The Definition of Community Development
Leaders in towns, cities, and villages all over the world know that their communities do not simply spring up overnight. The particular elements that make up a community need to be placed in the appropriate environment, under the appropriate circumstances, and they need to be cultivated into something that is both successful and cohesive as a whole. It takes time, effort, and a lot of patience to get results. Certainly, it isn't going to be an easy task for anyone to do.

Community development is a crucial aspect for any municipal area. Civic leaders dedicate resources and sections of their budgets toward community development because of the value it holds for their residents. It's a major part of urban planning, and the two frequently are tied together even when they are separated. As a result, it is incredibly important to have an understanding of what community development entails and what can be done to ensure its success.

This article will explore the basics of community development. Clearly defining community development and what its primary elements include allows for a better understanding of the more complex aspects discussed later on. Additional topics of this article include the value of community development, both domestically and internationally, and who in the community is involved in the process.

  Community Development Defined

Many people mistake community development as another name for urban planning. It's often what people think of first when the concept is brought up. While the two are similar and can have a symbiotic relationship in a community, they are not the same. Community development is defined by the United Nations as a process where the conditions of social and economic progress are created through participation within the community and reliance on community initiatives.1 Different communities tend to use different means to achieve this, but it is generally a universal concept regardless.

Until recently, community development was imagined as a type of gentrification and renovation for poor, decrepit neighborhoods in desperate need of improvement.2 This has been the typical view of community development for many years and is still treated as such to some degree today. However, many communities use community development as a means of general improvement for the benefit of all. The goal(s) a community has will often focus on providing resources to residents of all socioeconomic levels in the neighborhood, and giving them the opportunities to use services they need when they need them.

It should be noted that when discussing community development, "community" isn't necessarily specific to a particular geographic area-although that will often be the case. The concept can be applied to communities of identity, interests, or culture and heritage.3 There's a central theme to each community, something that ties its members together in the first place. The actions taken for community development will often need to focus on that theme and the individual elements associated with it in order for a plan to be formulated and for things to be successful. In many instances, the involvement and participation of community members is necessary as they are each individual components that make up the whole. This also makes each community unique, so paying attention to the individual elements is very important.

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So how is community development done? In many cases, it's through the implementation of different policies and practices by leaders and residents within the community. This may be done with the assistance or involvement of local, state, and/or federal government, but it is not always a necessity. There are resources available throughout multiple levels of government for communities to obtain a healthy, safe, and equal environment for their residents, but they are not the only options community leaders have. Whatever methods and means a community uses for community development will be dependent on aspects such as the community's goals, location, size, internal resources (e.g. budget and funding), and existing condition.

  International And Domestic Value

Much of the value community development has is contingent on what it can do for a community when properly implemented and maintained. The process is applied because a community and its members have a particular set of goals that they want to achieve, thus the value lies in the process' success under those particular circumstances. There are going to be some communities who see a different kind of value from community development due to the variety of factors involved, aside from what it is that they sought to achieve.

Community development does over some value on a more general level, applicable regardless of the circumstances. This includes:

