Vital Signs in our social garden

The Vancouver Foundation released it bi-annual, Vital Signs Report today. And guess what?  What really matters to Metro Vancouver residents is belonging and the strength of our connections to each other. Not our scenery, money, education, achievements, gender, age, or ethnic background. To quote from the report:

A strong sense of belonging – really feeling that there is a place for us in our community – and a bond of trust with our neighbours have the greatest influence on how we rate the quality of our life.

Almost 70% of us feel a strong sense of belonging.  Not surprising almost as many have a bond of trust with our community.  See more results here.

These are reassuring findings especially for those of us who believe a city is more than its physical setting, architecture, entertainment, sports teams, and political life.

We should not consume a city.  We should be of a city. Belonging to it. We should belong to a city the way our heart belongs to our body.  Neither exists without the other.  A city is the organism that gives voice and structure to our yearning to be part of something larger than ourselves.

I like the Vancouver Foundation for this report. 

It is a departure from most reports which chronicle everything that is wrong.  Those reports obscure and overshadow what's actually working. They leave us with a feeling of despair.  Alarming statistics and horrifying descriptions have lost their power to shock people into action, if they ever did.  Blasts of passion leading to spurts of action perhaps but not the intentional, conscious efforts it takes to overcome social and environmental challenges.

By contrast the Vancouver Foundation's Vital signs report is telling the story that's seldom told.  They are filling in the blank pages of Belonging, as much a part of our history as politics or economics.   They are prompting solutions on the basis of what's working rather than what's not working.  They are tending to our social garden by:

  • illuminating how we take care of each other
  • nurturing reciprocity and trust
  • pruning our resilience
  • sowing the seeds of information and inspiration
  • refreshing our story and
  • incubating a novel approach to social change.

After many decades of community organizing I have learned to pay attention to what has heart and meaning.  Belonging is it. 

Everything goes better with belonging.  We will reduce homelessness and vulnerability when people's lives have meaning and they feel they belong.  A climate of trust will help us deal with declining civic engagement and the multiple conflicting perspectives on our environment.  Imagining new solutions will benefit from a heightened sense of our 'living ties' as Jean Vanier suggests, 'to the universe, to the earth, to the air, to the water, to everything that lives, to all humanity. ' 

My friend Jacques Dufresne observes:  Life comes from life. Life will come back in nature when it comes back in individuals and communities. 

The Vancouver Foundation's Vital Signs emphasis on Belonging gives Metro Vancouver a chance to nurture its social garden – the vital sources of belonging.  It has not sugar coated the challenges we face.  But they has got to the heart of the matter.  They have provided us with a refreshing catalyst for action.

I have been asked to speak at the official launch of 'Vital Signs'. Wednesday October 6th at the Roundhouse Community Centre.  I think I'll suggest establishing a Belonging Task Force or better still a Belonging Innovation lab.   What do you think?


(1) Vital Signs Reports were also issued in 13 other Canadian cities today.  Visit the Community Foundations of Canada, Vital Signs website to follow what's happening from Atlantic to Pacific and to view composite results.

(2) The Vancouver Foundation will celebrate the launch of Vital Signs Wednesday October 6th at 8:00 at the Roundhouse Community Centre.  Click here to register.

(3) Social Garden and other metaphors are the creation of Jacques Dufresne the man who has inspired many of us to take belonging more seriously. Visit our Appartenance – Belonging website for thoughtful perspectives on all sources of belonging,

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