Town Center, Orange, Virginia, USA – Photo Courtesy: Jack Duval
Troubled Cities Need Community Developers
Brian Adams, a San Diego State University political scientist who studies local governments and issues, agrees with the growing number of scholars who believe that in the next decade, the village will become the key unit of commerce and government. Adams argues, â€œAfter the 2011 Congressional budget debacle, citizens actively engaged in politics gave up on the feds and turned their attention to their cities and towns where they could have genuine impact on public policy.â€
In his capacity as undergraduate advisor for students majoring in political science, he says, â€œI strongly encourage them to consider careers as community developers. The nation has too many lawyers, but we never will have enough citizensâ€™ advocates.â€
The Higher Education Weblog explains, â€œCommunity development is the economic, physical and social revitalization of a community, led by local residents. The field emerged about 30 years ago as a grass-roots movement to improve living conditions, most often in low-income areas. It has since grown into an industry, and continues growing, with jobs in urban, suburban and rural areas in every state and overseas.â€
Neal Peirce, a Washington, D.C. analyst and columnist, says optimistically, â€œCommunity development is fully in tune with the times. The field is entrepreneurial; its approach spans the political spectrum and is popular because it combines doing good for people and communities with the ethic of self-help and self-improvement.â€ The Great Recession has taken a very heavy toll on local governments and community agencies, but aspiring community organizers should read citiesâ€™ distress as they would read the Chinese character for â€œcrisisâ€â€”a combination of the symbols for â€œchallengeâ€ and â€œopportunity.â€
An aspiring community developer shouldâ€¦
Recognize how imagination, invention and innovation drive your success as a community developer. Because no two communities have identical geographic, demographic, political and economic profiles and no two community developers do the same work. You may have the same title as your friend and colleague in the next zip code, but you certainly will not have the same day-to-day duties.
You develop solutions for your communityâ€™s unique problems, and you work tirelessly to satisfy your citizensâ€™ special requirements. Your job naturally evolves in synch with your communityâ€™s growth. As you learn to thrive on â€œcreative disequilibrium,â€ you also shouldâ€¦
- â€¨Earn a Masterâ€™s Degree in Public Administration
The curriculum combines relevant study of law, politics, business, personnel management and public policy, laying a solid foundation for work as a community organizer. Few professions require such diverse skills, but every skill in a community developerâ€™s repertoire serves the purpose of fostering civic growth.
- Build a professional network
You will devote a great deal of time and effort to forging public-private partnerships and forging coalitions among civic organizations. The more people you know in the community and in your profession, the easier your negotiations will become. Naturally, your MPA program will give you ample opportunity to develop working relationships with other emerging leaders.
- Cultivate exquisite oral and written communication skills
Although you must crunch numbers, read blueprints and find the meaning in pie charts and bar graphs, you will do your most important work in boardrooms, meeting halls, churches, recreation centers and other public forums where you will promote your vision. You also will compose many policy documents and win grant funds with lots of written proposals. The more you master the language, the more proficiently you will do your job.
- Volunteer and complete an internship
As you complete your Bachelorâ€™s Degree and work toward your Masterâ€™s, show the people what you can do. Volunteer in child advocacy programs or grab a hammer and build with Habitat for Humanity; complete Red Cross disaster training or lead Boy Scouts into the wilderness. Learn to lead by serving, and learn to promote your vision of a vibrant community without making it political.
Courage and resilience required
Brian Pottenger, president of San Diegoâ€™s Ocean Beach Community Development Corporation, cautions beginners, â€œYou can expect about the same success as players in major league baseball: If you can hit one of every three or four pitches, youâ€™re an all-star.â€ Pottenger stresses, â€œYou must be brave and honest enough to analyze every mistake and every failure, doing the where-did-we-go-wrong thinking that ultimately informs and empowers your success.â€