Community Spaces as a Cultural Catalyst

To invest in local culture, a connection is needed with the people whose experiences create the culture. That is why it is essential to have community spaces that facilitate both connection and experience. These hubs serve as drivers for collaboration and social activity, and in their understanding lies a blueprint for nurturing an active, vibrant culture.

Culture becomes tangible when people have places to gather, create, and live. Spud Marshall, author of “Designing Creative Communities,” states that "One of the most important roles of a community builder is to create the conditions where others can dream about what's possible.” When the prospects of an environment are illuminated for the public, people can explore the extent of their individual and collective potential. To that end, Marshall concludes that aesthetic, openness, and social offerings are the three keys that spark regular engagement, and notes that “the towns where people felt most attached to their community because of what it offered in these three areas had the highest gross domestic product, or GDP.”

Louis Becker, Partner and Design Principal at Henning Larsen, shares a similar perspective. Although economics play a role in civic architecture, the Danish architect embraces a holistic approach to urbanism and champions the integration of civic planning into local culture. He notes in an interview with Fast Company that “openness, democracy, flexibility, [and] multiuse” matter most when it comes to the approachability of a space. Increasing a space’s inclusivity also increases its utilization, but Becker also highlights that “people are looking for places to socialize in a noncommercial way,” which many for-profit entities don’t allow despite their accessibility.

The slow erasure of sincere community engagement is reinforced by the devaluing of community itself. In “The Great Good Place,” Ray Oldenburg breaks down how “the course of urban growth and development in the United States has been hostile to an informal public life,” which stunts cultural advancement and engagement. Communities can only grow with intention after they are permitted an existence. It is through interaction that the roots of collective trust grow, and rootless communities are severely limited in their potential to organize and build culture. Oldenburg reinforces this idea, stating that “the habit of association must be well established before people accept offices and submit themselves to the bylaws of formal organizations.”

Once a sense of community is present, it is possible to stimulate organic engagement by understanding the community’s needs. When space is created for those needs to be expressed and fulfilled, it invites the public to become co-laborers in developing local culture. This also serves to strengthen connections, according to Marshall: “It takes courage to raise your hand and lead, but the reward is finding your community.” Discovering a place that welcomes the fullness of people is a natural driver for social currency, and community spaces must serve as a vehicle for that exploration.

Through the impact of community spaces, cities and institutions around the world become living organisms that invite fresh ideas, new connections, and boundless potential. Investing in these hubs is a direct investment into the warmth of local culture. By choosing to intentionally engage community spaces, we reveal a richer, more connected society.

Marshall, S. (2021). Designing creative communities: Your Town Is Your Canvas. Learn How To Make Your Mark.

Nonko, E. (2019, August 2). The community hub of the future isn’t a library or a shopping center. It’s city hall.

Oldenburg, R. (1999). The great good place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons, and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community. Da Capo Press.

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