June 27, 2005

Organizing for Community Control over Neighborhood Development

When change happens in low-income neighborhoods it is generally driven by forces far outside the community. This can make people feel powerless and irrelevant. The response, naturally enough, is often to organize for power. In one sense, power is the ability to make the political and economic institutions pay attention to you and to your needs. Power brings resources to the table and often is the only way for communities to avoid the worst abuses of urban development. But power is just a beginning. Beyond power there is control.

A lot of community development corporations (CDCs) grew out of community organizing struggles and many have developed into effective organizations with the professional capacity to make a real difference in their neighborhoods, but along the way many have lost some of their connection with those communities. Few CDCs have organizers on their staff and those that do often focus their organizing work on advocacy around public policy issues rather than integrating their organizing with their development work. Part of the problem is that, in spite of the long history of organizing in most low-income communities, it is not entirely obvious how to relate organizing to the day-to-day detailed work of community development. Development professionals are afraid that the community will get in the way of getting things done, and organizers are afraid that professionals won’t give community members space to make meaningful contributions.

This paper describes a specific approach to integrating meaningful community leadership into a professionalized development organization. The approach was developed by the Planning and Organizing staff of the East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation as part of a comprehensive community planning process focused on Oakland's Lower San Antonio Neighborhood.

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Posted by Rick Jacobus at June 27, 2005 05:00 PM