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    Why ‘Stay Away’ Is Not the Way

    Preston-columnHeader

    When Chestermere’s beaches are full of families and sand-castle-building kids, when the boat dock is backed up, and when parking at our summer festivals is hard to come by, I begin to hear the grumblings. “We do not like ‘those’ people using ‘our’ amenities” and “perhaps it is time to close our lake to the outside world, to make Lake Chestermere a benefit to be enjoyed only by those who pay their taxes and own a home here.” After all, “it is our lake and others should just ‘stay away.'”

    There are some gated communities in Calgary. Private parks and lakes that were created solely for the benefit of local residents dot the city. Shouldn’t Chestermere be an oasis for those who have worked hard to make it a special place – for us?

    Closed communities have been around as long as people have created forts and villages. We do not like when ‘other’ people invade ‘our’ hard-won utopia. Yet protectionism is the modus operandi of places beset by a fearful and scarcity mindset. Closed communities soon become a parody of themselves. In London, England, there are countless gated communities, parks, malls, and amenities. It was trendy to claim exclusive access to a part of the city. However there is a growing move towards opening these closed doors. The effect of gated communities and closed amenities is becoming a toxic ill in London, according to Jonathan Glancey. He writes, “Paranoia seems to be the reason we gate our streets and homes today. But the more we cut ourselves off from one another, the more this paranoia spreads and the less we feel a part of the social and physical fabric of our towns and cities.” Neighbours in London are rethinking what makes communities safe, alive, and forward-focused. It does not involve building higher fences, but rather a longer table.

    Chestermere residents do not live in fear or protectionism. They, like all Albertans, are generous with their time and resources. They are hospitable and kind. Chestermere is blessed with an amazing lake – truly the only one like it in Southern Alberta – and we have been determined from the start to make this a place of leisure for everyone to enjoy. Putting a ‘stay away’ sign would not reflect the heart of our city, and the values we have instilled in our community.

    Hospitality questions the detrimental cycles of gated spaces that inhibit true community. When we eat with our neighbours, open our table, hear their stories, and share from our bounty, something changes. How we live in relationship to others is renewed when we use hospitality to bridge the divide between us and our neighbours.

    We do not lose ourselves, our identity, our privilege, or our benefits when we live with a posture of hospitality. When neighbours visit our lake, or our kitchen table, we become wealthy in a new kind of way. We live out of abundance. We live out of generosity. We live out of who we were made to be – not closed people, but open and giving people.

    Next time you feel that too many of ‘those’ people have come to use ‘our’ space, may you give even more. Welcome visitors as guests, help them enjoy this city, and discover that hospitality is  the mark of a character that has much to be grateful for. Because we do.