Learning Description Two
Name: Bob Sample
Title of Learning: Community Development
Credits Requested: 4
My involvement in community development activities has been at several levels over a period of eight years. My first contact with the 20th Ward Coalition was as a volunteer for six months. I then worked as a program developer and organizer for Action for a Better Community and represented ABC in the 20th Ward Coalition. Finally, I was elected president of the Commerce Heights Association.
Examples of my involvement, and documents which verify my learning experience, are enclosed and include the Community Development Act – 20th Ward Coalition Proposal; Community Development Plans; Capital Improvement Program; 20th Ward Neighborhood Planning; Housing and Neighborhood Abandonment Conference; Housing and Neighborhood Revitalization Conference; and Localism Conference.
In a note on each document, I have indicated the extent of my involvement with its development. During my learning experience, I read the following books, which were very useful: “A New Partnership to Conserve America’s Communities,” by the president’s Urban and Regional Policy Group; and “The Future for Industrial Development in Rochester,” by Conifer Development Associates and the Center for Governmental Research.
As an employee and volunteer in Commerce Heights, working with the personal and physical needs of the community, I gained considerable expertise in community development. By “community development” I mean the planning and implementation of actions which will achieve short-term and long-range goals for the specific geographical community.
The amount of learning I have achieved in the area of community development is extensive and has been well disciplined. It has been learning which translated into visible victories of new streets, public market improvements, new sidewalks, cleaned, graded, hydro-seeded lots, changed city policies, creation of the Neighborhood Planning Department and a strong core of residents continuing in that planning function.
I gained practical knowledge in community development through the development of a database for the community from the census, day care waiting lists, Housing Authority waiting lists, scatter site waiting lists, urban renewal statistics (which were tailor made to our request), phone surveys and street surveys. I learned to develop maps from this information and to develop demographic data, assess human services needs and resident priorities, evaluate neighborhood hardware priorities (i.e., street repairs, sidewalk repairs, street light replacements, water main replacements) and meld all of these with city programs, budgets and proposals.
Other skills acquired include planning, mapping, researching, group management, group presentations, leadership, dispute settlement, negotiating priorities, city and county planning structures and processes, program analysis and evaluation, developing instruments for needs assessment, proposal writing and development, fundraising and power-base development.
My leadership was a result of an ability to straddle all segments of the community, which were divided into service areas, parishes, school districts, legislative districts and smaller neighborhoods. I learned the value of personal credibility and the value of respectfulness, and I gained the skills necessary to utilize these.
In these efforts of seven years, I discovered these basic principles:
- A low-income, minority community must own more information and clout to get results, even though its requests are the same as moderate-income, white neighborhoods. Citizen participation was highest in Commerce Heights of all community-development efforts, but residents were still not given credibility (or staff) to be able to carry out plans successfully, despite thorough development and documentation. Racism and classism were barriers that were never removed from City Hall. Therefore, citizen participation in itself is not clout. Clout equals involvement of successful industry, white homeowners who are at least middle class and all leadership. Even when clout is established, decision makers watch eagerly for cracks in unity in order to diminish that strength and credibility.
- Continuous leadership is an absolute need for low-income community planning and organizing in order to avoid debilitating disillusionment and disengagement of residents. Therefore, staff and long-term commitments are important, in fact, essential, and neighborhood control and decision making is only possible for low-income people if a source of funding is available.
- A modification of neighborhood government is desirable (i.e., control of planning, code enforcement, service evaluation).
- One of the most important of all the precepts that I learned during my community organizing experiences is that residents are logical, knowledgeable and capable of doing their own planning. Making this a possibility is my long-range goal, which will take a great deal of knowledge about society and politics, as well as much hard work.
Areas that fall outside my learning are political party structure and the organization of government above the county level. I intend to fill this gap with my studies at the college. This additional knowledge may help me to understand and help neighborhoods more fully achieve the clout that they need.