how people are becoming engaged in the org and taking ownership of their own communities?

I noticed in Detroit this divide of sorts; one which I do not care to repeat. There is a major divide between one side--the "creative minds," the "community builders," the out-of-towners coming to try their ideas on a fresh canvas--and the other side--people who have been around forever, "the community." At many events I attended it was often a group of the former, the same circle people, mostly not reflective of the demographic in Detroit. And here I find it can be very much the it unavoidable? I sure hope not. I have much more to say on this topic, especially concerning some people seem to get it and successfully avoid the same circle syndrome, while others are consumed by it...but I think this is enough to reflect on and think about now...

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