Community Development: History, Theory, and Imaginative Practice

Community development is a heterogeneous and contested field of planning thought and practice. The profession has generally prioritized people and places that are disproportionately burdened by capitalist urbanization and development. In the US, the dominant focus has been on personal or group development and widening access to opportunities, with a growing reliance on market incentives to deliver housing options and spur economic development. Yet for many communities at the margins, development has rather connoted practices of freedom— freedom from oppression and deprivation; freedom to enjoy one’s time, make choices, and experience life as abundance and possibility. Thus conceived, community development is less a question of remedial policy than acts of resistance, claiming rights and power, and transforming economic, political, social, and spatial structures and processes to become more inclusive, vibrant, and sustainable. 
This course offers an interdisciplinary, critical, reflective, and experimental approach to community development that proceeds in three key parts. The first, “revisiting,” examines the history of community development in the US, including evolving patterns, drivers, and explanations of urban inequality and poverty and corresponding urban policy and planning responses. We also revisit alternative histories of community development, drawing on the intellectual and movement traditions of Black liberation and radical feminist struggles that have sought to change race relations in America in connection with global assaults on capitalism, empire, and patriarchy. We additionally study indigenous community development theory and practice. The second part, “unraveling,” applies these anti-racist, liberatory, and reparative frameworks to critically analyze community development concepts and strategies, interrogating dominant approaches that uphold race, class, and gender-based supremacies. Here we pay 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. 
The final part, “praxis,” comprises a speaker series and discussion sessions focused on applied practices and cases— intended to help students develop their own community development agendas and skills within a peer-learning community. Notwithstanding significant advancements in affordable housing development, social service delivery, and placemaking— the traditional mainstay of community development— the course focuses on community development approaches that transcend such neighborhood-scale programming to instead leverage public infrastructure investments and procurement capacities of anchor institutions and apply economic democracy principles to strengthen collective ownership and governance capacity over productive infrastructures and resources. Guest speakers will also include creative community developers incorporating art, culture, and restorative justice practices.
Course evaluations will be based on two assignments (CD atlas entry and final project) and class participation. It has no prerequisites and is open to graduate students across different disciplines.