21 Favorite Community Development Ideas to Inspire Both Small Actions, Big Projects

Last Updated: May 30, 2022

To introduce this community development ideas section of the website, we are featuring 21 concepts for winning events and initiatives that your neighborhood could initiate right now, 

Further down in the page, we also introduce and highlight eight Big Ideas of great importance to community development. Lastly, this page is a doorway to the broadest categories of our visitor-submitted questions and our answers. 

Adapt These Community Development Ideas to Your Own Setting

As we transition out of crisis mode in the coronavirus pandemic, it's time to move your community organizations forward. If conditions warrant, by all means resume face-to-face meetings, outdoors when feasible. Zoom calls are not appropriate ways to meet new people and organizations, because too much communication nuance is lost, but video calls can accelerate your internal planning when the participants are used to working together. So don't make excuses; get going.

We certainly haven't linked to all of our relevant pages, but use the search box at the top of the page liberally when you need more information about one of our short paragraphs. If you miss the 21 community development ideas we posted earlier, just contact us to ask for an emailed copy. 

community group organizing itself for a day-long project in a green space

1.      Start a farmer’s market, occurring at least weekly when local produce is in season. You may have a winter market once a month or more often also. If this is overdone and hackneyed in your town, try a cook’s market, featuring homemade bread, handmade rolling pins, locally made pottery garlic jars, and anything else local and fun you can source.

2.      Figure out what is distinctive about your city, street, or neighborhood, and then strategize about how to afford some street banners. Your utility company may offer advice about the best size, shape, and type, and might even offer help in hanging them. Local graphic artists often will donate some of the design work. Seek a small grant or start a crowdfunding campaign to fund their production.

3.      Start a tool library for homeowners who may not own all of the tools commonly required to maintain or improve typical homes in your area. It should work like the public library; people would sign up for free memberships, giving all of their contact information, and then be able to borrow tools for a definite period of time. Enlist a nonprofit, community development corporation,  government office, or congregation to be the keeper of the tool library.

4.      For a relatively low-cost water feature, investigate bubbler fountains. You may be able to incorporate an interesting array of local rocks or even metalcraft into the design. An artist or aspiring high school age artist can help you with the design, which does not have to be perfect. In fact, irregularity is a positive feature of this type of fountain, which is economical to run as well.

5.      Organize a walk audit by partnering with police, organizations serving children and the elderly, and retail businesses dependent on street traffic. Plan a route that will allow participants to discuss deterrents to walking, such as speeding vehicles, inadequate or missing sidewalks, lack of traffic lights and crosswalks, challenging grates or culverts, a feeling of lack of safety in the neighborhood, lack of shade and resting places, and bleak surroundings.

6.      Prepare some attractive code enforcement process diagrams to explain the “who,” “what,” “when,” and “why” of code enforcement in your city. Try to distribute your explainers to every household, either through incorporating them into a neighborhood newsletter or by tying a flyer onto doorknobs. If your city is cooperative, you may want to provide some statistics about your city’s number of citations for various types of violations, and number of successful resolutions of the code violations.

7.      Hold a Renter’s Eye View tour for your city’s leadership and anyone else who is interested. Visit the apartments and homes for rent, ask the landlords about the rental market, and then convene afterward to talk about what you have learned about how the more temporary, more elderly, or poorer prospective residents view your town. Housing condition, rental cost, and involving tenants in neighborhood issues can be discussed afterward.

8.      Reframe your worst problem into a campaign to be the best neighborhood or town in a specific characteristic. Enlist people who are talented at marketing or even straight advertising to help you figure out how to position the campaign, but then also find the most blunt, goal-oriented city improvement experts possible from among local universities, nonprofits, nearby planning departments, or planning consulting firms to give you advice on making the solutions real rather than just perceived.

9.      Experiment with building or expanding a coalition to address one ongoing challenge or problem. Even the most successful neighborhoods have at least one challenge—too much success leading to pricing people out of the neighborhood. Brainstorm about potential new partners, and make a six-month plan to reach out.

10.      Amplify your social media presence, either by increasing your number of posts or your number of platforms. It isn’t as difficult as you think, if board members in your neighborhood association or business association is challenged to come up with a new idea, fact, or photo every week. Some posts can be recycled after a few weeks or months. Then just find a teenager, college student, or other volunteer who is talented at actually creating the posts. Be sure to write a policy about who posts, how posts are approved, and guidelines about topics, stances, or tone.

11.      If you have problematic large houses or small empty buildings such as lodges of now disbanded fraternal organizations, investigate how rehabbing those buildings could lead to your neighborhood or town becoming a wedding destination or other special event space.

12.      Invent or incentivize others to create at least one coworking space in your area. Some of you will have a coffee shop that serves as a de facto coworking space, but we bet that there is no formal networking among those people who frequent a particular java spot. Coworking goes beyond just a possible place to work away from home and away from a formal office; it requires sharing of facilities and usually of ideas and services as well. Such spaces attract community-minded entrepreneurs and ultimately tend to make them more successful in business too

13.      Come up with a way to emphasize your neighborhood or district boundaries, or to announce the entrance to your neighborhood along other edges such as streams, rivers, or highways.

14.   Experiment with changes in parking fees to see what happens. If local businesses strictly forbid their employers to park on the street, for instance, can you afford to de-commission those parking meters and offer free parking? If you have pay parking lots or garages, does decreasing the cost contribute to more patronage for local businesses, or does it matter? If parking is scarce, does increasing the cost help to create more parking space availability, and if so, what is the impact of this change on consumer support for your local businesses?

