March 17, 2015 at 2:36 pm CDT

Recently, my local library asked its patrons what they want in their community. The responses were written or drawn on small sheets of paper and posted on a wall off the library’s main lobby. Some responses were serious. Some were funny. Some I shouldn’t print here.

The adults and older kids had some pretty big-ticket concerns. “I want a community where discrimination is nonexistent,” reads one. Another writes: “I want a community where everything is peaceful and no shootings or drugs or robberies. No people being rude, unkind or mean. I want a caring community where nobody litters. I also want no racist or sexist people. That’s what kind of community I want.”

My favorites were the kids who drew their idea of a great community.

Matt Carmichael

In this version, community includes people talking to each other, taking responsibly for their environment by picking up trash, and being out in some park-like setting with trees and birds.

Matt Carmichael

For this child, simply being able to ride a scooter in his/her neighborhood is the idea of a good community.

Words like happy, nice, inclusive and caring were used frequently.

After spending a few minutes scanning the wall of ideas, I left to go pick out some books with my kids, but I also left with a few important takeaways about livability.

No one was focused on the details, or on the nuts and bolts. There was no discussion of walkability or bike paths. Little mention of arts and culture or a retail scene filled with local boutiques – although one comment did mention wanting a community that plays board games! Access to good schools and doctors seemed a secondary concern.

Instead, people were focused on the basics of community. We should work together. We should play together. We should talk with each other. As we do so, we should be inclusive and kind. Community was all about the interactions and connections. Without a lot of guidance, these kids got it. They understood what is most critical. So how can we design places that basically just get out of everyone’s way and allow them to be together and be nice to each other?

There were hints in the drawings of how that should look. No one talked about or drew cars. The interactions took place in seemingly public places like parks and sidewalks. The discussion itself took place in one of the best sorts of public places: a library. I think you can see where I’m going with this. If “community” is to occur and be about more than just a collection of people living within common borders, we’ll need more and better places for this “community” to interact. In public. Together.

The library, by fostering this conversation, is helping. But so do the concerts that take place in the summer outside its doors in the adjacent park where residents and families of all kinds come to sing and dance during the nicer weather. Every little bit helps, and every little bit gets us closer to the simple act of two people or even two stick figures just saying, “hi.”

This was originally posted on, home of the Top 100 Best Places to Live rankings. Copyright Journal Communications Inc. Reprinted with permission.