Walking recently around and visiting Newburyport, Massachusetts a few weekends ago I thought of a word I don't normally think of. Ever heard of the latin word Civitas? Civitas is a latin word meaning "a body of citizens who constitute a state, especially a city-state, commonwealth or the like". It also means "citizenship, especially as imparting shared responsibility, a common purpose, and a sense of community.
Newburyport's small scale walkable seaside downtown exemplifies a place teeming with a sense of community or civitas.There's a strong vibe there hard to pin down with words like comfortable, social, textural, pedestrian friendly, authentic, civic and most importantly livable, coming to mind when trying to define such an intangible idea.
It's where place and space commingle with a clear sense of identity through a variety of factors. In short, it's what many cities and towns seek to create by their community wide efforts to cultivate a strong, successful and vibrant downtown.
To create and then cultivate civitas requires a multi-faceted approach to community design with a long term view. It takes shared commitment from everyday citizens, elected officials, community business leaders and organizations, architects, landscape architects, planners, school systems and more. It's a additive process requiring being in relationship to your community, taking responsibility by participating, volunteering, helping out.
Sometimes you need to go away and visit somewhere else to learn to truly appreciate what you have close to home and not take if for granted. I live in Montpelier, Vermont an inland city bisected by two rivers which also happens to be our state capital. It too is a livable pedestrian friendly city with a strong and vibrant downtown, great local shops and lovely quirky Vermonter's. (note the car with the single headlight in the below picture)
Visiting Newburyport renewed by appreciation of where I live and how grateful I am to be part of our community. In the coming year, I promise to strongly cultivate that relationship by giving more of my time to our city. It truly matters.
Do you live iin a city with a downtown like Newburyport or Montpelier? What are some reasons it is unique and special? Are there shared characteristics which small cities with great downtowns share?
#Design #Architecture #Community (originally published on LinkedIn 8/21/14)