Meanings of Community Members to Community Development
How is it that they benefit from the process, even when the improvements and changes are not being directed specifically at them and their impact is more indirect? There are dozens upon dozens of ways that a person can benefit from community development in their community, through multiple different avenues. This is because each community, and each of its members, are unique and are going to be as varied as the objectives they have in the community development process are.
This article will explore some of the major ways that community development can be of value and be beneficial for community members. These are most likely going to be universally applicable to some degree regardless of the circumstances surrounding the community and its members. Keep in mind that the information listed in this article is just a sampling of the ways that community development can be beneficial and should not be treated as a finite list or guarantee.
One of the most noticeable and significant ways that a community member may find value in community development is on a personal level. Those who have been directly impacted by the issues present in the community-whether it's in the form of poverty, education, safety, infrastructure, or anything really-are going to personally benefit from any actions taken to remedy those problems. The people in the community ARE the community, so of course any actions taken to improve the conditions within the geographical confines of the space the community occupies will impact them. The effects of community development's impact on a personal level will be different for each member of the community, as people can be impacted differently based on their association with the issues being addressed and their own personal circumstances.
A pretty significant way that residents can benefit and may find value in community development is through the impact it has on their health and well-being. When a person has their life negatively impacted by things in their surroundings-quite possible things that may not be entirely in their control-there's going to be an effect on their mental and physical health. Chronic stress is usually a common response in these cases and it can wreak havoc on a person's health. Mental and physical exhaustion, extended muscle tension, increased heart rate and blood pressure-which can impact cardiovascular health and a person's heart attack risk-gastrointestinal ulcers, raised blood sugar-problematic for diabetics-and reproductive health issues are known side effects of chronic and prolonged stress.1 Causes of stress within the community can be removed to some degree through community development, such as the introduction of missing but necessary resources.
Community development all tends to identify health issues in the community and attract the appropriate services. A lack of mental health services and resources in a community, for example, tends to put an undue strain on existing resources and can prompt further issues for residents. Organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO) that use community development techniques globally has documented many cases where the introduction of mental health services has greatly improved community conditions, including lessoning social stigma and abuse.2 Substances abuse, which can have devastating effects on a person and on a community, is often tied to mental health, as many people will attempt to self-medicate with legal and illicit substances. Several studies have supported this, suggesting that community development can be a fantastic way to address and offer solutions to mental health issues within a community, including education and support.3
Since community development often tackles issues related to poverty, many of the improvements target the economic aspects of the community. Actions taken to improve the community's economy and stabilize it, directly or indirectly, are most likely going to have a ripple effect throughout the community. Many attempts to generate character and a positive appearance of the community will often generate business or retail attraction and retention as a byproduct. Communities with a positive reputation are going to attract more attention from potential businesses as a place to open a location at than communities with a negative reputation.
A stable economy in the community means that resources are going to be coming in for the benefit of the community members. Some of those resources can include jobs and skills training, goods and services, financial flow, networking connections, and tourism.4 This can create an economic base that the community can build upon for further improvements. It doesn't necessarily have to be focused on a single industry or type of business either, as a lack of variety in the economy can lead to stagnation over time.5 In communities that have become economically stagnant, attracting new business and industry that is different than what is already present can provide a significant boost for the community. Community development can address and seek solutions to any issues that may be impeding the economic aspects of the community, and then provide the community with the tools to maintain any economic improvements that are made.
Safety And Security
One of the values and benefits of community development that many experts tout is that it improves the safety and security within the community. Crime is a serious issue in the United States and community and government leaders are always looking for solutions to decrease the crime rate and improve the safety of citizens. Community development looks at all of the factors and issues that are impeding the community, not just the ones pertinent to the goals the process is trying to achieve. As everything is frequently connected to each other in a community, addressing issues of safety and security is going to be necessary in order to reach those goals and prevent those issues from damaging the efforts made to improve things.
Public safety and security is often considered to be one of the main focal areas for community development organizers.6 It's often a good indicator of progress, which can help measure the impact and success of improvements as they are being implemented. For members of the community, it's usually a priority concern; this can be especially true for families with children. Improvements in safety within the community will also be one of the more noticeable changes that community members will pick-up on sooner than others. There are tangible effects from improved public safety measures that can be felt quickly, depending on what actions are taken.
It's normal for people to have some degree of pride in the community they are a part of; they are invested in what goes on and they want to have a say in things because of the impact it can have on their lives. For members who truly appreciate their community, community development can provide them with a sense of community ownership.7 The community development process requires engagement with community members in order for it to be successful, which can provide a voice to those who may not have had one before in regards to actions taken by the community. It validates them as members and gives them as a way of having a role within the community without forcing them to take on positions of leadership-which everyone isn't necessarily able to do.
That ownership also provides continuous benefit for the community and its members. By allowing members a voice and a place in the decision making process, they are going to want to make sure that things continue to improve. There's going to be an increased effort in maintaining established positive changes to ensure continued success, which can include people keeping an eye out for new issues that may spring up. In that regard, it can help protect the community from things that can cause harm or otherwise impede its progress. Community ownership also generates feedback for the benefit of the community as a whole, so there's a continuous discussion and flow of information being used to address matters. There's a degree of trust that develops when there's open dialog in a community, which is going to have its own benefits for the community and its members so long as it's maintained.
Some of the changes that are made through the community development process are going to impact the community's structure and leadership. Occasionally, that's where the problems that need to be addressed are located to begin with and improvements there can cause results to spread through to other areas the community. A feature of the process identifies and develops effective leaders within the community, whether they were in a position of leadership beforehand or not.8 Efficient leaders found through community development are more likely to have an authentic following, as they tend to prove that they are invested in the community and are paying attention to the needs of its members. There is more trust and accountability with such leaders, and this provides a mutual benefit between the community's leadership and its members.
With improvements in leadership, there tends to be more attention paid to services that are made available in the community. Leaders take a closer look at what policies are made, how they're implemented, and what effects they have. If a policy should have adverse effects on a service in the community, such as public transportation like a bus line, it's the responsibility of the leadership to address that. Leaders who have participated in the community development process will also be able to recognize what services are needed but may not be currently present in the community. Implementing such services where and when they are needed will undoubtedly be of value to community members who will be using them.
There has been quite a bit of attention paid to food-related issues in communities in recent years, particularly in regards to what are known as food deserts. These are areas where there isn't enough access to affordable fresh, healthy foods for residents, usually due to a lack of sources like grocery stores.9 What is available in these areas is usually heavily processed and loaded with sugar and fat that contributes to health issues like obesity and malnutrition. This can compound other issues, as many food deserts are in areas with a high poverty rate and a lack of viable resources.10 There also tends to be geographic barriers, like a distance and a lack of transportation, that prevent members of these communities from accessing nutritious food sources. As a result, it's been a priority issue for communities and one of the more common objectives in the community development process as of late.
Actions taken to alleviate food deserts through community development have involved attracting new grocery stores to areas that lack them and improving the offerings at existing stores. While this has shown to offer substantial benefits for the community and its members, including from an economic perspective, it's not the only solution(s) available.11 Many efforts have included the organizing of community gardens-which are maintained by members of the community on their own time and at a reduced cost-and education on nutrition and diet. In some areas, things like farmers' markets and food share services have been set up in order to bring these outlets directly to the community. It's an ambitious effort-there's around 23.5 million people living in food deserts around the country-that can have significant benefits to communities when the proper actions are taken.12
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