November 24, 2013

Community development has many faces

I’ve noticed a considerable number of conversations on the topic of “community development” recently, particularly in the city.

That’s a positive sign.

Before we get too far into the topic, let me say that there are many definitions of community development. For the purposes of this article, let’s use a basic definition and say that community development is the process where community members organize to create active, livable and sustainable communities.

Community development is about community building — and the “process” is as important as the results.

There are two models to approach community development. One is the needs-based approach (the traditional approach), which focuses on a community’s needs, deficiencies and problems. The other is assets-based community development (ABCD), which builds on the assets that are already found in a community and mobilizes individuals, associations and institutions to come together to build on their assets.

John Kretzmann and John McKnight first broached the ABCD approach in their 1993 book Building Communities from the Inside Out. Think of the ABCD approach as looking at a community and seeing the glass half-full instead of half-empty.

For me, it’s the glass half-full mentality of organizations such as ShineOn, THRIVE, Vision 2 Action and the North Country Center for the Arts that represent our community’s greatest strength. These organizations focus on the essence of what makes our community unique and strong and not on that which we lack. They’ve been the starting point for creating a positive, forward-thinking narrative on how to help build a stronger more vibrant community.

These organizations have kept the focus on our community’s strengths and have identified and mobilized members of the community to step forward and to get involved.

But let’s get back to those conversations about community development.

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