Cities and economic developers in Michigan have been talking about regionalism for awhile now – for very good reason. Physical distance is becoming as meaningless locally as it is globally. We’re getting better at sharing services and infrastructure, but I wonder if it isn’t time to starting applying regional thinking to something a little less tangible, but far more visible: our sense of community.
I have lived in six Michigan cities and worked in ten. I’m 30, so go ahead and do that math. My deep love for Michigan comes from the fact that I have deeply loved each and every one of those places. I am still an active, contributing member of four of those cities, but I don’t ever feel like I’m traversing from one “community” to the next. I’m constantly astounded when I encounter people who don’t believe this can be an earnest statement. Sometimes I feel like I’m trying to explain that I have four husbands. Does love for a city have to be monogamous? Why, oh why, oh why should that be true?
I was recently at an event in one of the cities in which I work and love, but do not live. I was returning to a table that was mostly full of people I had just met, and while taking my seat, heard the end of this sentence:
“…so I just don’t get why she is a part of it. She doesn’t even live here.”
I. Freaked. Out. Was I about to have to defend myself again? Could I really be forced to leave a second job because I could not pledge singular fidelity to its city limits? Was my secret out?
But no, she was talking about someone else. She was questioning why a certain woman had been asked to be a speaker at an upcoming community event. The woman in question was planning to speak about an amazing community benefit project that she has been singlehandedly undertaking for a year for absolutely no pay. Without being blatant about this person’s identity, she is doing a service to the city that should earn her a medal. She’s amazing. And this other person was questioning why someone who lives, as it turned out, a mile or so into the next zip code, was being allowed to speak. Half the table got involved, and before I knew it, it was a “Who is the towniest townie?” argument. I, on the other hand, suddenly became very interested in the color and texture of my beer. If I could have put my whole head in it, I would have.
Why do we do this to each other? As a person who not only loves my community, but studies and writes about the concept of community every day, I can honestly say that we’re all a lot more connected than we’re willing to admit. My work world in Ann Arbor blends right into my work world in Lansing. The people are working toward the same goals, they face the same challenges, and the few dozen miles between the two of them are nothing on Twitter. They’re nothing on WordPress. They’re also nothing to entrepreneurs whose businesses operate between the two, or to the artists and musicians who find enough regular work in both places to cobble together a creative career because the community of Michigan can support them, if not one particular city.
The cities that have resisted regionalism are regretting it. They are running out of resources and running out of citizens. Not only have they missed out on cost sharing measures, they’ve missed out on idea sharing and innovation sharing. I believe the same thing happens to communities who decide their borders are as hard and fast as their zip codes. The point of a community is to grow and share and support. Why would anyone want to limit that?