  •          Improved Quality of Life-One of the primary purposes of community development is to improve things for those in the community.4 The resources that are made available through the process are intended to improve the overall quality of life for the residents that use them. This can include anything from safety to health and well-being and then some. Again, this will be subject to the existing circumstances before the process is implemented and what is done during the process. This is certainly the largest measure of community development's value, and it is often equal to or greater than the cost of achieving it in most cases.
  •          Unity-Community development prompts the residents and leadership of a community to come together to reach a collective goal. That collaboration generates a sense of unity throughout the community and brings home the idea that everyone has earned a place in it. Most people interpret that as meaning that they have value within their community, that they belong as an integral part of the whole. It can be both valuable and beneficial for the community to be united as it can help ensure the continued success of the process of community development, and everything that has been brought into the community through it.
  •          Openness and Communication-When people are able to successfully work together as a united group, they tend to have strong communication abilities. Nothing can really get done without effective communication, so it's both an important part and byproduct of community development. Studies that have looked into community development have found that communication are essential for communities to achieve their goals.5 It was also found that openness is an equally essential value, as it affords communities with some degree of flexibility and the ability to grow in different ways. Communities that have gone through the process of community development will often find that the communication and openness amongst residents and leaders has improved over all and aids in their continued progress.
  •          Sustainability-  it does warrant some attention as part of the value of community development. The process of community development allows communities to be more autonomous and self-sustaining than they were before. The improvements made bring forth new resources and changes that empower the community to take action on its own.6 The promotion of self-sustainability is another key aspect of community development, and it certainly contributes to its value for those that apply it to their own communities. For many communities, sustainability is something that repeatedly pays off and has a higher value in the long run when compared to the cost of its original implementation.
  •          Stability-Community development itself can be a stabilizing force for communities to build upon and grow from. As mentioned before, many of the communities that have long used community development use it as a means of improving themselves on a large scale. Since it is often a long process, the stability it provides is crucial to its success. It very much lays the foundation that the community builds its improvements upon. Many of those communities lack that stability in the first place, so it is an incredibly valuable commodity that cannot necessarily be generated on its own.

    Most of the above is applicable for both domestic and international communities. There is value that is applicable to international communities, whether that means communities throughout the world or domestic communities that are culturally diverse.

  •          Education-Whenever there is any kind of diversity present in a community-domestic or international-there is usually interaction between the different cultures and interests. When that happens, there is the opportunity for residents to learn about those that are different than them in their community. Education is something that is available through community development and can be used to implement some of the improvements the process brings about. It also provides the chance for new ideas and concepts found in different cultures to be introduced into the community and to cultures where they are not currently present. Depending on the circumstances, this can help boost the other values of community development already discussed. 
  •          Global Cohesion-Communities are not merely small, individual groups that are isolated and independent from each other. In many cases, they intersect with other communities and are a part of larger ones. For example, a neighborhood is its own community, but it's also part of the community of a city or town, which is part of the community of the state, and so on. This is a byproduct of globalization, where the interactions and integration of different people, cultures, and nations intersect on multiple levels.7 In terms of community development's value, this can build upon the unity that a community has by generating a global cohesion within a particular community and those it intersects with. This can help with the community's internal collaboration amongst residents and with the communities that it works with.
  •          Economic Growth-While economic growth is often a goal of a community going through the process of community development, it does give the process a lot of value on an international level. This is another byproduct of globalization, which often plays a role in economic growth in general. Internationally speaking, it fuels the community's global cohesion and developmental progress. Steady economic growth brings in new resources and maintains the connections with existing ones, fostering progress.

     Who Is Involved In Community Development?

    While it may be obvious that the community is involved in community development, the particular roles that different members play may not be. Involvement and participation are required to some degree, so it's important to identify the roles in play. Those who are involved are not necessarily going to be those directly impacted by community development, and may simply benefit when applied on a larger scale.

  •          The Residents-The residents of a community are the ones who are going to be intimately involved and impacted by community development. They are the ones who actually take action and put the effort into making improvements to their community using their particular knowledge and skillset. Residents often do this through their employment in the community or through volunteer efforts, although it can also be done through their normal activities.
  •          The Local Government-Most of the leadership in community development will be found through the local government. They are the ones who organize and plan things, identify goals, and possibly provide funding during the process. Members of the local government are going to be the ones that guide the rest of the community in their efforts and make sure things stay on track. They may also be the ones who first initiate the process of community development and recognize that it needs to occur in the first place. In a sense, it's a supervisor or coordinator-like role that's paired with the worker role of the residents and other community members.
  •          The State and Federal Government-As mentioned before, the government on the state and federal levels may play a role in community development through things like assistance programs and other similar resources. This isn't going to be universal for every community that goes through community development, but its common enough for the potential to be there. The involvement of state and/or federal governments are often going to need to be invited into the process by the community itself, usually through application for the programs they offer. No invitation, no involvement. However, upper levels of government may get involved without an invitation if the improvements made through community development intersect with other communities, such as roadwork and new construction.