No one expects that a one-size-fits-all definition for community development or a blueprint model for effective CD is attainable—it must be tailored to the needs of individual communities. But are there basic rules we can follow for effective CD? We’ve tracked this discussion for several years—see our 2009 article, A 21st Century Vision for Community Development where Joe Kriesberg, executive director of the Massachusetts Alliance of Community Development Corporations looked at how CD would need to change in the next generation.
CD often refers to place-rooted nonprofit organizations working at the scale of neighborhoods or sets of neighborhoods to reverse disinvestment and spark revitalization, with a heavy reliance on real estate development, especially housing, as a tool to achieve those ends. But in our weekly survey last week, we asked you, and, as expected, we received a an array of responses. Several responders, while supportive of CD ideals, were critical of the housing production model. Here’s a sampling:
“Yes, there is a model. At a basic level it involves people working together on a cooperative basis to improve communities. However, the term is often used to describe top-down efforts to improve the economic climate in communities, improve housing stock, or increase the capacity of individuals and organizations to engage in certain types of community change efforts. The grass-roots “bottom up” approach often described in the community organizing literature 40 or 50 years ago has been lost—in favor of well-funded government or privately driven efforts to tell low and working class people what’s good for them.” —Donna H., California
What’s interesting is that some responders who said there is a fundamental CD model often provided similar responses to those who felt the original intent of community development has been lost:
“No, there is no model. Too much of what is pawned off as ‘community development’ today is just private developers and outside organizations building subsidized housing in low and moderate income neighborhoods. There is no community input.” —John R., Bronx, NY
Others simply felt that perhaps too much of a model existed, or, as Peter H. of Chicago writes, a “One-size-fits-all solution to community development that’s mostly based on past failed solutions and outmoded land-use, zoning, density and diversity concepts.” He goes on:
“The common thread [in CD] will be systems analysis and design, open-mindedness, innovation, revolutionary thinking, guts, confidence and persistence. However, those that finally do this will probably be derided, ridiculed, obstructed, attacked or ignored by the established planning, zoning, lending, and development communities who will have to abandon their precious, existing agendas, habits, comforts, and special interests and accept the risks of failure as a condition of success.”
Overall, our respondents think, by a three-to-one margin, that a CDC model exists. But as one might expect, how that model is defined is certainly up for discussion. What’s your take?