15.   If you have even one coffee shop, folk music place, bar that occasionally offers live music, or night club in your area, see if you can organize an open mic night that other businesses in your district will promote. More often than you think, the business owner will be receptive to this idea because it may attract new customers and shake up the routine a bit so that the regulars come more frequently. We suggest trying it for four weeks in a row to see if it will create a positive spillover effect for other businesses and a buzz for your community. Notice if it grows from week to week. If not, move on to another idea.

16.   If you are in an area where there are more vacant residential or business spaces than you think is necessary to allow a healthy range of choice for newcomers, put together a vacant property initiative. Focus attention on the opportunities represented by your vacancies by organizing coffees or tours for real estate agents and influential people in the community. Put eye-catching banners and displays in vacant storefronts, and make sure vacant houses are immaculately groomed and show some color from inexpensive flowering plants. If financing is a problem, include local bankers. If your problem is chronic and extreme in scale, your first agenda item might be attempting to pass a vacant property registration law.

17.   Focus on finding a way to provide summer jobs for local youth. Your county or state government might help with the costs. We suggest a summer job continuum with a low amount of daily or weekly hours for the youngest people allowed by your state law to work, and then increasing both the number of hours permitted and the hourly wage as youth age increases. If these jobs can offer an introduction to careers with local employers, so much the better.

18.   Launch a serious dialogue about possible forms of accessory dwelling units  that may be acceptable in your neighborhood. If you are doing this without help of your city government at first, you can borrow the technique of what is called a visual preference survey. To do this, find accessory dwelling units in your own town or another nearby that have been built already and do not seem extremely out of character in their current location. Then do a survey of your own residents to find out which building types would be most acceptable in your neighborhood.

19.   Initiate a project of making your residents aware of the costs of car ownership. Despite the efforts of automobile associations and the federal government to advise people of the true cost of driving a mile, most people resist the notion of looking at the long-range cost of automobile ownership. Find some good data for your state, and keep pumping out information, charts, and graphs of those costs. The purpose is not to make people feel guilty for driving, but rather to encourage serious planning for walking, bicycling, scooter sharing, and transit use to lighten impacts on the environment and create more vitality and personal safety on the street.

20.   Take the time to get your organizational structure right. Tinkering with how your committees are organized or what your bylaws say often is considered unrewarding work in neighborhoods; after all, the activists like to make something happen. However, if you can give this task a catchy name, give yourselves deadlines for finishing the work, and make a very convincing case as to why this is important, the most restless souls will at least be silently supportive, even if they themselves are not excited about doing this work. The payoffs in organizational effectiveness are worth the effort.

21.      Select a committee to talk through a possible neighborhood revitalization strategy if your neighborhood is struggling. Many times neighborhoods just think they have to improve every condition all at once, which leads to frustration, burnout, and lack of focus. The starting point for this discussion can be our page about actually choosing a revitalization strategy.

Now for the BIG Community Development Ideas

Many of you site visitors work in communities of color in the U.S. and other countries. Our important page about racial equity and community development describes seven topical areas where local action and activities can propel racial justice, without waiting for state, provincial, or national programs. At the end, the article raises the question of whether equality is really enough. This is appropriate reading for each of you, as you ponder the way forward amid worldwide discussion of the treatment of black people.  

The purpose of community development page explores a subject that is usually raised by people who are newcomers to community work or who don't understand the dynamics of neighborhoods. Well, we all fall into that latter category, so you may want to read our thoughts about the reasons we do all of this.

After understanding the purpose of community development work, people often want to concentrate on just a couple of principles of community development. We settled on three, which we then illustrate with stories of specific places in the U.S. This page is especially helpful to enthusiastic new volunteers without much background in neighborhood work, but we also believe that most of our target audience will learn something new and intriguing by thinking about our examples.

Next we also wrote an introduction to an international community development perspective. That page gives a bit of the history of thought about this field in the U.S., explains a bit of the background of international aid and development initiatives, and invites further exploration. There are many similarities across the world, but also there are vocabulary and perspective differences that we need to respect.

Appropriately enough, international development discussion leads naturally to a discussion of environmental sustainability topics. The first big idea for you in this arena is something called regenerative design. In this emerging field, it is not enough to just do not harm to the environment, since it is possible to design landscapes, buildings, and processes in such a way as to actually heal pre-existing degradation of the earth.

Environmental justice refers to equal distribution of potential environmental hazards and potential environmental amenities, regardless of economic status, race, or ethnic or religious identities of neighborhoods. Often the least desirable heavy industries, facilities such as landfills or sewage lagoons, or transportation hubs are placed in minority communities or historically lower income neighborhoods. Explore the significance and self-fulfilling prophecy of these tendencies.  

Lastly, we talk about two universal topics. Climate change planning should be of interest and concern to every single community on earth, from the simplest village where everyone depends on rainwater to the most complex societies where economic and social welfare is nonetheless dependent upon and related to climate. Although somewhat harder to see in good times, the link between public health and community development also is of universal concern and requires societal-level action and sacrifice to achieve success.

Starting The Community Development Storytelling

Here you can brag about your terrific big community development ideas or small victories such as  community improvement programs and events, successful community projects, plans that can be implemented, improving urban design, redevelopment that works, and how development around the world differs from the U.S. where we are.  Your examples and details of what went well and what was a disaster will help others.

To check out visitor tips and photos or submit your own, click on any specific category below.  The page that opens will show a form where you can comment, ask questions, and post up to four photos. If none of the categories seem to fit, go ahead and use the form on any of these pages, and we will find an appropriate page for you. When accepted, your submission results in a standalone web page you can share on your own social media too. Sharing community development ideas through storytelling really accelerates your own learning and inspires others. 

You can comment on published community development ideas too. At the bottom of each of the three pages below, you will see links to the already-published pages.

Understand that everything that visitors submit in this section is moderated and edited to tighten it up. We want to keep this a lively space so that it will be a practical community development ideas resource for you. Let the storytelling begin!

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