12 Approaches to Neighborhood Development
It can be tough to find a list of common community development approaches. At the Lupton Center, we know that’s what budding developers need. A movement of people like you are ready to disrupt chronic inequity for good. This is great news! But it can be daunting knowing where to start your community development journey. What Community Development approach should you take when starting out?
No worries and no pressure! Community developers are always learning from their community, and from each other. We want to help you get started as you think about sustainable development. Here’s 12 common community development approaches we’ve seen here at the Lupton Center. You can see a visual representation of these approaches here.
Of course – every neighborhood is different. Click here to set up a consultation with us and get specific feedback for your context.
Common Elements of Community Development Approaches
Most effective Community Development efforts will share some overarching framework and values.
For it to be true Community Development, the most important part is a …. community! Some organizations opt to create community around an issue. Still, we have found that many effective work happens when it’s place-based. Particularly, focusing on one neighborhood yields the best results.
Neighbors of that community play an active role in leading the development work! This takes time and relationships. And yes, that’s another core element of Community Development. It has to have a long-term orientation.
Finally, these approaches represent starting points. Most Community Development efforts will become more multi-faceted over time. Why? Because most chronic issues are complex and need multi-pronged approaches.
Where to Start: Approaches for Effective Community Development
Even though every community is different, every neighborhood has some core components. The healthier these components are, the more the community will thrive. Here’s some pieces we look at when we use to understand what makes neighborhoods flourish:
- Social Fabric
- Structural & Systemic
We’ll dive into each of the components that make up each category below! To transform a neighborhood, start by figuring out which category you want to focus on first. Within each category, the smaller components will help you target transformation. Each one can be a great on-ramp for long-term community development work.
Many organizations start their Community Development journey by focusing on relationships. They should! Relationships are the backbone of a neighborhood’s social fabric. Here’s 4 on-ramps to creating a strong social fabric in your neighborhood.
#1 Build a Sense of Place
Sense of Place is when residents have a clear idea of their neighborhood’s identity. Identity could include its boundaries, personality, and history. We have seen organizations take this approach by curating local history into a small museum. Others have interviewed neighbors, created podcasts, custom signs for the neighborhood, and more. For newer organizations, this is a great way to learn about your neighborhood while benefitting it, too.
#2 Develop & Support Credible Leadership
Every neighborhood needs proactive and trusted leaders. These leaders act in the best interests of the neighborhood. Most of the time, these leaders are already around in the neighborhood. You just need to find them. You can get started by creating a local leadership council or civic league for your neighborhood. Identifying leaders and bringing them together is a powerful way to kick-off Community Development. Oftentimes, they will then map out the course for broader efforts.
#3 Foster Neighborhood Connectivity
Neighborhoods thrive when neighbors know and rely on each other. Bonded neighbors feel responsible for each other. They put stock in civic engagement. To start fostering this connectedness, you may start holding community events. Social gatherings like live music nights, pancake breakfasts, or public holiday celebrations are a great way to for neighbors to get to know each other. You’ll also get to hear more about what neighbors want for their community.
#4 Connect with the Faith Community
Religious communities can be a powerful force for neighborhood flourishing. Often, they will provide key social, financial, and spiritual resources for the good of the whole neighborhood. A great way to start your Community Development work is by finding a trusted local faith organization and getting involved with them.
#5 Tackle the Physical Environment
Neighbors need safe, well-maintained, and functional environments. Many organizations start by focusing on the physical environment. Our parent organization, FCS, has phenomenal partners who focus on maintaining the local parks in South Atlanta. Other partners focus on making it safe to walk and bike by creating bike paths and lanes. Tackling a piece of the physical environment is a great way to nurture a flourishing neighborhood.
#6 Safety & Security
Some organizations make sure residents experience safety for their physical beings and material possessions. Approach this element by listening closely to neighbors about safety concerns. Community action should always be at the center of any safety initiative. Strategies might include organizing a neighborhood watch or installing lights in troubled areas.
Start a Community Development journey by working with the local education system. These can be schools, after-school programs, clubs, or other. Neighborhood children deserve high-quality education and opportunities for long-term success. One common way of initiating this approach is to start a reading club, mentoring program, or after-school program. Be sure to check what already exists before starting!
#8 Health & Social Services
Neighborhoods need access to services for vulnerable groups. These services should have the resources to secure residents’ health and well-being. They must also be accessible. This is an excellent approach for people with connections to areas like the medical field and government agencies. We’ve seen this type of approach bloom into institutions like community health centers.
You can probably think of a few Community Development organizations who have taken this approach! Housing is the cornerstone of community stability. To maximize equity, housing should be sustainable and mixed-income housing. Choosing to focus on housing could mean looking at local construction or rehabilitation. Or perhaps you might create new ways for low-income residents to secure mortgages. We’ve even seen lawyers get to work clearing up titles as an organization!
Focusing on employment is another common approach to starting Community Development. These kinds of efforts could start with creating local jobs. Very strategically, building up employment can include equipping residents for those local jobs. Make sure there’s jobs for neighbors to get before diving into a job-training program.
#11 Household Income
The strongest & most equitable neighborhoods are economically diverse. The overall community has disposable income available to support local commerce. One on-ramp to Community Development is figuring out ways to boost wealth in the community. Land trusts, micro-lending, debt relief, etc. are all ways to look at boosting household income.
#12 Local Commerce
Stable local businesses provide products and services every neighborhood needs. Ideally, some of these businesses are owned and operated by community residents. This keeps wealth in the community! Many organizations equip or partner with local entrepreneurs to keep local businesses humming. In Atlanta, we love to partner with an organization called Start:ME as a way of encouraging local commerce.
Getting Started with a Community Development Approach
At this point, we hope you feel jazzed about getting started with one of these approaches. If you’re still struggling to identify where to begin your efforts: one easy way to figure it out is to look for what’s already going well in the neighborhood. Once you notice where the neighborhood is strong, join in when you’re first beginning!
Starting with strengths is the best way set a dignifying trajectory. By starting with strengths, you are rejecting the idea that you can save the neighborhood. Focusing on strengths means you’re centering the neighborhood, not your organization. The neighborhood gets to be the hero of the story.
Ready to talk through how to start or tailor your current Community Development approach? Click here!
Start Small & with Relationship: Grow from There
Wherever you choose to start, community partnership should be at the center. The above approaches will help you know what to listen for when neighbors talk about their dreams for the neighborhood.
Since Community Development, and especially Holistic Neighborhood Flourishing, are place-based and long term: don’t rush. Start small. Over time the efforts will grow more complex, multi-faceted, and effective.
Taking one of these approaches will help you start strategically. They each imply what metrics are going to indicate your success. And if you work together with the neighborhood, you will see success over time. Cheers to you, Change-Maker!
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