Action Strategies For Community Development

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Action Strategies forCommunity DevelopmentIn politics one hears “where you stand,depends on where you sit.” The same canbe said about strategies for neighborhooddevelopment. The answers to fundamentalquestions like: “Where do we start?”,“What do we want to achieve?” and “Howdo we get there?”, will be much differentdepending upon where one is “sitting” in thecommunity development process.Our starting point is the neighborhoodorganization - and that makes all thedifference in building strong communities.While the perspective of the book isneighborhood residents and organizations,the approach is to create criticalpartnerships among the many individualsdedicated to community development.These include neighborhood residents volunteers and paid staff of communityorganizations like neighborhoodgroups, local churches, and CommunityDevelopment Corporations employees of area or region-widecommunity development organizationslike the local affordable housing buildersand the Enterprise Foundation the staff members of school districts,city planning offices, social serviceagencies, health care providers,economic development organizations,and other similar groups.Many people working together arenecessary based on a critical appreciationof the importance of neighborhoodorganizations and local residents.The stepping off point comes from theinspiring efforts of a low income communityin Boston called the Dudley StreetNeighborhood. Their story is in a book titledStreets of Hope. After many years of work,Dudley Street residents said their strongesttools were: “the concept of the master planand the action of aggressive communityorganizing.” (Medoff & Sklar, p.265)This chapter will cover why this is so andwhat it means in terms of neighborhoodplanning.What Is Covered In This Chapter?The following topics will be addressedbelow: Lessons from a short history ofneighborhood planning. A definition of “social capital” and whysocial capital is of critical importance toneighborhoods. Values that underlie communitydevelopment work. Three different planning models forcommunity development: RationalPlanning, Assets Based CommunityDevelopment, and CommunityOrganizing. We will talk about whatthey are, how they work, and in whichsituations they are used. Some long-term guidelines forneighborhood development activity. Roles of planners and roles oforganizers.Dudley Street Neighborhood InitiativeThe needed critical partnership forcommunity development involvesconvergence of the work of many,coming together from neighborhoodhomes, businesses and churches; localschool rooms and offices, governmentagencies; banks and developers’ offices;and many others. This coming togetherrequires an unwavering dedication toneighborhood improvement, social capital,1

and empowerment. It also requiresan understanding and sympathy forthe bureaucratic requirements of jobdescriptions, demands, and hierarchies. Itmeans creatively engaging the programs oflarge organizations like local governmentsand school systems that reach out tocommunities, such as Community OrientedPolicing and Community Schools.acre, about 30% greater than in Bombay,India at the time. Tenements often werepoorly built and dangerous. By 1900, morethan two-thirds of New Yorkers (2.4 millionindividuals) were living in tenements asdefined by law. (Ford, pp. 84, 187, 202)The approach is about openness,communication, creativity, empathy,patience, and flexibility. It is always withone’s eyes on the prize of safe, enjoyable,and well-functioning neighborhoods.A Short History of Planning, or“What Is Past Is Prologue”The field of urban planning began asneighborhood planning and had its roots inthe teeming tenement districts of New Yorkin the 19th Century. The city was a sleepy,mostly rural place in 1800 with only 60,000residents. As New York changed from amerchant and finance center to an industrialone, it expanded rapidly. There were oncefarms and cottages in the upper part ofManhattan. By 1860, the population grewto 814,000 and the city entered the 20thcentury with 1,850,000 residents. (Ford,Slums & Housing, pp. 72-79, 140)Confronted by this rising tide of humanity,property owners greedy for quick wealthprevailed on the New York Commission tosubdivide the city into a grid block systemof 25’ x 100’ lots. This was the mostflexible and marketable subdivision of land(“the most cheap to build”) and few siteswere left for public facilities. Into thisdense grid were built the housing tenementbuildings – often two buildings to a lot, eachrising four to seven stories. One floor ofthe tenement typically contained four smallapartments with two rooms (sometimes 12’x 10’ and 10’ x 6’ in size). Each room mightcontain as many as six persons. Ownerswere dividing the living spaces into thesmallest area capable of holding human life.By 1890, one section of New York had anaverage density of nearly 1,000 persons perLower East Side of ManhattanCompounding the press of sheer numberswas the virtual absence of sanitary sewerand water facilities. Privies were locatedin tenement basements and in small openareas between buildings on the small lots.By the close of the century, the City wasdescribed as “one elongated cesspool.”Regular epidemics of typhus, typhoid,yellow fever, cholera, dysentery, andsmallpox broke out. (Ford, p. 130)In the midst of this squalor, urban planningemerged from the activities of theSettlement House workers. The first U.S.Settlement House was University Settlementestablished by Stanton Coit in 1886 in theLower East Side of Manhattan. The firstSettlement workers were from the middleor wealthier classes, inspired by religioustenets of service, and lived among thepeople whose lives they worked to improve.(Coit in Pacey, Readings in the Developmentof Settlement Work)2

