A Room of One’s Own – A Common Space for Communities

This is an attempt to reboot my reporting.  I am discovering a lot about the world, others, and myself, at record speed. Gotta write it all down! And I’m going to need some new Categories. Here’s where the blog undergoes its next transformation.

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In our town, where can a group of people go where they feel at home? Not just “welcome”, but at home. That is, where can they just show up on the spur of the moment, without having to “book” the place, pay a deposit or a fee, sign a disclaimer, or wait on a waiting list, and feel safe and comfortable?

The “community” or “meeting rooms” at the Town Building?  They cost money, they have gatekeepers, schedules, waiting lists. The library? The room is free, but for the rest it’s the same as with town buildings. The public parks come nearest,  but we’re really looking for a place that is warm and sheltered.

So much for the public spaces.

Religious places are private, and usually very welcoming to community gatherings, especially when they’re about Care for People and Care for the Earth. But cost or entry may depend on membership. Strapped for cash, they sometimes charge over $400 an hour if they believe yours is a “function”. Even if they charge a little just to cover the sexton’s efforts to clean up after you (a tip off, as we’ll soon see).

The only place in our town where we can drop in at a whim and make ourselves (relatively) comfortable is the local coffee shop, a Starbucks. Only during opening hours, of course, and it’s only polite to consume at least one cup of coffee, and not to bring your own.  When Starbucks is closed, or if the group is too large for the small space, the only place we can go is…. the mall in the next town over! Seriously, it’s where the Girl Scouts have to hang out: the mall, or Friendly’s, neither of which is within walking distance. These places are  commercial spaces and artificial, soul-sucking environments.

That Starbucks with its sit-down-have-one-drink-and-stay-as-long-as-you-like policy is so popular and public (free) libraries are so overbooked, illustrates the demand for, and the lack of, a common space in our town.

I see it as one of Transition Wayland’s projects to start a conversation about this, to poll the need for it and to find out, together, how we can make it happen.

One of the issues people bring up when I go off on a rant about common spaces is: who will take care of it?

I read somewhere that of all the kinds of spaces – public, private, commercial, common – it is the common space that is often the most cared-for. That’s because it’s where we make ourselves home, and we feel a fondness for it that demands that we keep it clean, much like our own houses. If a common space is well-defined, well-organized and well-loved, we won’t feel the need to delegate its care to the sexton, the barista, the anonymous cleaning crews at the mall or those who keep the Town Hall clean on our tax dollars – all paid people. It’s ours, we feel responsible for it, so we’ll take care of it for free.

As for rules? Some rules are necessary, of course, but they will flow from common decency and common sense. It is under those rules that everyone who enters and uses this space are equal. Indeed, common space may yet be the only space where equality is possible.

Who will pay for it? What about liability? Who will hold the key and is a key even necessary? All questions worth asking. So let’s ask them!

Does your town have a common space? Tell us about it!

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2 Comments

  1. Massachusetts is a _commonwealth_, not a State. Not sure what the legal distinction is, but that’s what comes to mind when I read this.

    An outdoor place to assemble is nice in weather like we’re having now (think Boston Common) but is obviously not viable year-round.

  2. The county I lived in in North Carolina had a community building that was free for the booking. It was large and we held a 4-H fundraiser there once. Most places the library is free, but as you pointed out, difficult to book and often with small rooms. My weaving guild has struggled for years with the problem of an affordable meeting place. One place that was reasonable was the Salvation Army building. Our homeschool group used to meet at the park, under a pavilion in case of rain. That didn’t work during winter though. Small groups can take turns in one another’s homes, but of course that doesn’t work with larger numbers. The ideal thing is for someone to donate a building for the cause!

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