When analysing communities and community development, it can be stated that usually those terms are perceived as ambiguous and abstract for many people, preventing the formulation of a unified approach to understanding those concepts. The existence of different meanings that the term “community” carries is a vivid example of such ambiguity. Additionally, the scope of topics, fields, and disciplines, which community development covers adds to the complexity of such subject. Nevertheless, in essence, it can be stated that community development is essentially about making a change. Indeed, such changes are always derived from existent problems. Such problems can be evident in the case of Peake Estate Project, a high-rise council estate in a low income suburb in a capital city.
Characterized with high unemployment and crime rates, the residents’ committee in the community employed Paolo, a community development worker, who was assigned with turning the bad reputation of the community of Peake Estate (Kenny, 2011, p.354). Among the major accomplishments of Paolo was the establishment of computer classes in the community, in which the adults learned web design and consequently founded a small thriving business (Kenny, 2011, p.354).
The case contains many of the principles and the theories of community development and can serve as an illustration of the community development practices. In that regard, the present paper will attempt to provide an analysis of the community development principles, practices, and understandings underpinning the example of the Peake Estate Project case.
The community in the case can be defined based on different perspective. Certainly, it is a community of locality, as the geographical location is one of the essential elements used to define the community. In that regard, it can be stated that the definition used is more related to the one outlined in Tesoriero (2010), where all the participants are the residents of the Peake Estate (Tesoriero, 2010, p.87). There are many other common elements that can be found in the Peake Estate community, for which such group can be coined with the term community, one of which identity, based on class (Kenny, 2011).
It can be assumed from the description in the case that the participants share the same social class. Low income can be another characteristic of the community in the case. Another common element that can be derived from the view on community described in Kenny (2011) is special-interest.
Such interest in the case can be seen on various dimensions, which include concern for safety in general, and the safety of children in particular, the concern for unemployment, and the resulting interest of working together, interest for computers, and others. Age can be also seen as an element of the identity, in which to groups can be identified between adults and the younger population. The diversity of culture in the community prevents the community to be defined in terms of culture, and thus, identity can be seen a unified general term that cover the common elements that contribute to understanding the community in the case.
In addition to geographical location and closeness frequently mentioned in various definitions, the social relations is also as an important element of the definition, having “social and psychological ties”, as well as the social functions performed between social units. Thus, considering that the Peake Estate project consists of several families interacting with each other, it can be stated that the social understanding of community is also in the context of the case.
If using the terms coined by Ferdinand Tonnies, in Community and Society (1957), the community in the case is more applicable to the term gemeinschaft, i.e. “natural local neighbourhoods in which people knew their place… [as opposed to] larger, more complex industrial forms of social organization ( gesellschaft)” (Shaw, 2008, p.25). The use of the word neighbourhood, although limits the understanding of community only to areas adjacent to each other, it is common to characterise communities in such way, and the attempts to manage communities through projects can be seen as an emphasize of such definition of community (Shaw, 2008).
It should be mentioned that a distinction can be made between traditional and modern neighbourhood, upon which a community can be defined. Such distinction is also applicable in this case.
Natural and traditional neighbourhood can be defined as communities which [are] more nearly the products of personal and human nature than the contrivances of planners, bureaucracies, and depersonalised institutions’” (Shaw, 2008, p.31). Thus, Peake estate project can be characterised as a modern neighbourhood, in which the community was created through planners and policy makers, creating more of “planned communities” characteristic of the 1960s and the 1970s, in which re-engineering communities through the housing market to achieve a social mix. It can be seen that such aspects as cultural diversity in the Peake Estate Project and the low income of the population can be seen among the most prominent characteristics that supports such categorisation of the community (Kenny, 2011, p.354, Shaw, 2008, p.31).
The type of community development practices observed in the case has more of an economic focus. As identified by Tesoriero (2010), the economic development focuses on work, money, finance, and the economics of the community. It can be seen that the main reason for requesting a community development worker –bad reputation, has its core in an economic foundation, with such aspects as high crime rates and high unemployment rate being interconnected. Thus, improving the community economically is the main focus of Paolo first and foremost. In that regard, economic development can be defined as “the process of creating wealth through the mobilization of human financial, capital, physical and natural resources to generate marketable goods and services” (Phillips and Pittman, 2009, p.8).
Each of the elements mentioned in the definition can be3 clearly identified in the case, namely the process that started from creating a computer class and to the establishment of the small business in the community. The resources mobilised in the case are financial, evident through the government funds, from which the salary of Paolo is paid, physical, evident through the building in which the classes and subsequently the business takes place, the laptops and the computers, provided from Paolo’s contacts, and human resources, which are the skills of the who participated in teaching, e.g. the graphics designer, etc (Kenny, 2011, p.354). The marketable services in this case is computer training, and marketable goods are “professional and stylish notices and posters” (Kenny, 2011, p.354).
