”…underdevelopment is not the absence of development; it is the inevitable product of an oppressed population’s integration into the world market economy and political system…” — Manning Marable
Photo credit: William P. Straeter, AP
Community development is a heterogeneous and contested field of planning thought and practice.
As a profession, it has generally prioritized people and places that are disproportionately burdened by capitalist urbanization and development.
For some, community development connotes practices of freedom— freedom from oppression and deprivation; freedom to enjoy one’s time, make choices, and experience life as abundance and possibility.
The dominant focus in the US has been on personal or group development and widening access to opportunities. But critical observers like Manning Marable have remarked that ”underdevelopment is not the absence of development; it is the inevitable product of an oppressed population’s integration into the world market economy and political system” (1983).
Then community development requires enhancing the capacities, livelihoods, and spatial conditions of marginalized communities to meet pressing needs. But it also calls for concerted efforts to more fundamentally transform prevailing economic, political, and social structures– by building grassroots organizations and power, transforming democratic institutions to be more accountable to poor and marginalized communities, and addressing structural inequality by reconfiguring markets to broaden wealth distribution and property ownership.
In this series of blog posts, graduate students of urban planning, public health, international affairs, and education programs in the Boston area will reflect on what community development means to them. Their perspectives and musings reflect a range of personal, disciplinary, and sectoral backgrounds and experiences as well as understandings and practices of community development.
I hope they will provoke your own reflections on the meaning and significance of your work, as they have for me.
Lily Song is a Lecturer in Urban Planning and Design and Senior Research Associate at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.
Note from the editor: This is an open series! If you’d like to submit a post, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line: “What community development means to me” and the following: