Thursday, September 4, 2008

The importance of community

What defines community? What does it mean to work in the field of community development? Is a community defined by geographic boundaries? (no) Is a community defined by the beliefs of a group of people in an area? (maybe) Is a community defined by an enclave of some sort? (maybe some are) Are there characteristics we can use to describe 'community' that apply to both the Global North and the Global South- do descriptives exist that describe the communities in the center of Bangkok and the outskirts of Oakland, or the gated communities in Argentina?

I have lived in several different neighborhoods of New York City, but what exactly is the community of the West Village? Hell's Kitchen? The Upper West Side? Morningside Heights? These are geographies with which all New Yorkers, and many others, are familiar, but they encompass large areas, and have strayed quite far from the 'communities' and histories that gave these areas their namesake. Was I a part of the West Village 'community'? A part of the now so cool, nebulous community east of Seventh Avenue, not quite in the chicness of that maze of streets that bisect Hudson and Greenwich. I certainly was no trend-setter, like many of the black-clad, oversized bag carrying neighbors I had, but I loved magnolia and corner bistro, the gems of architecture found in the twisted streets, the sex shops that lined the west side of the Christopher Street subway station, and the homeless man who stayed around the corner from me, and passed his days smoking cigars and sleeping in from of $2 million + brownstones. And oddly enough, when I visit the neighborhood, I feel like I am going home in some sense- some part of me misses the familiarity of the neighborhood, my bartenders around the corner, my deli on Bleeker, the handball courts on 6th Avenue.

The same feelings echo true whenever I visit an old neighborhood of mine in the city. The places emit a quality, or qualities, and I feel a part of it somehow.

What brings this feeling, this sense of place, and what does it mean to someone who is searching for some understanding of the vagueness of 'community'?

1. A sense of place
2. Social Capital
3. Shared Space
4. Commercial Space utilized by those living locally

These are a few characteristics that come to my mind, when I think of neighborhoods in NYC. Does this hold true in Delwara? Could you say these characteristics exist for the Meghwal community? I don't know if the fourth point applies. But to go back a step, I don't know if the Meghwal community, or any 'community' for that matter, views themselves in this foggy notion of community. Can an 'outsider' to a 'community' label a group/neighborhood/geography as a community? What characteristics does this group display that implies some notion of togetherness?

It is an unclear dialogue, but one I believe imperative for people to consider, regardless of their field. A planner should know the area in which they work, and know it beyond statistical reports and quantitative data. The same holds true for a nurse, a teacher, a city councilman, really anyone that works with people in some capacity.

May the thoughts and ideas begin to flow

Basic Curry Recipe


Mustard Oil
Onions (diced or thinly sliced)
Garlic (minced)
Ginger (minced or thinly sliced)
Jeera (Cumin, whole seeds)
Chili Powder
Green chilies (these long thin green chilies add a great deal of heat to the dish, I recommend one chili per person. Chop the chili in pieces about the size of a fingernail)
Tomato (roughly chopped)
Bell Pepper/ Capsicum (roughly chopped)
Salt to taste


Whatever main ingredient you prefer (eggplant, paneer, okra [lady's finger/bhindi], aaloo [potato], etc.)

You will need a wok-like pot and a spoon/flat spatula to stir

Heat mustard oil in the wok-like pot (there should be a few centimeters/about an inch of oil. Use your judgment, as this oil will have to coat all the vegetables you are going to add over the next thirty minutes). Once the oil is hot (you can test this by throwing in some jeera and the oil is ready when the jeera browns), throw in a few pinches of the jeera. When the pieces brown, add in the onions, garlic, ginger, and chilies. Stir until the onions begin to brown. Add tumeric (a few spoonfuls), chili powder (about 2 flat spoonfuls), and corriander (this you can add as liberally or conservatively as you wish). Stir until the spices marry (about 5 minutes). Add the main ingredient and cook until slightly brown or tender. Add salt. Add tomatoes, and after the tomatoes are mixed in, add the bell pepper. Reduce heat slightly and cook until peppers slightly soften.

Best served with freshly made roti and cold Kingfisher. Set up a picnic on the floor and enjoy.