Introduction

Community Development is a broad field that incorporates many different sectors and goals. In order to create a framework for executing the recommendations made in this document, it is necessary to have an understood and accepted idea of what community development is. It is also important to have that idea - and a framework for the execution of these recommendations - rooted in a set of common values and principles of good practice. 

This section of the document will establish these things: a clear understanding of community development, a set of common values and principles, as well as a framework for executing the goals indicated in this document. 

A Clearer Understanding

The complexities of trying to create an understood and universally accepted definition of community development are nothing new. A UNESCO working paper from 1956 shows the vague and mixed viewpoints that the term can occupy: “The term… has been defined as ‘a generic term used to describe the processes by which local communities can raise their own standards of living…” This definition is very broad - saying that any activity that communities self-perform for their own advancement can be defined as community development. 

It hasn’t gotten much clearer with time - the United States Government’s Department of Housing and Urban Development currently defines community development as: “activities (that) build stronger and more resilient communities through an ongoing process of identifying and addressing needs, assets, and priority investments.” 

The main issue with using definitions like these as the basis for understanding community development is the vagueness of words like “resilient” and the fuzziness of concepts like “addressing needs.” Whose needs are you addressing? What does resilient mean to your place vs. another? So, instead of trying to come up with a definition of community development itself, perhaps it is better to break down the field into the smaller sectors that make it up.

In 2015, ArtPlace America created a“Community Development Matrix” to “lay out (a) sense of how the community planning and development world self-organizes.” This matrix, displayed to the right, is an excellent snapshot that shows the span of sectors that encompass the field of community development. It is broken down by sector on the vertical axis, and by influence/organization type on the horizontal axis.  This is a much simpler way to understand what community development is. It can be any and all of these sectors working in concert to raise the standard of living for any given place.

There are a few important distinctions that can be pulled from this matrix. First, it shows the many different points of intersection that can make up the field, demonstrating that no specific set of sectors or set of organization types have sole ownership of community development. Each of these intersection points need to be at the table in conversations around comprehensive community development.

The matrix also clarifies that economic development is not in and of itself community development, it is instead one aspect of community development. Far too many economic development projects in Lexington are given the banner of community development, often to the detriment of community perceptions about the field as a whole. It is important to remember that while economic development and growth can be positive things, they are only one object in the overall picture.

Lastly, there are a few things that are clearly missing from the matrix. Two that immediately come to mind are social justice and arts & culture. Their omission from the matrix is intentional. These are not sectors of community development, but are lenses through which all of the work in the field should be seen. ArtPlace addresses this concept in a blog post discussing social justice’s omission from the matrix (it was actually removed from the Immigration sector):

Immigration - Many of you will recall that this sector was previously ‘Immigration & Social Justice.’  For us, immigration refers to both new entrants to a country and new entrants to a community—and encompasses people and organizations focused on the complexity of otherness.  We included social justice in the Matrix because it’s an important facet of community undertakings, but as Jamie B. recently said at PolicyLink’s Equity Summit, ‘Every decision is an equity decision.’  Social Justice is a lens that applies to all community planning and development because every decision impacts access and opportunity for at least a subset of community members.

The concept of whole-field lenses are incredibly important to establishing a set of principles for community development practices in the North End. There are some lenses that should be universal - social & racial equity, authentic culture & creativity, citizen participation and grassroots leadership - but there are also some that are more place-specific to the North End. These lenses, when combined, can create a set of principles that can be commonly understood across all sectors of community development, and can be applied to any aspect of the work.

Principles for Community Development

In 2015, PolicyLink, a national research and action institute advancing economic and social equity, released its “Equity Manifesto.” When it was released, the Manifesto was meant to reframe how civic leaders approach the work that they do in their communities to incorporate an understanding of social and racial equity. It addresses the complexity and interconnectedness of working in community, and is a good starting point for creating a set of principles for community development.

 

PolicyLink - Equity Manifesto

  • It begins by joining together, believing in the potency of inclusion, and building from a common bond.
  • It embraces complexity as cause for collaboration, accepting that our fates are inextricable.
  • It recognizes local leaders as national leaders, nurturing the wisdom and creativity within every community as essential to solving the nation’s problems.
  • It demands honesty and forthrightness, calling out racism and oppression, both overt and systemic.
  • It strives for the power to realize our goals while summoning the grace to sustain them.
  • It requires that we understand the past, without being trapped in it; embrace the present, without being constrained by it; and look to the future, guided by the hopes and courage of those who have fought before and beside us.

This is equity: just and fair inclusion into a society in which all can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential. Unlocking the promise of the nation by unleashing the promise in us all.

