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