Community Spaces

Ever since I was little, I've wandered past darkened buildings in the evening and wondered why we don't more effectively use our physical spaces. I wander past closed buildings during the day and wonder if they open up to the public in the evening. Buildings and public spaces are made to be used and yet so many of them are left abandoned and unattended when they could brighten the lives of so many. Along the same lines, I've often wondered why public institutions aren't more open to the general community.

Imagine if your local school ran sports and cooking classes in the evening? Imagine if these cooking classes were for teens yearning for an educational experience that is more than maths and essays - if these classes gave them social interaction greater than Facebook. Imagine if these sports classes were for strengthening the bones of our elders, who might then enjoy the delicious creations of the young people. Imagine if 6pm called for community dinners, providing nutritious and scrumptious meals for a low cost to those who can't afford a restaurant experience. Imagine if school auditoriums doubled as fun spaces for teens to use on the weekends - fun enough to go but safe enough that parents no longer had to worry as much if their child wasn't home by 10pm.

Imagine if your university ran public education seminars and workshops that helped up-skill the non-WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic) in our community and encourage them to seek further education? The government is already trying to increase the numbers attending university (references here, here and here- but there have to be open, accessible pathways to do this. Imagine if university lecture halls became places for local skate groups to discuss what's happening in their world, for graffiti artists and fashion designers to come together to discuss the meaning of art. Imagine if tutorial rooms became innovation labs for every idea under the sun (and beyond). Imagine if Universities participated in reverse education, with all of those successful University drop-outs coming back to reform the system.

Imagine if hospitals were not only places for the sick but places for the well, running art classes as therapy for long-term patients but welcoming the well to learn a new skill too. Imagine if hospitals were surrounded by parks and gardens that could be used by local residents, whose cheer might brighten the day of patients sharing the space. Imagine if we changed parking lots from something that paved over paradise (in the words of Joni Mitchell) to something as awesome as this (but beware - a viewing window could mean kids want to stand and watch for hours on end). Imagine if windows became solar panels and outside walls grew plants that help both keep the building cool and provide tasty, slow food treats for the city. Imagine the day that the window-cleaner hanging outside your floor plucks an apple from the wall and takes a bite on their way down to the ground floor.

Imagine if the nightclubs that are closed all day doubled as drug and alcohol education centres during the day. Imagine if restaurants doubled as safe places for community groups to gather during the day.  Imagine if we lived in apartment blocks with built in communal workspaces and kitchens that allowed us to get to know our neighbourhood and collaborate with locals on our greatest ideas. Imagine if this meant you could help the elderly man next door with his groceries because you finally knew your neighbour, and if he also happened to be a good baby-sitter when you wanted to leave the kids at home for Thursday Date Night.

Imagine if soup kitchens were part of community centres that offered Medicare and Centrelink services, employment training and opportunity shops. Imagine if the soup kitchen was attractive enough that it would be a go-to breakfast spot for the working community, who could pay to eat delicious meals, supporting the work of non-profit groups who try to give the less fortunate opportunities to get back in the game. Imagine if the centre also offered health services, linking patients of all sorts with a support service. Imagine if the public spaces could be used for open discussions about improving our cities for the future. Imagine the opportunities.

Some of this creativity takes time and huge financial investment. Some of it takes planning and advocating to your school, university or workplace. Opening up public spaces to the community allows for greater collaboration and faster implementation of our greatest ideas. It levels the playing field. It gives back. Opening up community spaces is an opportunity to open our eyes to those around us. And it's an opportunity to learn something you never knew you didn't know. Just imagine.


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