Box 1.1 Community Development Facts
- Racial and ethnic minorities account for 83% of the growth in metropolitan areas.
- One out of eight Americans is an immigrant, and half of the foreign born live in a few of the largest metropolitan areas.
- By 2008, high-wage workers in large metro areas had outearned their low-wage counterparts by a ratio of more than five to one, and the number of their residents living in poverty had risen 15% since 2000.
SOURCE: Metropolitan Program at Brookings (2010).
Community is one of the central concepts in the social sciences, yet it lacks a precise definition. In a review of the community literature many years ago, Hillery (1955) found more than 94 separate definitions. The term community also has been used interchangeably with neighborhood. In this section, we provide working definitions of community and neighborhood and discuss some of the implications of these definitions for the field of community development.
Following Wilkinson (1991), we define community as including three elements: (1) territory or place, (2) social organizations or institutions that provide regular interaction among residents, and (3) social interaction on matters concerning a common interest. This definition excludes communities of interest, such as professional organizations or religious groups. Although many people have broadened the concept of community to include interaction solely on interest, we focus on communities of place in this book. As we will discuss in more detail later, our approach is somewhat problematic because research shows that people are becoming less attached to specific places and increasingly linked to communities of interest. Growth of the Internet, for example, provides new opportunities for individuals to connect with other people who have similar interests and concerns. Individuals have become more strongly linked to national and international organizations and institutions as well.
Many issues that affect residents, however, remain place based, such as schools, housing, and environmental quality. So, although we recognize that there are social and economic forces changing the nature of community, place-based issues continue to influence the quality of life of most people. Place is especially important for understanding the social and economic processes in poor neighborhoods that trap residents in concentrated poverty and racial isolation. Local institutions and social ties are important forces on social and economic opportunities as well.
One of the other difficulties in defining community is the fact that they can vary considerably in terms of size and density. Areas with very low population densities present some obstacles to community development. On one hand, low density may reduce the opportunities for social interaction and community mobilization. Proximity and distance matter, and they can be obstacles to collective action. On the other hand, large cities with high population density, however, are difficult to organize because of the lack of sense of community and more heterogeneous social ties.
In this book, we also consider the existence of local institutions, such as a school or even a restaurant, as key factors facilitating the development of a sense of community. Local organizations and institutions are important for a couple of reasons. They provide residents with opportunities for interaction and frequently represent the common interests of those in the area, such as a school district. Many local institutions today, however, are actually controlled
by national and international organizations. This situation may influence the relationship of the institution to the locality. We will discuss in the later chapters how community-based organizations and institutions are more likely to benefit local residents and contribute to a sense of community. One of the central goals of the asset-based development
approach is to provide stronger ties between institutions and the residents in a locality.
Finally, this definition suggests that community is a contingent phenomenon, dependent on a number of conditions to achieve social interactions in pursuit of mutual interests. Simply living in the same place does not necessarily create a sense of community. Action promoting a common interest is not necessarily a result of objective conditions, participation in local organizations and institutions, or even the realization that individual well-being is linked to the quality of life in the community. There may be structural factors that contribute to opportunities to build a sense of community, but these conditions do not necessarily lead to collective action.
We discuss some of the factors that can contribute to a sense of community later in the book. This argument suggests, however, that community development is often more of an art than a science. It is not just about helping people realize their own interests. It is about identifying assets that can help, developing the leadership to mobilize residents, and building the capacity to act in the future. In this regard, developing community agency is a fundamental tenet of the community development field. By community agency, we mean that residents have the capacity to act collectively in their own interests.
We need to make one more qualifying remark about this definition of community. Some critics charge that the concept of community implies a consensus or common values. For example, they point to the fact that communities of place are often sharply divided by class and race. Other divisions, such as gender or length of residence, may also create conflicts. We do not believe the process of community development assumes homogeneity of values or consensus. In fact, much of our discussion in this book focuses on conflict and power relations within communities. Numerous case studies, however, illustrate how diverse communities have been able to identify common interests that provide the basis for local action. Of course, there will always be those instances of structural conflict, say between developers and environmentalists, where it is more difficult to find common ground. Conflict is not inherently bad. It may help to resolve some of the underlying tensions that communities face. At the same time, we must not assume that all communities are riddled with social conflict. Consensus may be possible if residents focus more on their interests rather than specific strategies or issues. Just because communities of place may be heterogeneous or have a history of conflict does not necessarily mean that they cannot find common ground.
Next we turn to distinguishing between the concepts of community
Probably the easiest way to distinguish between the two is to use the latter to refer exclusively to a specific geography and the former as social interaction on matters concerning a common interest. Based on this
distinction, a community may or may not be place based. Community can be defined, for example, as a group of residents acting on a common interest, such as a school or road issue. Or community may be defined as a group sharing a common interest, such as religious beliefs, professions, or ethnicity. Neighborhoods usually refer to a specific geography, such as residential areas demarcated by major streets or other physical barriers. This does not assume, however, that there is any social interaction or effort to address common needs in the area, as is the case in the definition of community.
This simple distinction between neighborhood and community does not resolve some of the conceptual problems that exist in using these concepts. One of the perennial problems is that individuals in neighborhoods and communities of place, especially those people who live in metropolitan areas, do not limit their social relationships to people in the same locality. Studies have consistently shown that most individuals have extensive social ties with other people outside their neighborhood (Gans, 1962; Suttles, 1972). Thus, the boundaries of the neighborhood or community are difficult to define. Many researchers use official areas, such as census tracts (Jargowsky, 1997) or counties (Lobao, 1990), to define neighborhoods or communities. These designations, however, do not necessarily correspond to bounded areas of social relationships, although the Census Bureau considers things such as natural barriers in its process of defining census tracts. One result of the growing tendency to maintain contacts outside one’s neighborhood is that it may be increasingly difficult to develop a sense of common interest.
Neighborhoods are an important focus for our discussion of community development because social problems tend to be bundled together. In the social science literature, this is often referred to as the neighborhood effect. Problems such as crime, environmental hazards, and homelessness tend to vary considerably across space and are concentrated in specific places. These problems are strongly linked to social inequality, which is also manifested across space. The ecological concentration of poverty and affluence has increased significantly over the past several decades. Neighborhoods can shape social outcomes in several ways: (1) Neighborhoods can serve as a source of socialization for youth and thus influence their behavior. Adults in the neighborhood can shape the values and behavior of youth in the area. (2) Through social interaction, neighborhoods can be a source of social contagion, spreading social problems in the area. Crime in a specific block may spread throughout a neighborhood. Gangs, for example, operate at the neighborhood level and provide social support for specific types of behavior. (3) Neighborhoods may shape social outcomes through institutional processes. For example, banks serving a neighborhood influence access to and the cost of credit for consumers in the area. Overall, there is a growing body of literature suggesting that these contextual effects that operate in neighborhoods are much stronger than individual characteristics. The implication of all of these findings is that policies and programs addressing social problems should focus on changing the context for individual behavior.
This problem of defining the boundaries of neighborhoods and communities, however, does not mean that individuals do not maintain all of their social relationships and ties with their neighbors. There is ample evidence that neighborhood ties and relationships continue to be important sources of support for many ...