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.


steve said...

If there ever was a time and theme for us evangelicals to agree...and say "someone ought to" this is it. Of course the key word is invisible " someone [else] ought to"

This country, and the people in it that call themselves Christ followers would be better off if John Perkin's books were read from pulpits, as you say...a 2nd Bible. Not because he says anything different than the first bible, but because he contextualises the ageless scripture in a way only a living "walked through the fire" saint can.

RC said...

I am suprised that there was not a flood of comments to this very informative post. I have just moved back to Memphis and right now am living in an apartment with my wife. Both of our children are grown and gone. Here is the issue which I would love for you to address, Schools. A person in my situation or yours for that matter have so many more options when it comes to location of housing. To me the main reason for this is schools or my lack of need for this vital resourse. It seems to me that in Memphis, and I am sure it is not unique here, people of affluence make housing choices based upon the perception of schools for their children. This seems to be the biggest factor in play when it comes to choosing housing. The school situation in innercity Memphis is not good, and this reality seems to give young affluent Christians an easy way out. They are not going to allow their children to be educated in substandard schools. I have watched everyone of affluence, black and white flee the city. I used to joke that Jackson, TN (about 90 miles away) would become a Memphis suburb. I have stopped joking. You are really on to something, but I don't know how to convince a young couple with school age children to move to a school district that is perceived as grossly inferior. I would love to hear your comments.

Anonymous said...

amen! This is a perfect example of what Jesus did. He lived in and among the people that He ministered to.

Brice said...

As someone who's only come to know John Perkins' writing in the last year, it's energizing to see him quoted still so often.

Keep up the Community Dev. series, Larry. Eating it up.

TiaKatryn said...

I realize this is a post that is more than 2 years old, but I would like to respond to RC's question about the quality of schools in the inner city, for the sake of a future reader who may have similar questions.

Part of what you are going to the inner city to help change is the condition of the schools. Become the involved parent who is there volunteering, reading to the children, tutoring after school, coaching the basketball team, coordinating the PTA bake sale.

As someone wise once said, "Become the change you want to see." That is what this is all about. :-)