Prof. Jay G. Garrott: Compassionate Communities
After 44-years of teaching and practicing participatory architecture, urban design, and community development and serving the past 15-years as the Director of the Hammons School of Architecture’s Center for Community Studies, I have witnessed first-hand many compassionate communities. To me, a compassionate community is one that is looking out for its citizens; even those that have not yet been born. It is a community that is not merely content to look at the current challenges and address the current projects in a compassionate manner, but more importantly to me, it is the community that is actively engaged in orchestrating community-wide efforts to envision what the community should/could become.
In the last 15-years, the Center for Community Studies has assisted 68 communities in Missouri in developing long-range visions. These visioning efforts have been undertaken by the communities with the assistance of the Center and fourth year architecture student. The Center organizes and facilitates the process and tests the community’s evolving visions through researching precedents, illustrating the implications of the proposed vision approach, and providing the community with a written and visual document of concerns and recommendations pertaining to the vision they have developed.
This community/university participatory visioning process is predicated on a key principle: compassion. The desire to come together to work for a common vision for a better community requires compassion. We challenge the community to envision what they would like their community to become in 20-25 years, long after many of the participants will have died. But, they are there, and they are actively engaged in the process because they wish to create a better community for their children and grandchildren and people who will come after they are gone.
They come together from all sectors of the community. The rich and the poor. Those with the community political and economic power and those without. The young and the old. We encourage the full spectrum of constituency groups. We give all an equal voice in the visioning process.
The Center has developed a community visioning process that values all voices. We use techniques that assures that everyone can participate, speak their mind and be listened to by those assembled. The process nourishes the compassion that is the underpinning of the process that most of the community members do not realize and articulate in the beginning. But, as the process evolves and the discussions among the citizens take place, they become more and more compassionate listeners. Empathy grows with understanding. The vision of a better long-term community is articulated in more compassionate terms, rather than in the purely egocentric terms of the opening comments of the first public meeting. What was once held as factual, is now reevaluated as they see each other’s needs and viewpoints better.
No one should misconstrue these comments as being Pollyanna mysticism. We all realize the reality of the situations when the hard decisions of political and economic implementation are sought. The depth of these compassionate conversations may be forgotten by many when the project ends, and the report is delivered. But, not for all. Nor, is the compassionate basis underlying the desire to envision a better life for the community negated. These community long-range visioning processes and products are valuable opportunities to glimpse a community’s underlying degree of compassion. For this desire to see an improvement in the community and, thus, its citizens, is I believe a good definition of the compassionate community.
~Professor Jay G. Garrott
Director at Center for Community Studies
Hammons School of Architecture