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Criticisms of Community Development

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Hello Everyone!

I am new to this forum and I dont even know if this is the place for my question, but here goes:

I am a student who is interested in processes of community development in inner-city neighborhoods. Specifically, I am interested in what is wrong with current and past policies and programs.

Please chime in whith your opinion and any articles or books that deal with the subject!

Thank You

Christian
 

Repo Man

Cyburbian
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2,550
Points
25
I think a lot of projects intended to help the inner city are misguided "feel good" solutions that fail to address the real problems in the inner city. A lot of times a city will put a community center or some other social agency in the inner city with the belief that will spur economic development or cure social ills. While it may help people, it won't necessarily spur more investment in the neighborhood.

I think that cities need to focus more on things like small business startup loans, addressing safety concerns, providing revolving loans to help business owners make up the gap between what they need and what banks will lend them, and other things that encourage and assist development. I think that cities need to focus on (pardon the cliche) helping people help themselves, instead of just throwing money at the inner city hoping it will fix all the problems.
 

Wannaplan?

Galactic Superstar
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3,150
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28
My experience in Detroit made it clear that if there is a lack of capacity within the organization, it doesn't matter what kind of policies or plans are put in place. People who fight for their community and are passionate about the neighborhood and the work they do, are a great start and are great voices to get the community's voices heard. But one can only badger and fight for so long. You need knowledge and a strong educational background to give weight to the issues being voiced. Some community organizations are lucky to get warm bodies on their staff to implement programs and policies. But sometimes they are not the best candidates for the job. The best way to get qualified and passionate staff to implement commmunity development programs is to pay them well. Many non-profit community organizations offer dismal salaries.
 

Dan

Dear Leader
Staff member
Moderator
Messages
17,847
Points
59
Being a Buffalo native, I can speak for the place a bit.

I strongly afree with jfortin's comments regarding "feel good" solutions; that many of the programs are in place not so much to solve the problems, but to appear as if an effort is being made. Aside from commuity centers, Buffalo has a lot of free paint-type programs. Sure, it's nice to paint houses, but when such programs are applied to only a house or two on a blighted block, it doesn't sppear to make much of a difference. It's like putting a dress on a pig.

That doesn't mean government is unwilling to apply workable solutions. In Buffalo's case, there's politics involved; every councilperson wants a piece of the pie, and they want to make as many of their constituents as possible happy. Thus, there's a lot of small, and therefore ineffective programs, such as a ton of pocket parks or youth-painted murals, instead of a few large effective programs that could really make a difference.
 

pete-rock

Cyburbian
Messages
1,551
Points
24
I agree...

I left planning once to manage a university/community partnership program at a university here in Chicago. I felt as a planner I wasn't doing enough to "affect change" in hard-pressed neighborhoods. But after two years, I was ready to work in planning again.

jtfortin, Beaner and Dan make two key criticisms I've seen with community development: 1) a raging passion to make everything better all at once, without having the capacity to do anything of the sort; and 2) window-dressing, or feel-good activities.

The window-dressing distresses me the most. At the university where I worked, faculty and staff simply wanted me to identify volunteer opportunities (picking up trash, painting over graffiti, etc.) for hundreds of students. I tried to organize tutoring programs, entrepreneurship classes and other types of assistance to individuals, without much success.

I'm more jaded now, but I think disadvantaged neighborhoods can do little to help themselves. They can push cities to aggressively reduce crime; they can push school districts to improve; but many of the factors that led to their decline are beyond their ability to change.
 

apagano

Member
Messages
13
Points
1
jtfortin, Beaner and Dan make two key criticisms I've seen with community development: 1) a raging passion to make everything better all at once, without having the capacity to do anything of the sort; and 2) window-dressing, or feel-good activities.
I think those two things go hand-in-hand. When you lack the resources to affect real change, you use the feel-good activities to, well, make you feel like you are making a difference. Imagine being a 21-year old fresh out of college. You want to change the world, so you take a job at a Community Development Corporation making less than 20k/yr. You spend long hours doing community organizing work. You realize that there are very few people with any real stake in the neighborhood because nobody lives there long enough to care about it. You realize that there's nothing you can do to get these people out of poverty, so what do you do? Well, you can always buy some cans of paint, right? You can buy pizza for kids to help you pick up trash from the streets. But the tools needed to fix the problem of poverty and neighborhood decline are way over your head. Eventually you realize that you're not really accomplishing much and you're living in near-poverty yourself, so you move up to a more steady planning job and some other idealistic young soul takes your place. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Another issue with community development is this: are you trying to fix a place or are you trying to help people ? IOW, if you took all the money that was spent on community development programs and handed the cash directly to the poor, the first thing they would do is get the heck out of the neighborhood. That alone would probably make it easier for them to find jobs and put their kids in better schools. Would you consider that a success?
 

Cardinal

Cyburbian
Messages
10,080
Points
34
There are some good points made here. Ultimately, the success is dependent upon a dedicated group of people in the neighborhood. Urban Renewal failed because it destroyed the social fabric of neighborhoods, imposing the government's "solution" on people without ever asking them about it. The same is true today in what the others described. People may say "We need jobs." We give them paint.

That's only the start, though. There is so much more....
 

japrovo

Member
Messages
103
Points
6
cd critqiues

Lots of issues as others have said. You asked for referrences. A great bookon the topic is "The Inner City: Urban Poverty and Economic Development in the Next Century" (Eds Thomas Boston and Catherine Ross, Transaction Publishers 1997). It draws on a series of articles in the Review of Back Political Economy debating Michael Porter's "Competitive Advantage of the Inner City." Lots of very different viewpoints and an opportunity to put them side by side in one volume.
 
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