Their goals and circumstances in theseneighborhoods drew them into a wide rangeof community improvement efforts. (Lurie,Encyclopedia of Social Work, p. 690) Theseincluded: availability of regular education,kindergarten, pre-school, and afterschool programs; recreation, parks and playgrounds; sanitation, potable water, and garbagecollection; libraries; public safety; legal aid; social services for the elderly, homeless,and the disabled; health care; job training; and, above all, housing reform.The settlement house workers focused onthe neighborhood as a whole, attemptingto create a “harmonious whole” bystrengthening the family and residentsworking cooperatively to eliminate localproblems. In the course of their work, manySettlement workers recruited and trainedlocal leaders. (Alden in Pacey, p. 56)Tammany Hall politicians had their handsin the profits of the tenements. Theycontrolled the Department of Buildings,appointment of judges, real estatetransactions, and public works projects.While they garnered the political support oftenement residents through small favors,the reformers of the era knew that thesepoliticians “sell out their own people” and“cause the troubles they relieve.” (Steffens,Shame of the Cities, pp. 211-212)Housing reformers focused on the obviousneed for effective, government regulations.Scores of studies between 1800 and 1900by State legislative committees, mayor’scommittees, charitable and religiousorganizations, professional associations, andother governmental agencies underscoredthe abhorrent tenement conditions.Tenement Housing laws were drafted in1867, 1879, 1887, and 1895, but evenwhen adopted they did little more thanprevent conditions from worsening. “Modeltenements” projects were built by reformersbut had little impact on over-all conditionsbecause a handful of good dwelling werebuilt while tens of thousands of slum unitswere raised. (Ford, p. 202) Some of thecommentaries seemed to place blame onimmigrants for their condition: “congregatedarmies of foreigners . They bring withthem destitution, misery, and too oftendisease.” (DeForest & Veiller, The TenementHousing Problem, p. 72)It was not until an effective politicalforce coalesced between 1884 and 1901,uniting the housing reformers, SettlementHouse workers, social service groups,community and religious leaders, thatprogress was made. Jacob Riis had writtenlocal newspaper articles about the plightof tenement residents for 20 years,culminating in the book How the OtherHalf Lives (1890). A series of widelypublicized public meetings were organizedby the Tenement Housing Committeein 1900 attended by more than 10,000people. After 15 years of effort to educatethe public, the housing reform movementin New York gathered enough strengthto break through the obstructions ofpoliticians, bureaucrats, and tenementowners and enact the first truly effectiveset of regulations, the Housing Reform Actof 1901. (DeForest & Veiller, pp. 110-115,Ford, pp. 123-124)The description of inhumane conditionsand a sound program for improvementwere finally joined with a moral and ethicalposition and effective political organizingto overcome economically and politicallyentrenched interests. Nearly 100 years offacts and moral suasion had been ineffectiveabsent an organized political force.Virtually all the leaders in the housingreform movement had Settlement Housebackgrounds. These workers understoodthat it was not “contrivances [schemes,technological or otherwise] but persons”who will save society. (MacMahon in Pacey,p. 108)The preceding section described thebroad scope of the Settlement Houseworkers’ activity. Their methodology verynearly defines neighborhood planning3

