On Being Right


Community development is a learning process. It is also an organic process. Because of this, there is very little black and white, or room to be right or wrong.

There are bad practices and best practices. There are things that should not be promoted within the community (like theft, bad business and lawlessness). There are best practices that should be supported and sustained (like safety precautions, making environmentally friendly choices and inclusivity).

We have been in communities where two options have presented themselves, and both could arguably be right.

An old mill building was purchased by a church. The church then wanted to use the mill building as a gym and family life center for their congregation. The build out and renovation was too expensive to make the project feasible. The church obtained permits to tear the mill down. The community pleaded with the church to let the old building stay. Community members had connections to investors who wanted to make the site into a live/work development.

Instead, the mill was torn down.

Are either sides inherently bad? No. Do I have an opinion on what should have been done? Yes. But at the end of the day, community development is about growing the community in question into their best selves. There is no 10-step instruction guide to community development. It is a lot of small movements that fold into larger ripple effects.

It’s like making biscuits from your grandmother's recipe, not the Pillsbury can. It’s a lot more eyeballing and testing the texture and outcome of the addition of each ingredient. It’s a lot less of the straight forward, step-by-step instructions.

What are the ingredients? What is the collaboration that you need for community development?

You will need facets like engaged community, art, involved staff members and partner organizations.
You will need space to play and develop.
You will need businesses who are bought into a larger vision and so much more.

But the cool thing about community development is that it can start with a sidewalk chalk festival or a local battle of the bands night. Communities start to build, bind and thrive with care and intentionality. It starts with picking up trash or putting an encouraging sticker on a light pole.

So, some questions that you can ask your community today, what are the small steps that we are taking today to lead us to where we will be tomorrow? Where do we want to be tomorrow, and are we taking the small steps to lead us in that direction?