The elderly man grins as he slowly makes his way the few blocks to the Kanaka Creek Coffee cafe each Wednesday evening. And I smile, too, because he's my silent reminder that the recipe for a healthy community can sometimes be found for the price of a cup of coffee.
And he's not the only one making the happy trek to this cafe as the place fills with regulars showing up to what's become a lively weekly tradition. Guitars, fiddles, and the occasional drum are hastily unloaded from cars and out of backpacks as musicians and music lovers arrive on cue.
There is something brewing at this little Albion cafe, and it's more than just lattes.
The pied piper of the parade is Pam Burns, who lives and works in Maple Ridge and is also - lucky for the rest of us - a music lover who knows how to connect like-minded people.
This summer marked the fourth anniversary of her Wednesday night jam session that began with just a handful of performers. The crowd of familiar faces and new families spilled out onto the patio.
There's now a feature artist and a wellorganized but casual open-mike where everyone gets to play one or two songs. The crowd is generous and encouraging.
There's not much room for big egos, although there are seasoned veterans and angelic voices who deserve the spotlight. The cafe is also slowly becoming a place for young talent to get ready for the bigger musical world while they grow into themselves.
That's how I know about the place. Somehow, the musical kid in my house heard about the Wednesday evenings by osmosis and started to cart her fiddle down every chance she got. At first she was too nervous to get her bow out of the case. Now, a few years later, they shout her name when she walks in the door, like she's Norm on Cheers.
But there's no booze and she doesn't have to even get out her fake ID to get through the door.
It doesn't cost a cent to participate or to watch. The cafe sells food and drink. You couldn't plan a better community-building exercise if you tried.
And we do. There are committees all over town trying to produce this kind of organic community-based cooperation and engagement. Ah, there are a couple of buzzwords for you. I know how hard these committees work. It ain't easy. And that's why I smile each time that older guy walks toward the cafe. Off on his eco-friendly walk to a local, sustainable, intergenerational, community-based event. Jeez, and he just thinks he's heading to have a coffee and listen to the banjo.
The success of Pam's vision does make me ponder just why her idea has worked so well so far outside of all those well-meaning boardroom tables.
First off, somebody at the municipality planning department decided there should be a bit of small-business commercial property amidst those seemingly endless, densely packed small lots of Albion. Some room to hang around on a large sidewalk - in the very way music lovers and coffee addicts now do.
Then it took someone like Pam, with a real love of music, people, and place, to believe she could make it happen. Throw in a local business that could see the economic and social payoff of opening its doors to such a simple scheme, and you have a long sought-after chorus of real community. Not just one envisioned on a page.
This example should be music to the ears of those who work hard at creating community for a living. I hope planners remember Pam's success when they're mapping out the next phase of growth. If you offer a place that feels like a community, your citizens will create one for you. Make some space for your people. They'll know what to do. They may not know the buzzwords off by heart, but hum a few bars and they'll sing it back to
@ Copyright 2013