Introduction

This chapter will allow you to understand what a community is (according to geographers) and what basic types of communities exist. In general, we are all a part of several human communities, either through sharing a geographical area (shared space) with a defined population (number of people), or through sharing interests with others in a social organisation (like in a work community or a community group).

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What are communities?

A community is a population in a defined area. Within this defined population, people share something in common, such as shared space (like a rural or urban area) or membership of a social organisation (like a workplace or a cultural group). Several factors can make and define a community including beliefs, physical or public space, interests, culture, ethnicity, socio-economic background, location, workplaces and history. In geography, we can now refer to a community of shared space from local to global.

For our immediate study purposes, we will look at two types of communities of interest to Geographers:

  1. communities defined by shared space, for example, a suburb or town
  2. communities defined by a shared interest or social organisation, for example, the Socceroo's fan club or the Italian community.

Communities tend by nature to provide a sense of community and identity for humans. This means we are all members of many communities that make our lives meaningful and enjoyable. A person can be a member of many communities at the same time. For example, he or she might play soccer in a sport community, be a member of the Italian community through marriage and a member of the Anglo-Saxon (English) community by family origin, have a history of growing up in a rural community or be living in an urban or suburban community. They may have worked in several work communities for employment, but also be playing music in a musical community and a member of a religious community (that's at least seven communities; think of all your communities).

Types of Australian communities

There are many types of communities within Australia and around the world. We can observe and compare community types in order to understand how they function and how they are organised.

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A geographer uses community profiles when studying defined populations of humans, like the different cultural groups existing in a particular location. This is a useful and formal way to compare the demographic features of communities in order to monitor population changes over time. Observing the demographics of populations and defined communities also allows us to observe differences or similarities within and between communities. For example, a rural community and an urban community might have similar proportions of cultural groups, yet have very different unemployment rates and social activities (like sport and entertainment).

Sporting communities

Many Australians love sport. Many people are members of a sporting community whether they play sport professionally or for leisure, or whether they like to watch games or follow a particular team. There are around six million people aged 5 and over actively involved in Australian sport communities.

The Sydney Swans fanclub, part of the Australian Football League (AFL), is an example of a highly organised sporting community. The fan base is a social organisation spread across at least two States. There are likely to be members and fans nationally and even internationally. The internet is proving to be an excellent way for this sporting community to develop and encourage membership. The Swans' official website is dedicated to its fans and the 'Swans community'. It has diverse facilities like a club history, the club anthem, pictures and player profiles, social events and memorabilia. The community has its own 'Fan Zone'. Like many other communities, sport is big business, so the sport community in general tries to fulfil other community functions. For instance, the business arm of The Swans ensures that groups such as sick children are supported. The community programs also allow a 'Swans Squad Junior Clinic' to operate in its Melbourne headquarters, providing signing of new members and an opportunity to meet the big players.  

Beach communities

The beach represents an aspect of the Australian lifestyle and is a 'community' in terms of shared space. When Australians go to the beach, they enjoy sitting with friends, family and other community members. They also enjoy the sun, the waves, the atmosphere, playing sport and even a BBQ. The beach provides us with a sense of community as it represents an important part of our leisure time and can be an important way for communities to interact (whether it is with our family community, our social community, or the wider community).

Multicultural communities

In urban and regional centres we find an array of culturally diverse communities. Around a quarter of Australia's population is composed of citizens who were born overseas and migrated to Australia. Some suburbs in cities and large regionally-based towns and cities are highly multicultural (with an ethnic composition of over 90 per cent). Australia is developing its national multicultural identity. Neighbourhoods and schools are made-up of people from various ethnic and cultural backgrounds who often speak more than one language.

Work communities

When we go to work and our place of employment, we are in our work community. In the simplest sense, this means we are working with other individuals. The healthiest work communities are the ones where everyone relates well socially and the employees work cooperatively with each other and their managers to complete work duties. As a result, strong work communities tend to have productive and enjoyable workplaces. People do their best work when they enjoy being at work and feel comfortable with their work responsibilities.

Interest groups as communities

Interest groups are either political or social communities. Social interest groups are communities that have a common social interest, such as a parenting group or a local conservation group. There are, however, numerous social interest groups across many fields. If you think about your own personal interests, you may be able to think of some. There are dance or music groups, for example, and groups that meet regularly to walk their pets or enjoy viewing the latest films. There are interest groups involving sport, food, drama, travelling, art appreciation and cooking. You would be in a social interest group if you went with people to enjoy your favourite bands. Some interest groups serve particular communities, like in rural or indigenous communities.

Many interest groups are political in nature: they are trying to promote a single issue or meet a number of long term objectives. Political interest groups vary in size, structure, and funding level. An effective interest group uses political strategies to influence decision making; interest groups of a political nature use a variety of strategies in pursuing their aims. Strategies include: petitions or letters to Members of Parliament, lobbying of politicians (arguing a case), advertising, public protest and meetings. No Aircraft Noise is a political party and a lobby group, yet it was formed in 1995 as an interest group. This party is a good example of how a single issue in the community can motivate an interest group to be formed. No Aircraft Noise, as implied by the name, aim to reduce and remove aircraft noise pollution from Sydney. The main way the group envisage this outcome is by the closure of Kingsford Smith Airport; a new airport or runway can be constructed outside suburban areas. Through lobbying, No Aircraft Noise aims to ensure that the major political parties in Australia put the interests of Sydneysiders first, by minimising air pollution and improving quality of life. Political participation, lobbying, website facilities, newsletters, campaigning and demonstrations are key strategies used.

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