 

While these are not in and of themselves principles for community development, they are a statement for a way of working. The main issue is that these are very broad and vague notions that provide an equitable framework for growing democracy, but they are not specific enough to be tracked and measured in everyday community development work.  

Another great starting place for generating these principles would be a set of principles for community development that already exist, coming from the Community Development Society. 

The CommunityDevelopment Society is an international member-driven organization that provides leadership to professionals and citizens across the spectrum of community development. All members commit to CDS’ Principles of Good Practice, which are detailed on the next page.

 

Community Development Society - Principles of Good Practice

  • Promote active and representative participation toward enabling all community members to meaningfully influence the decisions that affect their lives.

  • Engage community members in learning about and understanding community issues, and the economic, social, environmental, political, psychological, and other impacts associated with alternative courses of action.

  • Incorporate the diverse interests and cultures of the community in the community development process; and disengage from support of any effort that is likely to adversely affect the disadvantaged members of a community.
  • Work actively to enhance the leadership capacity of community members, leaders, and groups within the community.
  • Be open to using the full range of action strategies to work toward the long-term sustainability and well being of the community.
 

These principles have a similar issue - they are fantastic goals, but are also difficult to track. Principles for community development practice in the North End need to be more responsive to the actual issues that exist in the neighborhood, and the conditions that have created them. They need to be informed by the feelings of North End residents that are a part of this document, as well as the history that led to many of those feelings. They need to respond to what is happening on the ground now.

North End Community Development Principles

There are five issues with community development in the North End that need to be addressed by these principles:

  1. It is a small neighborhood, so it is easy to make assumptions and base decisions on hearsay. These assumptions make it impossible to do equitable community development because you are not seeing what is actually true. Hearsay and rumors also undermine good community development practices in the neighborhood - you are not hearing what people really have to say.
  2. Often times community development is framed by who shows up to the public meeting and who leads it. This is a microcosm of the issues with the overall community development field. Methods of engagement, preferred aesthetics, cultural norms, and so much more tend to follow dominant cultural paradigms, and outliers are expected to conform to that, under the assumption that providing the same thing to everyone is democratic and equal. This is the opposite of equity. Equity is about providing what is needed, which differs among all social groups. Public engagement need to be scheduled to fit the needs of the community and need to be led by community members, not experts. 
  3. Community development has a tendency to be top down. This is natural, as not everyone wakes up everyday thinking about community development practices, and so those that do are naturally more engaged and invested in the work. This leads to a continual aggregation of “community capital” with a few individuals or organizations in a place. Community development in the North End needs to be designed to allow a more equal distribution of “community capital,” allowing more individuals and organizations to self-actualize their vision for the neighborhood. 
  4. A lot of community development practitioners believe that transplanting practices from other communities can be an effective strategy to replicating successes from other places. Some believe that you can improve a place by bringing in new things, and that a rising tide will lift all boats. While these can sometimes work in a top-down model, they do not work in a bottom-up model. These practices are also not sustainable, as they do not provide new skills or bring validation to current community members. 
  5. Community Development can be sterile and boring, oftentimes because it lacks what makes us human - culture. This work in the North End needs to - at every turn - reflect and represent the culture that makes the North End unique. There also needs to be a more creative and playful approach to equitable community development, understanding that creativity can be a unifier among cultures.

These issues, combined with the sets of principles outlined by CDS and PolicyLink, lead to a more place-specific understanding of how good community development practices can happen, and create a more North End specific set of principles for Community Development:

 

Community Development in Lexington’s North End should be:

  • Accomplished without Assumptions - Information, data, facts, and direct conversation should underpin all decisions related to community development work in the North End. All information should be validated, people should be talked with directly, and all information should be seen within the context of the community.
  • Equitable - Decisions made regarding community development in the North End need to be informed by those that have been historically left out of the conversation, and that might require different techniques and tactics to provide spaces in which all feel comfortable. True community development is messy - many people will disagree, and it is up to those doing the work to balance what the majority wants with what is actually needed.
  • Self-Determinant - The community itself should set the course for community development in the North End, and should be provided with opportunities to make it happen themselves. It should recognize that individuals in the community have the true expertise, and it should provide them with the tools to self-actuate their own wants and needs whenever possible.
  • Built on Existing Assets - Community Development in the North End should be built on what is already there, not on bringing in new things. This is not to say that all exterior influences should be barred and the neighborhood should become insular,  but more emphasis should be put on finding the hidden assets of the community and providing opportunities for those to grow.
  • Creative - Creativity and culture are a big part of life in the North End, and that needs to be imbued throughout all sectors of community development in the neighborhood. These aspects bring a humanity to community development that can otherwise be missing, and are essential for good practice.