What is Community Development?

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What is Community Development

Community development is a process where community members come together to take collective action and generate solutions to common problems. Community wellbeing (economic, social, environmental and cultural) often evolves from this type of collective action being taken at a grassroots level. Community development ranges from small initiatives within a small group to large initiatives that involve the broader community. Effective community development should be:

  • a long-term endeavor, well-planned, inclusive and equitable
  • holistic and integrated into the bigger picture, initiated and supported by community members
  • of benefit to the community, and grounded in experience that leads to best practices

Community development is a grassroots process by which communities:

  • become more responsible, organize and plan together
  • develop healthy lifestyle options, empower themselves
  • reduce poverty and suffering, create employment and economic opportunities, achieve social, economic, cultural and environmental goals

Community development seeks to improve quality of life. Effective community development results in mutual benefit and shared responsibility among community members. Such development recognizes:

  • the connection between social, cultural, environmental and economic matters
  • the diversity of interests within a community
  • its relationship to building capacity

Community development helps to build community capacity in order to address issues and take advantage of opportunities, find common ground and balance competing interests. It doesn’t just happen – capacity building requires both a conscious and a conscientious effort to do something (or many things) to improve the community.


Often when we think of community, we think in geographic terms. Our community is the city, town or village where we live. When community is defined through physical location, it has precise boundaries that are readily understood and accepted by others. Defining communities in terms of geography, however, is only one way of looking at them. Communities can also be defined by common cultural heritage, language, and beliefs or shared interests. These are sometimes called communities of interest. Even when community does refer to a geographic location, it doesn’t always include everyone within the area. For example, many Aboriginal communities are part of a larger non-Aboriginal geography. In larger urban centers, communities are often defined in terms of particular neighborhoods.

Most of us belong to more than one community, whether we’re aware of it or not. For example, an individual can be part of a neighborhood community, a religious community and a community of shared interests all at the same time. Relationships, whether with people or the land, define a community for each individual.

com·mu·ni·ty  (kə-myo͞o′nĭ-tē)  n. pl. com·mu·ni·ties

1. a. A group of people living in the same locality and under the same government. b. The district or locality in which such a group lives.
2. a. A group of people having common interests: the scientific community; the international business community. b. A group viewed as forming a distinct segment of society: the gay community; the community of color.
3. a. Similarity or identity: a community of interests. b. Sharing, participation, and fellowship: a sense of community.
4. Society as a whole; the public.


The term “development” often carries an assumption of growth and expansion. During the industrial era, development was strongly connected to increased speed, volume and size. However, many people are currently questioning the concept of growth for numerous reasons – a realization that more isn’t always better, or an increasing respect for reducing outside dependencies and lowering levels of consumerism. So, while the term “development” may not always mean growth, it always imply change.
The community development process takes charge of the conditions and factors that influence a community and changes the quality of life of its members. Community development is a tool for managing change, but it is not:

  • a quick fix or a short-term response to a specific issue within a community;
  • a process that seeks to exclude community members from participating; or
  • an initiative that occurs in isolation from other related community activities.

Development  [dəˈveləpmənt]  NOUN  developments (plural noun)

  1. the process of developing or being developed.

“she traces the development of the novel” · “the development of less invasive treatment”

synonyms:  evolution · growth · maturing · expansion · enlargement · spread · buildout · progress · success · blossoming · blooming · burgeoning · headway · forming · establishment · institution · initiation · instigation · inauguration · origination · invention · generation

  • a specified state of growth or advancement.  “the wings attain their full development several hours after birth”
  • a new and refined product or idea.  “the latest developments in information technology”
  • an event constituting a new stage in a changing situation.  “I don’t think there have been any new developments since yesterday”

synonyms:  event · turn of events · occurrence · happening · circumstance · incident · phenomenon · situation · issue · outcome · upshot

  • the process of converting land to a new purpose by constructing buildings or making use of its resources.  “land suitable for development”
  • an area of land with new buildings on it.  “a major housing development in Chicago”

synonyms:  estate · complex · site · conglomeration

Community development is about community building as such, where the process is as important as the results. One of the primary challenges of community development is to balance the need for long-term solutions with the day-to-day realities that require immediate decision-making and short-term action.

So, can Community Development occur without participation from the Community? Not really! People frequently make social media comments about “the city” or “their community” in such a way that would portray they are excluded from their community or the decision-making process that has impacts on their ability to use their property as they wish or to the cost of belonging to their community through taxes, fees or other costs to use public facilities or services. So, we want all residents to know that community development is not just for someone else, it also includes you and your family members.

We recognize that many of the ways we provide for you to share your opinion are limited to serving on a city board or civic organization that might conflict with your personal commitments; by survey; or to contact a community member to express your needs which would require you to either write or call someone you might not have ever met. While city department leaders and their staff members are accessible in a variety of ways, we want to take this a step further.

We have started to communicate directly by providing a monthly blog, such as this one to talk about topics that seem to be relevant; and a weekly newsletter to share what is currently happening. These communiques are archived on the city’s website, which is also a reservoir of information that you can use to seek answers. We want to go one step further. We want an opportunity to listen to you.

We have created a position for a Neighborhood Specialist. We are shifting our Code Enforcement Program to a Neighborhoods Services Division to work directly with citizens to protect their quality of life and the livability of our neighborhoods. We would rather be known for assisting you to solve problems at the neighborhood level and want to provide a way that you can follow the status of your concerns. There is an emphasis on “assisting you solve problems”. With a variety of programs both city-wide and in targeted areas, we protect and sustain residential buildings, monitor nuisances and respond to many types of concerns directly impacting where we all live, work and play. What we are responsible to do has not changed, we want to change how we do it. Typical neighborhood concerns have included:

  • Animal Health and Public Safety – There are two Animal Control Officers under the direction of the Police Department that administer the Ordinances pertaining to Animals;
  • Tow Services – we can initiate tow of junk or unlicensed vehicles from private property or the Police Department can address issues within the public right/way;
  • Neighborhood Preservation, including Dangerous Buildings allow us to assist with identifying potential funding sources or agencies to help you make property improvements or help secure abandoned or dangerous properties and managing the work of the Historic Preservation Commission to preserve the historic nature of our older neighborhoods;
  • Housing and Community Development, including planning and assistance for homeowners will enable our Specialist to meet with neighborhood groups to help prioritize issues of concern and communicate with the agencies that can assist and will also include participation in Communities for All Ages so we recognize how to make changes that will allow your neighbors to stay in their homes as they age for as long as possible or Communities of Excellence; and
  • Trash and Recycling, including weekly trash and curbside recycling pick up dates and we will look for opportunities to sponsor neighborhood level clean-up events.