for community development today. Theapproach “looks for results . . . to theneighborhood as a whole. Its first businessis to survey its field, to find out whatneeds to be done. Then it seeks to makecontacts—to get in touch with all theelements that go to make up the sociallife of the neighborhood, to organize andcorrelate the neighborhood forces for good,that conditions may be improved for all.”(White in Pacey, p. 92)In 1909, Benjamin Marsh, the formerleader of the Committee on Congestion ofPopulation in New York, published one ofthe first planning texts, An Introductionto City Planning. The book stronglyemphasized the need for a community planand government regulation to achieve theplan’s objectives. (Marsh, An Introductionto City Planning, New York: Committee onCongestion, 1909)primarily by leaders of the SettlementHouse movement. At its modernemergence in the U.S., planning wasequated with neighborhood planning andaddressed a wide range of issues includingschools, housing reform, public health,transportation, expansion of parks andrecreation, and more effective publicservices. (Proceedings of the First NationalConference on City Planning, 1909) Overtime, this comprehensive approachbecame more and more fragmented intohundreds of specialties in land use planning,architecture, social services, housing,economic development, and so on. Theapproach here of neighborhood planningfor community development strategicallypulls together these threads within theboundaries of the neighborhood andreclaims what was lost nearly 100 yearsago.There is a strong line of connectionbetween the Settlement workers activetoward the end of the 19th century andthe Dudley Street activists in Boston nearly100 years later. It always has been “theconcept of the master plan and the actionof aggressive community organizing” thatmade the difference.Social Capital: What It Is and WhyIt Is Important.We are all aware of financial capital– wages, wealth, property. But we seldomthink of something that is more importantthan financial capital – the concept of “socialcapital.” Social capital is more importantto neighborhoods than financial capital,physical capital, and even human capital,and this section discusses why.Marsh, An Introduction to City PlanningThe first National Conference on CityPlanning, also held in 1909, was organizedA visitor to the United States in its earlyyears, Alexis de Tocqueville, observed that akey quality of our country was the tendencyof people in communities here to gettogether to solve common problems. Thisaction is what we have come to mean bysocial capital. (de Tocqueville, Democracyin America)4

Social capital is: Located in neighborhood places. A broad and dense network of personalrelationships based on families,friendships, and acquaintances. A large number of formal and informalassociations and neighborhoodinstitutions. Rooted in family life. A high level of involvement incommunity life. Community norms of behavior andvalues. Feelings of trust among neighborhoodresidents. A process of communicating acceptablebehavior and values, monitoring actions,and taking action when the norms areviolated. A shared belief in the neighborhood’scapacity to organize itself to take actionin relation to needs. Connections among neighborhoodbusinesses, churches, schools, andorganizations. Linkages to extra-neighborhood assetssuch as teachers, business owners,bankers, elected officials, social serviceofficials, police, court officials, andreligious leaders. Effective neighborhood action. (Seeesp. Sampson in Ferguson & Dickens,pp. 253-265)Social capital is no more complicated thanthe ordinary actions of neighbors to knowone another, help each other, and work toimprove the neighborhood.It all seems obvious, but the vast arrayof governmental officials, bureaucrats,business and development leaders, andschool administrators and teachers oftenact, either consciously or not, to marginalizeneighborhood residents’ ability to improvetheir own communities.The following sections illustrate ways thatsocial capital has been found to improveneighborhoods and people’s lives, as well ashow its absence frequently has disastrousconsequences.Public SafetyPeople studying crime and public safetyhave different views about its causes.Some believe that high rates of crimeand fear are based on the break-downof primary institutions (family, church,kinship, neighborhood) and social bonds.Others think that crime and disorder isbased on differing values of certain pe