Blog for Rural America

The Center for Rural Affairs, a private, non-profit organization, is working to strengthen small businesses, family farms and ranches, and rural communities. Permission to reprint items from this web log is hereby granted, on the condition that clear credit is given to the original source of the material. If the blog provides information for a story, please let us know by sending an email to johnc@cfra.org.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

#1 Reason Rural Community Development is Hard to Do

People Don’t Understand What Community Development Is

by Michael Holton, Center for Rural Affairs, michaellh@cfra.org

Community leaders and resource providers tend to put characteristics in with community development that constrict the definition. Often it is confused with other development ideas such as economic development, infrastructure, schools, and business development.

Community development is all of these things, but not packaged separately. Contrary to the belief that any one of these can fix or solve problems that need to be addressed, it takes all of them to complete the puzzle we call community development.

The definition of community development can be stated as, “The process of improving the social, economic, and cultural conditions of a village or small town.” Even this definition may come up short, but at least it addresses other facets of what the community is all about.

Since a good discussion is beginning about our previous post, I thought i would provide more detail. This is the narrative in Michael Holton's feature in the Center for Rural Affairs newsletter article about the top ten things that make rural community development hard to do... John Crabtree

Agree? Disagree? Post a comment here or contact John Crabtree, johnc@cfra.org

Center for Rural Affairs
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19 Comments:

  • At 12:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    not very many local economic developers know what rural community development is either...

     
  • At 12:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    not that many "community developers" know what it means either

     
  • At 10:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    How does one "develop" the social and cultural condition of a rural community? It sounds sort of elitist to talk about developing the "culture" of a small town.

     
  • At 11:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    You know, there is something about the word "development" that has always left me feeling vaguely uneasy - sort of a feeling like without a "developer" around somewhere we'd be too stupid to get anything done. I always wonder if other people feel that way. Whiting, Iowa

     
  • At 8:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    yeah, because rural people - people who live in and around rural communities are too stupid to be able to build a community, economy, social structure and, God forbid, culture... at least that is what government folks want us to believe

     
  • At 8:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I don't think i agree with that. Rural communities have challenges that are difficult to meet. Is there anything wrong with local and state government helping out where they can? Or the federal government for that matter (although the feds are less successful when they get involved)?

     
  • At 9:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    challenges? What are these challenges that rural communities face that are unique to rural communities? I do not like or agree with the theory that rural communities need more help that urban communities... Whiting, Iowa

     
  • At 10:28 AM, Blogger Michael L. Holton said…

    This is great conversation and in working with small rural communities, we need more conversation like this. I don't think that urban areas have more or less challneges than rural areas but I do believe that there are differences and many of our programs that are set up to help with these difficulties are directed towards urban. I also don't think that it is elitist to understand rural communities in the context of what makes them "tick". Every community has a culture that keep it thriving or dying. I think we should think of it as more of understanding rather than use terms like social and cultural conditions. You will only be better able to understand rural community conditions if you understand what makes them work in the first place. This is great conversation, keep it up!

     
  • At 11:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Michael, some of the words that you that you did not find helpful (social and cultural conditions, for example) came from your earlier definitions. Do you propose any other general deifnianions for community development - or some way for us to get beyond the difficulty in this conversation over the word development?

     
  • At 1:10 PM, Blogger Michael L. Holton said…

    I can only tell you that I am trying to break down barriers with definitions and stereotypes. I will always be the first to tell you that the more I learn the less I know because of the complexity that exists from community to community. I have set up a set of discussion guides that will be coming out during 2007 to start conversations internally in the communities that choose to work together to "develop" their potential as they see it. I also try and remain loyal to the premise that E.F. Schumacher had in his book, "Small is Beautiful" that any kind of "development" still has to occur from the inside out. As one of the bloggers stated, it is OK for agencies and others to help once they are asked by the community. My point in the original blog was that many times agencies jump in and "develop" what was never asked for. My goal is to break down several areas and work with communities on the area they need the most help with.

     
  • At 3:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    OK, i agree, goverment and agencies should wait until communities ask for help, and "development" should always come from within...

    but, i still wonder, what is the point of all of this? does all this really mean strategies for growth (when we say development)?

     
  • At 3:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    what if i want what i have right now in my rural community, does that make me a gate-keeper?

     
  • At 3:50 PM, Blogger Michael L. Holton said…

    Very good point! I don't know if wanting what is good in your community is being a gate keeper but if others in the community see a need that enhances the community and you provide resistance because you feel your needs come first, then it is a possibility that you have the makings of gate keeper mentality. My first solution that I threw out is to simply include the people who may wonder if they are a gate keeper in the decision making process for the change/progress. If I feel that putting in a new day care facility for the town to help with the increasing need in the community and organize an effort to do so but you resist this effort because the day care facility may be located next to your back yard where you get peace and quiet, the gate keeper attitude would be to fight having a day care facility at all. The solution is to ask you to be a part of the effort and look for alternatives and compromises to make sure the needs of the community are met. You would then be a community leader and not a "gate keeper".

     
  • At 9:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    i still do not like the word development, i said this earlier in this conversation, it sounds like it means that rural people are stupid and need to be "developed" into full fledged, intelligent citizens - there may be cases of that, but they exist in urban centers too

    how do we "help" rural communities without creating the "crisis" that makes them ask for help, or, conversely, just assuming the crisis exists and telling them what they need to do whether they ask or not?

    what defines a community in need of help, or an "at risk" community?

     
  • At 11:17 PM, Blogger Michael L. Holton said…

    There are many words that make me uneasy and one of them is development. I only use it in context of the work that has already been labeled. I agree that development refers to a situation where we are assuming that we need to "develop" rural people. I can assure you that the most "developed" people I have ever met were those in rural areas and they have never taken a back seat to their urban counterparts. I think the key for people who work in this area is to identify and work with rural individuals trying to attain a capacity that may not be easily seen from within. Outside parties can sometimes see a community with a different set of eyes and suggest ways they may have already seen capacity built. One of the biggest detriments that exist in small rural communities is that their capacity to solve internal issues is shrinking and even people who remain with their hopes and dreams are being burned out in their ability to lend time and expertise. The last question asked is what defines a community "at risk"? I would say it is a community that has not been able to identify internally a need that could possibly be met by an asset they already have. As long as one person in a small rural community has hope for the future of that community, that community has life.

     
  • At 11:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Michael, do you mean that an "at risk" community is one that HAS identified a need that cannot be met internally? (you said has not, but i think you mean has?)

     
  • At 11:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I think what should be more of a concern rather than what adjective is used such as the dreaded word "development" we need to just start looking more at the many things that our communities have. Every town has something to offer and while I'm glad to see so many people making comments and participating in these posts...can we start coming up with some IDEAS?

     
  • At 11:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    thank you to the previous commentor, I have been guilty of arguing over words. Ideas are tougher, because they are probably different in every community. All I know, is that when I see communities that are building up, making something happen, I see a community that is, in my perception, healthier. I don't know if saying, "build something" is an idea.

     
  • At 11:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    differnce b/w community developemnt and rural development

     

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