A few days ago, there was a conversation going back and forth on Twitter, as well as one can with 140 characters, about Community Development and Economic Development: “Is community development a segment of #econdev? Or reverse? Separate?”
It got me thinking about the development of community. What was it that brought indigenous peoples together (on any continent)? I think of Maslow. Not being an anthropologist or psychologist, I find parallels between personal development and a community’s development. For some this might be a tad simplistic…
People came together for their physiological needs and then for their safety needs. There was procreation, safety, strength in numbers, regulating the cycle of gathering flora and the hunting of fauna. As these communities developed, people became more sedentary, establishing year round residences. Even as they followed migrating herds, communities developed, great hunts were held and bringing food back to the village.
Eventually, trails were developed, using animal trails. Some civilizations began to discover metals, creating the seeds of future industries and local and regional economies of city-states. We know that some civilizations disappeared, some because of deforestation, and the erosion of soils and their related nutrients, followed by the animals that needed the forests and fields. Their use of resources became unsustainable.
Communities moved from being places of security, to places of belonging. Systems of governance were created, establishing a hierarchy of the place, often times with influence of family and community elders.
Flash forward to today….and back to the Twitter conversation: There needs to be a re-discussion or a re-definition of the term Community Development. In the circles of city hall departments, there continues to be a bifurcation of Community Development and Economic Development – at first for organizational and budgetary purposes. And moreso today for political purposes. Economic development officials find themselves under as much if not more fire than that of a police chief or mayor. Community development is defined within the organization to housing programs, building inspection and zoning inspection. Let’s take a closer look at the organization and put Economic Development aside for a moment.
If we follow the above argument, communities are a Place. A Place in which we live, travel, exchange money for services, go to school, worship and play. A community’s development goes through the stages of becoming a place and it’s fair governance – we measure the esteem of where we live, how we feel and think about our Place of residence. It becomes defined by the housing, the schools, the streets, the parks, open space, the stores, and the churches: in other words, the Economy, the Environment and the Social Fabric.
So what is Community Development? Yes, it includes the traditional topic of housing, but it is so much more so: people, infrastructure, parks, schools, churches, businesses, safety…. What would happen to our municipal organizations if community development received the community funding priorities of police and fire? What if the engineers and infrastructure departments were placed within the Community Development Departments, led by degreed urban planners? And for good measure, if police and fire departments were led by urban planners? (sometimes, we call them city managers). Thoughts???