Sunday, January 28, 2018: The Community in Which We Live
It’s Sunday evening and we are just winding down a strenuous weekend. Over the past few weeks, the presidential elections have dominated the TV news, debates on the Internet, in pubs and in families. Some people are celebrating, others are saddened. Whatever side you find yourself on, trust that the presidential election is not the most important thing that should be driving our lives. How many times have you met the president, talked to him or at least seen him up close? The president represents us officially but is removed from our daily lives (spatially and for many, ideologically as well). But each and every day we have the chance to meet and talk to people who live in our immediate surroundings – our neighbors, people who live in our apartment buildings, in our districts, town or village. Do we take advantage of these opportunities?
Czech communities face various problems – historical injustices, anonymity, disputes between old-timers and newcomers, a lack of inviting community places. At Via Foundation, we are well aware of these issues and in response, we have offered Czech communities the program The Community in Which We Live for the past 17 years. In our current round of the program, we are supporting eight communities in their efforts to improve a public space and strengthen community ties in the process.
This past weekend four of these communities held planning meetings, where residents voiced their needs and visions for public spaces that they revitalize or even create from scratch through the program. Their job this weekend was to discuss the sites’ current pros and cons, brainstorm ideas for improvement and reach consensus about their visions – and also to get to know one another better.
On Saturday morning we set off for the village of Olšovec in the Olomouc region, where residents discussed how to transform a park in the center of the village. The meeting started off with some tension and awkwardness due to some recent disputes in the community, but eventually the group managed to find common ground and reach agreement on seven priority elements for the park: better access to the creek, a water feature for children, a barefoot sensory footpath, lighting and new tree and shrub plantings.
After the meeting in Olšovec, we got back in the car and drove to the Podkrkonose Mountains to join a similar meeting in Horní Žďár in the Trutnov region. A positive atmosphere set the stage for the meeting from the very outset. At times it was difficult to hear adults speaking over the joyful cries of children who were drawing their own visions for the park at a nearby table. Two hours of brainstorming and prioritizing clarified that the site improvements will include a seating area, campfire circle for wienie roasts and areas for sporting activities, parties and gatherings. All of the residents’ input was handed over to the project team of architects, who will incorporate the ideas into a preliminary site design. It will be presented, discussed and refined at a second community meeting in March.
And what did the weekend excursion mean to me? Aside from fatigue from the long drive, I feel incredibly uplifted by the fantastic people I met, people who are searching for ways to connect with their neighbors, open their minds to different opinions and learn to discuss. They are excited by the vision of sitting around their future campfire circles together.
Tomorrow I’ll get up with the faith that change is possible and I’ll go to work gladly – fueled by the knowledge that the work we do at Via is meaningful, because the people in Olšovec and Horní Žďár showed me that.
Thanks for reading.
Pavla Jenková, Program Manager