Community Development

Community Development: What it is, its Importance, and How to Contribute in Your City

Picture a young girl with dreams of owning her own business. Her family doesn’t have the means to pay for private school or hire coaches. She’s curious and motivated, but isn’t sure how to pursue her dreams of starting a business and lacks the money to fund it. Support, whether provided from a local incubator or information gained from a seminar series held at a local library could fan this entrepreneurial spark into a flame that turns into a business. That business could then help drive the local economy –providing jobs, tax revenue, and improving the lives of residents.

Mentioned in my introduction to this series, there are three key types of development that are needed in order for a community to thrive and their people to succeed and grow — community, business, and economic. Each is unique and important, yet they are rarely discussed individually. They are often confused for each other and misunderstood. This short series is being written not only to define and explain each, but to further develop my own understanding of them and to empower those wanting to help their city grow, and I hope that includes you.

Let’s take a look at community development.

What is Community Development?

Bloomington, Illinois
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Community development is “a process where community members come together to take collective action and generate solutions to common problems.”

When asked “What is community development,” Bloomington, Illinois Alderman Jamie Mathy said, “Anything dealing with people working together to make our community better can be put under Community Development, whether those are social or economic needs. The goal is to make the entire community stronger.” City planning, beautification, and zoning and permitting are all part of community development efforts for the city of Bloomington according to Mathy.

Mathy also says that economic and community are the most commonly confused forms of development. “This is probably because you often see them listed side by side in Community Development plans. ‘We need to focus on Economic Development to attract new businesses and Business Development to grow our existing business community so that we can achieve our Community Development goals,’” says Mathy.

According to Matt Brown, Director of Economic Development in Santa Fe, New Mexico, community development directly impacts the quality of life of the residents in a city. Developing the community includes projects like libraries, schools, and parks, and includes providing care and resources for the elderly, homeless, and at-risk youth. Matt believes that education is possibly the most important component because it’s more than just preparing for a job; “it involves learning to be a responsible citizen and community member, building strong social and emotional skills, sparking curiosity and a passion for learning, developing physical skills and health, just to name a few of the powerful benefits of attending school or being homeschooled.”

Examples of Community Development

  • A city with a large number of residents in severe debt launches a campaign to increase financial literacy and assist community members in getting out of debt. Money from the city is invested in programs to provide education and resources, from simple talks and materials explaining how debt works to offering discounts on budget software that will help them pay off their debts quicker. The program lowers debt and increases citizens’ expendable income (purchasing power). This money will better the city by allowing citizens to purchase property, start businesses, save for retirement, and support other important local businesses and initiatives.
  • The main road of a once vibrant small city is now comprised of houses that are poorly maintained. The community and local leaders decide to designate this neighborhood as a historic district (or redevelopment), offering resources for homeowners in that area and requiring a certain level of upkeep. The curb appeal of the district now brings citizens from local areas to the town and helps raise property values, and a new restaurant has opened up to serve residents of this neighborhood.

Why is Community Development Important?

Community development is important because it provides the foundation a city builds off of to improve the lives of its citizens. It creates strong, diverse communities that are able to attract and keep talent, start and grow businesses, and overcome issues that arise. Citizens will be happier, healthier, richer, and live longer lives. Businesses will have a larger base of customers who can purchase their products and services, and the city will earn tax income to continue to support important programs and reduce debt.

When community development is effective, there is less crime, less disparity between citizens, better jobs available, a more talented workforce, and less overall issues that impact residents. Community development doesn’t necessarily solve problems in a city; it reduces problems and increases opportunities for growth. Without community development, both economic and business development suffer greatly.

How to Facilitate Community Development in Your City

Successful community development takes collaboration among stakeholders who are dedicated to working together to define and solve problems within the community and pursuing opportunities. It requires those not associated with the government (also known as the private sector) to get involved through volunteering and take action. As a member of a community — you are a stakeholder, and you can contribute to the development of your community.

Several years ago, I dedicated a portion of my time to help give back to the cities I spend the most time in (Bloomington/Normal, Illinois). I’ve volunteered for local boards and councils, have taken the role as a campaign manager for a local resident who is running for Town Council, and I attend local meetings.

Are you ready to help develop your community? There are many ways to get involved, including:

  • Attending a City Council meeting
  • Volunteer to help at a local event hosted by the city
  • Ask local representatives if they would be willing to go out for a cup of coffee to talk
  • Serve on a Board
  • Volunteer time for a Committee that helps with Community Development
  • Volunteer to help people outside your usual circle of friends and influence
  • Encourage others to be involved with local organizations

What first step will you personally take to help with the development of your community? What recommendations do you have for others?

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