thisspace: Reclaiming local spaces for community
Finding community in 2021
The way we find real-world communities is under threat, just when we need them the most. In the 21st Century, fewer and fewer people engage in institutions that formed the bedrock of the middle class success of the post-war era, as work like Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone and his follow-up books have shown over the past twenty years.
COVID has only accelerated this, making us all acutely aware of how much we need in-person interaction (community) while also shifting the way massive numbers of people live in ways that are both temporary (shelter-in-place) and permanent (work from home).
So much of the world has changed thanks to technology — software is eating the world, as Marc Andreessen famously said. We can find a potential spouse, have food delivered, order a taxi, book a hotel room or someone’s spare room, and schedule a plumber from our phones.
But connecting in the real world to build community seems harder than ever. Despite all these conveniences, our busy, fractured lives leave little room for some of the things we, especially our inner selves, need the most. Community.
Think about how many boarded-up churches, locked community centers, and other inaccessible community buildings you’ve seen in the last year. How many have been converted to condos? How many do you see with doors closed and lights off except for a few hours a week, usually on a weekend morning when you’re on your way to brunch or soccer practice with the kids?
When we look at the physical spaces in our communities we see infinite possibilities and infinite opportunities. Whether it is a reading room in a local library, a conference room at the hotel downtown, or a classroom in the church down the road, there are spaces all over our local communities that spend a lot of time as, well, empty space. Sadly, the last year has only darkened more spaces and, for some, it’s been permanent.
The people who need the space
Imagine if the people in our communities were able to unlock the potential of these spaces, even in times like these: the people setting up offices and classrooms at dining tables and kitchen counters; the parents who can’t find an affordable space to host their children’s birthday parties; the knitting circles who are tired of fighting for seats at Starbucks; the local comedian who dreams of teaching improv; the teenager who wants to host a benefit for the cause she cares about.
Making these possibilities come to life is hard. So much of the space available in our communities is hiding in plain sight. Who has the time to call a dozen different venues to ask about availability? To negotiate pricing and cancellation policies? If you get a response.
The people who have the space
For the organizations who manage these spaces, it’s just as difficult. What kind of uses can and should you open your space up to? How much should you charge? Should you charge the same to everyone? What are the risks? How do we manage the risks? And so on. It’s often easier not to do anything.
For the most part, the communities we live in have evolved out of social patterns that existed over the last 100 years, generally built on top of patterns in the generations before that. We are living in a world that has so many new needs that don’t fit the practices and the features of life we have inherited. We need a way to leverage the great assets we have but in ways that make sense to people living in the 2020s not the 1920s and ‘50s.
A better future, today
What if we make it easier for the people and organizations in our community to find and share space? We know if we unlock the potential of the underutilized spaces all around us, we will build stronger, better, more engaged communities. The space is already there; let’s use it.
We need a way to help these community centers of the 19th and 20th century transform themselves into community centers of the 21st century. We see a huge opportunity to apply technology to build community. So many spaces in our communities sit empty for most of the time. And yet for so many people, space is too difficult or expensive to find.
We are inspired by how companies like Thumbtack, Airbnb, and Wonderschool made it easier and more affordable to connect with service professionals, travel like a local, and provide education for your family. We thought: what if we could do that in our own backyards to build community?
Our vision is to reimagine community spaces and to make space accessible for everyone. We are fueling community space, because it’s not about creating spaces that don’t yet exist or deciding how you come together for you, it’s a revitalization of the way people and spaces come together in their community.
Why we founded thisspace
We grew up in and live in strong communities, which are going through the challenges that most communities are facing. We are excited to launch thisspace after lots of work to deepen our understanding and learn what communities need.
We look forward to the months and years ahead to build something important to the future of your community. This is just the start. We don’t have all the answers. We’d love to hear from you and learn how we can build this future in community with you. Send your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org.