For me community is about recognition. Every time I make eye contact with someone here, something beautiful happens. I know where I am and I orient myself. I think ‘I am in Valemount, I am Valemount, They are in Valemount, they are Valemount.’

For me, community is saying ‘hello’ and smiling to someone I recognize on the street. It is knowing who to call when you have a problem. It is having a role that fits with the roles of the people around us. Community is about engagement and spontaneous interactions with people we recognize.

To get spontaneous interactions, you need to get people to leave their homes.

The question for the Hub committee is this: How do you plan to do that?

Valemount’s community hub group began with a very clear mission: to find a way to use vacant spaces on 5th Ave and to economically house Valemount’s non-profit groups, and perhaps some other renters.

It is a winning idea”¦ filling those spaces would make the town look less barren, encouraging investment and benefiting non-profits. It’s a winner. I support a community hub, but it’s not a place you buy, rent, or build. It’s an idea.

It’s not lack of operating space that hampers the food bank right now, for example, but a lack of volunteers. It’s unclear which groups need a place to rent.

Many non-profits have wonderful buildings, like the Legion, and the Lions. Are those buildings being used to capacity or have they become a liability?

I sat through one particularly frustrating Hub meeting while a proponent tried to convince a non-profit that they needed and would benefit by being a co-renter. The reality was, there was no upside for this particular non-profit to be there. Their needs are already being met. We’re not missing space, but organizing energy, enthusiasm and membership.

People are willing to get on board the Community Hub because it sounds like a good idea, but are the needs of Valemount being met or are they being invented?

This plan involves real estate. Real estate involves money. And unless you have a source of untapped money, money is problematic. Despite Valemount’s vacancy rate and our current economic situation, rent is expensive. So is heat and electricity. Like any other enterprise the Hub needs a way to make the rent. How do we do that?

The next piece of the puzzle is also troubling. The ‘drop-in’ centre. It’s unclear to me who is dropping in and why. Does this help or hinder the organizations that already try to do this? Will a drop in centre enhance or compete against live music at the Golden Years Lodge on Wednesday, or Lion’s bingo? Or the live TV show on Thursday nights?

Valemount (and McBride and Dunster for that matter) has a profound sense of community. Who needs a drop in centre when doing 15 minutes of groceries can take three hours if you meet the right people? Where a quick coffee at the Gathering Tree can morph into a half day academic discussion on the problems of modern Egypt?

It’s unclear to me what would attract people to visit such a place. And my concern is that it would steal energy, time, and people away from the institutions that already exist like old time music and dancing on Wednesday nights. Like mixed martial arts and yoga.

I’m a bit concerned about where this is going. In my experience, people – seniors, teens, shoppers, tourists, whatever – don’t just walk into a building because there is an open door with a sign above that says “Hub” or “All Welcome.” Successful projects satisfy a clear need. They compete for and win our attention and time.

I worked on creating a community space above bookstore in Saskatoon. It was on Broadway, the hippest street in the city, where tons of young people walked every day. There was free Internet access, there were couches, a book exchange, bathrooms and a meeting space. Very few people used that space. There was nothing to draw them. Why would they go there, and not the cool cafÔ© around the corner?

Will a new public space create a sense of community for us? Or does it prevent us from doing the real work?

The people who feel isolated in town are not going to put on their boots in February in order to sit on a couch on 5th Ave. What I’d like to see is a hub committee that focuses on community development in the only way I see it possible: planning gatherings and reaching out individually to the people around us. It’s up to each person to take full personal responsibility for our ‘community.’

Community is not a place; it’s an imagined idea. How are we going to create the feeling of belonging for our residents? It’s not a building. We have dozens of half-used buildings in this town.

The real community hubs are the high school, the Trading Post, the post office, the Gathering Tree, Kiwa Crafts, the old village office, and the new village office. A community garden could be a verdant community hub.

Ironically, the hub group has become its own hub – a place for people who want to contribute to the community to come and feel heard, a place for them to go in the evening, a place to air their concerns about their town. It’s already successful in this regard. But let’s not lose sight of the real work.

The real work is community building. But let’s not take ‘building’ too literally.