Monday, April 24, 2006
Community Development 101--Part Four
Years ago I started reading the writings and wisdom of Dr. John Perkins.
His little book, Beyond Charity: The Call to Christian Community Development, functioned as my "second bible" during the first few years after moving into inner city ministry and organizing here in Dallas. It is a classic and well worth your reading. I regret that I didn't know of Perkins during my days in urban New Orleans.
Of course, Dr. Perkins, along with urban pioneer Wayne Gordon, helped found the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA). A network of community development professionals and organizations reaching across the nation and representing every major metropolitan area, CCDA provides leadership and resources for thousands of faith-based, urban practitioners.
My early reading of Dr. Perkins presented one fundamental challenge: relocation. Or, as he put it, "re-neighboring."
To be most effective in bringing about change in a community or a neighborhood, it helps if you live there.
Part of the problem facing inner-city communities is bound up in the fact that as soon as many people reach a certain level of success or achieve adequate financial strength, they leave the neighborhood, taking their wealth and their ability with them.
What is needed is reverse migration.
People with financial assets and ability need to move back toward low-income communities, bringing their wealth and their talent with them. This is especially true for people who have a CCDA-type heart for urban America.
Perkins and others are clear: Not everyone needs to relocate. That would not be good for the communities in question. "Gentrification" presents another set of problems for the poor. A community gentrifies when property values rise, driving low-income people out and continuing, rather than reversing, patterns of class segregation.
What is needed is a healthy mix of incomes in challenging and challenged neighborhoods.
Our friend Paul Jargowsky, professor at the University of Texas at Dallas, contends that when a neighborhood's population mix includes 40% living in poverty, the community "tips" toward the very negative in terms of quality of life and economic viability (Poverty and Place: Ghettos, Barrios, and the American City). Thus, the need for mixed income neighborhoods and the need for people willing to relocate themselves and their assets.
Beyond the economic realities, living in the neighborhood has other beneficial results.
Proximity means better understanding.
Owning or renting in a neighborhood translates to "ownership" of another kind. Being a part of a community opens up new relationships. It also establishes credibility and marks out one's level of commitment to seeing things improve.
Being able to witness the nature of life in a community, empowers for advocacy. It is one thing for me to speak out for folks across town. It is quite another to speak out with my neighbors about problems we face together without the option of leaving every evening.
Not everyone on an urban team like we have here at CDM needs to relocate.
But some do.
When Nehemiah rebuilt the walls around the ancient city of Jerusalem, he had the people cast lots to determine which 10% would live in the city. Those who drew the the assignment to re-populate the city were commended by those who were free to live outside the city in their towns and villages (Nehemiah 11:1-2).
Nehemiah recognized the obvious--somebody's got to live in the center of the city.
Cities work best when populated by a mixture of economic classes, races and interest groups.
Relocation is fundamental to renewal. . .it just is.