How can we reinforce the social fabric of our community, so that diverse residents, business owners, and neighborhood organizations and institutions know one another and work together?
- The fundamental premise of community building is that by connecting residents with one another, they can provide the resources necessary to better the community.
- Community building should not be confused with outreach (e.g., letting residents know about available services) or with inviting the community to attend neighborhood association meetings (which may be a feature of some community-building efforts, but are insufficient and not always the best strategy).
- Community-building approaches generally focus on identifying the assets, resources and gifts of the community and its residents, and how building relationships between people can multiply those resources.
- The Asset-Based Community Development Institute describes its work this way: “Building on the skills of local residents, the power of local associations, and the supportive functions of local institutions, asset-based community development draws upon existing community strengths to build stronger, more sustainable communities for the future.” See publications, best practices, a discussion group, and other resources.
- Everyday Democracy (formerly Study Circles) provides discussion guides that can help small groups of residents talk about important community issues like safety, education, community revitalization, and other topics.
- Building Community in Place: Limitations and Promise, by Bill Traynor, talks about new directions that community building efforts must explore.
- A Small Group is a community building initiative in Cincinnati, OH that also provides materials describing its approach to building civic engagement on its website.
- Leadership Louisville is dedicated to developing a diverse group of leaders who serve as catalysts for a stronger community. The organization offers programs for emerging and experienced leaders looking to build skills and network with key players in the city.
- Better Together: Restoring the American Community. By Robert D. Putnam, Lewis Feldstein, and Donald J. Cohen. Simon & Schuster, 2004. Building Communities From the Inside Out. By John P. Kretzmann and John L. McKnight. ACTA Publications, 1997.
- Take courses in the Community Engagement program of study at the NeighborWorks® Training Institute.
- Lawrence Community Works, a NeighborWorks® organization in Lawrence, MA, uses a variety of innovative methods to engage residents in their community, including “Neighbor Circles.” Read about their community engagement work.
- Impact Silver Spring, in Silver Spring, MD, provides leadership training and engages residents to develop community-led approaches to tackling important issues.
- The NeighborWorks® Rochester Healthy Blocks Program works with residents in 3 areas of Rochester, NY, to bring about small-scale but highly visible neighborhood improvements that residents themselves can lead and implement. By encouraging residents to get involved and by addressing housing, quality of life, safety, business development and beautification issues in key areas, they establish stable, healthy neighborhoods in the city of Rochester.
- The Utica NeighborWorks® Homeownership Center provides training and support to an association of block clubs across the City of Utica, l The Village of Arts and Humanities in Philadelphia, PA, used the arts – including murals and sculptures in formerly vacant lots – as a vehicle to engage residents and build resident leadership in its neighborhood.
- Organizing approaches often focus on developing community leadership around a specific issue or issues, seeking to change the policies or practices of government agencies, corporations or other decision makers in ways that benefit the community. However, they do so as a part of a long-range effort to build the community’s power.
- “Organizing is based on the belief that people have the ability to name their problem(s) and identify the additional information and resources they need to solve them. Organizing is a process that brings the talents, resources and skills of people in the community and work for social change. Organizing is more than mobilizing and service work. It involves leadership development, building relationships and consolidating thought and ideas into structures creating sustainable change.”*
RESOURCES AND EXAMPLES
- Take courses in the Community Engagement program at the NeighborWorks® Training Institute.
- Read Kim Bobo et al. (2001). Organizing for social change: Midwest Academy: Manual for activists. Seven Locks.
- The Emerson Park Development Corporation employs a community organizing approach to work on a range of neighborhood issues in East St Louis; it is a partner of the East St. Louis Action Research Project (ESLARP), which brings the resources of the University of Illinois to bear in this effort.
- Empowering and Strengthening Ohio’s People (ESOP) used community organizing approaches to increase lender responsiveness in its foreclosure prevention work.
- The Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI) runs a Resident Development Institute to provide residents with leadership and organizing skills.