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Definition of Community Development
Can Be Broad

Our definition of community development is tremendously wide. It includes intentional actions to improve social and economic well-being, the sustainability of our communities in their current geographic and economic configuration, and everything that impacts the durability and adaptability of our housing stock.

That's a lot to comprehend.  Some days we wish community development was less of an art and more of a science, with defined inputs leading to predictable outcomes.

The subjects are so interwoven that our graphic above shows overlapping sub-sets of the community development idea.  We second-guess our own diagram every five seconds, because we see a different way that the threads of community improvement are interrelated when we focus a different real-life example.

But we decided that inspiring you to criticize and wonder is part of the charm of this particular diagram.

Thinking through how to make your geographic place better often causes even the most seasoned professionals look at one another and say, "I don't know."    The topics in this section, complementing our definition of community development, are shown below.  This article resumes after the grid. If you look at these topics and can't decide which to select, try the site search box in the left column, or at the bottom of the page if you are using mobile.

Topics in This Section:

Community Development Is Not Just a Poverty Program Or International Development Framework

In the U.S. a federal program has influenced the definition of community development too much. Since 1964, the term community development has become almost synonymous with the Community Development Block Grant.

Since that program requires that the benefits accrue to people of low and moderate income, an undeserved stigma has been attached to the phrase community development.

It is usually a good program and one I have managed, but community improvement is necessary and gratifying across the entire economic spectrum.

International community development has yet another meaning, focused on eradication of extreme poverty and then having the infrastructure and organizing a society that can communicate, sell, and buy globally.

In the world-wide context, the definition of community development tends to be entangled with trying to imitate Western-style development.

However, retracing the mistakes of the "developed" world is not necessarily the best way to move forward. World-wide, humanity can avoid the mistakes that now threaten environmental sustainability, economic stability, and development of a middle class because of a concentration of wealth.

Examples Clarify the Definition of Community Development

We propose that the definition of community development in a developed country includes anything that:

  • Increases the appeal of a neighborhood to housing buyers or renters
  • Rapidly recycles obsolete housing or commercial buildings by renovating to meet current trends, redevelopment into a new use, or even a suburban retrofit
  • Allows community residents to make a better living, over a longer period of time, with ample choices available for career-changers and part-time workers
  • Uses land wisely, as the scarce and valuable resource that it is
  • Provides the everyday goods and services that people need within a short distance of all residences, and allows shopping for less routine purchases within a reasonable distance
  • Cultivates a safe environment
  • Makes the community accessible to all, whether they can participate in the dominant transportation mode in their society or not
  • Gives young and old alike ample opportunity for recreation, physical exercise, and exposure to nature
  • Works with nature to locate key human activities away from environmentally sensitive land, and flood, fire, volcano, seismic, climate change, and extreme weather hazards
  • Increases the capacity of the community to discuss problems and issues openly and resolve them within a reasonable period of time in a democratic fashion
  • Enhances the visual and sensory appeal of the community (which should be limitless)
  • Expresses the fact that we value people more than cars, palaces, or other symbols of power and control
  • Pushes us in the direction of an efficient, high quality, transparent government that arranges for the necessary public services and keeps our infrastructure updated
  • Avoids senseless use of finite natural resources and pollution of our land, water, and air
  • Organizes a metropolitan or micropolitan area for quick diagnosis of challenges to its competitive edge and fast response to threats from the environment

It's a challenging agenda. So you can see that it takes people of all income levels, including low, moderate, and lavish.

More about Community Development Theory

It is important to understand community development principles, as explained in an illustrated essay based on three in-depth example communities.  If our recent economic problems teach us anything, it should be that no system is immune to the laws of cause and effect. 

Then we can reclaim the complexity and richness of the phrase.

Lastly, a visitor to the site asked about the purpose of community development.  Our best try at answering the why question is on the page in the link.

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