Community Development: Past, Present, and Future

This seminar course provides a critical overview of conceptual and applied approaches to community development. Its objectives are threefold: (1) examine evolving patterns and drivers of urban inequality and poverty; (2) critically analyze community development concepts and strategies; and (3) develop community development agendas and skills, including strategic action, continuous learning, and creative innovation, in collaboration with seminar participants.

The course examines evolving patterns and drivers of urban inequality and poverty and corresponding urban policy and planning responses—with a primary focus on the US but in comparative world-historical perspective. We trace the evolution of community development from the Progressive Era through the New Deal and Great Society to the rationalization of the Community Development Corporation model in the 1980s and the more recent adoption of sustainability principles. We also consider contemporary global trends such as urban-based economic growth, climate change, and conflict-induced migration, which are pushing community development practice beyond the traditional focus on the neighborhood scale to local, metropolitan, and even supranational scales. The course pays close attention to the dilemma of race that has continued to define capitalism, politics, and spatial production in America as well as divided working class and progressive movements, including those defining the field of community development. We also draw insights from historic movements that have not only sought to change race relations in America but further connected such efforts to global assaults on capitalism and empire as well as challenged race-gender-and class subordination in tandem.

For students to further develop their own community development agendas and skills, the course is built around a speaker series and discussion sessions focused on applied practices and cases. We examine continued advancements in affordable housing development, social service delivery, and placemaking— the traditional mainstay of community development. Highlighting strategic and transformative practices, we further study emerging community development approaches incorporating multiple issue areas such as criminal justice and policing reform, food justice and community health, and urban mobility and access. We also hear from community development practitioners focused on transformative economic projects ranging from community-labor partnerships around urban infrastructure-driven regional workforce development programs to anchor institution-based cooperative development and community wealth creation. Guest speakers will moreover include political organizers and leaders working to build intersectional movements that inform progressive urban policy and planning agendas and community development goals.

Course evaluations will be based on three assignments (blog entry, semi-structured interview, and applied research project) and class participation. It has no prerequisites and is open to graduate students across different disciplines.