The word community, like many words in the English language, has more than one interpretation. A community can be identified as a geographical location—a physical infrastructure of streets, parks and buildings, defined by tangible brick and mortar structures. But a sense of community is often emotional, intangible and much more difficult to define; it is what makes an address a home, not just a location.
Cultivating a sense of community can present a challenge for residents, property managers and homeowners associations. In a sprawling, heavily-populated, urban environment like New York City it is still possible to feel a disconnect from other residents, even those living in the same building, and sharing the same amenities. A sense of community doesn’t automatically come along with the lease. There has to be a vested interest in cultivating and creating that hard to define but valuable support system. Chances are you will not find “foster a sense of community” in any one person’s job description. Creating that special feeling of connectivity tends to be a group effort, and requires a team approach.
Marni Berk is a general manager and team leader for FirstService Residential working on-site at Lincoln Towers. She believes a sense of community is a top-down responsibility. “It is up to the board and the managing agent, working together, to instill the feeling of community,” she states. Berk is aware that most board members typically work in other fields, and that is why a partnership of effort is important. “The board supplies the focus and the agent is available for the follow up and follow-through.” Berk is also in favor of using a committee approach and involving interested residents in building decisions whenever possible. “The board will make the final decision, but committees allow others to have a voice, she explains. Committees can lighten the workload, and having shareholders involved also helps build a sense of community, and community pride.”
In Berk’s experience many residents have valuable skills to contribute, but she cautions, “Even with a committee, you cannot please everyone.” Still she believes the involvement tends to make people feel good about where they live, which in turn makes residents more likely to pick up after their pets, or check on a neighbor, and take better care of the property. “Involvement helps build a different environment,” she says.
Berk has other tools in her toolbox besides involving residents in committees. Communication systems, events, and parties are other ways she helps to foster a community feeling at Lincoln Towers.