As we enter the new year it is important to reexamine our approaches to community development and civic deliberation. I am using these terms because this is a year to get back to basics. How can we find ways to develop neighborhoods, communities, and regions so that all people proper, have hope for a better tomorrow, and see new pathways and opportunities for their children? One quick glance at the poverty rates in cities large and small makes the case for the importance of fundamentals in our community work. Second, the new year MUST provide avenues for dialogue and deliberation that expand the civic conversation. Despite the speed of social media interactions, opportunities to see people, talk to them about their hopes, dreams, and fears, and begin to build trust and confidence in one another are sorely missing. We could make a longer list of things that should be done in 2017 but, for now, let's just commit to these two. If we get these right, our list of challenges and divisions will get shorter.
In the second edition of Smart Communities (Jossey Bass, 2014), I address the topic of community fundamentals: "Whether it is a new program, established program, or a response to a crisis or opportunity, communities need to identify and do three things: 1) know the constituency or stakeholders and the assets they can bring, 2) mobilize diverse stakeholders for discussion and action, and 3) sustain the effort....While a strategy must be crafted to fit the circumstances of an individual place, the world of research and best practice can inform the process and prevent some stumbles."
I end with that last sentence because communities needs people and institutions that provide access to research and best practice. Not everything that has worked elsewhere will work in all communities but you should at least know what others are doing. A colleague of mine, the late Professor Bill Lucy, provided that for our community of Charlottesville. His vast knowledge and experience helped countless city officials think strategically about the future. Bill asked great questions and had a skepticism about the easy answers. Bill and I worked together over 20 years ago when the Pew Partnership for Civic Change launched a research project to "find" valid and reliable community remedies through the "Solutions for America" initiative. He was part of a team of 25 university faculty and researchers who moved the needle on community development. So what does every community need in 2017--more Bill Lucy's. People who help us think about better strategies, more inclusive processes, and, yes, our better selves.
Happy New Year everyone.