The development initiatives in the case conform to the most common economic development practices which are creating new jobs. The intended outcome of job creation is wealth creation and higher living standards (Phillips and Pittman, 2009, p.8).
The options available for job creation lie within recruiting new businesses, retaining existing businesses, or facilitating new business start-ups (8). In that regard, it can be seen that Paolo decided to go with the path of new start-ups, which can be assumed was the only choice due to the lack of existing businesses and/or the absence of investment capabilities, as the recruitment for new businesses is the first choice of economic developers (8). Due to the fact that mostly communities come out of “economic rather than social needs”, addressing the economic needs of the community can be seen as the first priority of the community developers in general and Paolo in the case (Kenny, 2011, p.354, Shaw, 2008, p.30).
Community Development Principles
There several principles of community development practices that can be witnessed in the case. Some of those are more important than other. One principle that can be clearly identified in the case is the principle of empowerment and self determination. Such principle is clearly demonstrated in the case through the role community members took in expressing their views and interests, rather than accepting the solution proposed by a community worker in a top-down manner (Kenny, 2011, p.27). Another principle that can be identified in the case is related to sustainability, i.e. the consideration of whether the advantage provided by a certain project or initiative can be sustained or not (28).
In that regard, the application of such principle in the case can be seen in identifying whether there is a need for computer literacy in the community, in terms of the benefits they bring and the resources it uses. Considering that computer classes were turned into a thriving small business, it can be stated that the decision to proceed with the project was based on the fact that it was found to be sustainable (Kenny, 2011, p.354).
The principle of collective action can be seen as another underlying principle of community development in the case, which requires analysing in more details (Kenny, 2011, p.28). On the one hand, the principle of collective action can be seen embedded in one of the definitions of community development, which describes community development as both a process and an outcome. The process, in that matter, is defined as “developing and enhancing the ability to act collectively”, while the outcome is the collective action itself as well as the results of such action (Phillips and Pittman, 2009, p.6).
The basis of collectivism in the case can be seen through the principle of cooperation from all citizens regardless of group. The conditions integral to collective actions are stated to be “friendships, trust, and the willingness to share some resources” (Phillips and Pittman, 2009, p.22). Although friendship and trust can be only assumed in the described community, the willingness to share some resources, computer knowledge in the case, are evident and form the main foundation for the plan that was proposed. Thus, it can be seen that such principle is important in the case, where the cooperation between all the residents of the community was an essential condition for the success of the project, and eventually, contributed to other principles as well, i.e. empowerment and sustainability.
One of the principles which are not much evident in the case is the principle of change and involvement in conflict (Kenny, 2011, p.29). The issue of conflict can be seen absent from the case, while according to conflict theory, “conflict is an integral part of social life” (Phillips and Pittman, 2009, p.25). According to the narration of the case, there were no apparent conflicts in the case, which is largely unlikely, with the main conclusion that can be made is that Paolo shied away from any conflicts in the community. Thus, it can be stated that the community described in the case over-emphasised the unity of its members. Conflicts in that matter, does not necessarily involve an outrage or hostility, rather than an active opposition which might have naturally occurred in a situation such as the one in the community.
One example of the opposition can be seen through a proposition of another strategy for development by the community, where the synergy between the two conflicting opinions were likely to be used as a reference point to acknowledge other problems in the community and a starting point for other projects. For example, a proposition for another idea, e.g. a youth centre, might have led to another analysis and an expansion of the solution to include the interest of more groups in the community.
In that regard, the consideration of various might have led to expanding the development efforts to include other aspects of the community, e.g. social. The empowerment of the family as a social unit can be seen as an initiative that might help expanding the scope of the work in the present case. For example, the increase in the employment rate in the community might lead to less time devoted by family members with their children. Another aspect that might be ignored in avoiding the social aspects of community is the problem of violence in families, where high unemployment rate might be associated with cases of the family violence, which might be considered when adjusting the definition of the community in the case to focus on social units and relations between them.
The analysis of the community development initiative in the case of Peake Estate project provided an insight into the principles underlying the field of community development. It can be concluded that the theoretical foundation of community development when represented through practical real life scenario eliminates the abstractness of the concepts integrated into community development. The approach used in the case is largely relevant to the specific community described in the case, and supported through the theories and frameworks indicated in literature. Overlooking some of the principles of community development practices in the case might have limited the scope of the strategy used, but nevertheless, it was proved to be successful in addressing the root problem in the case.
KENNY, S. 2011. Developing Communities for the Future: Community Development in Australia, South Melbourne, Cengage Learning Australia.
PHILLIPS, R. & PITTMAN, R. H. 2009. An introduction to community development, London ; New York, Routledge.
SHAW, M. 2008. Community development and the politics of community. Community Development Journal, 43, 24–36.
TESORIERO, F. 2010. Community development : community-based alternatives in an age of globalisation, Frenchs Forest, NSW, Pearson Education Australia.