Beyond Community Economic Development to Sustainable Community Development

A powerful tool for addressing social, economic, and racial justice for more than forty years, the community economic development (“CED”) field faces unprecedented challenges.  Critics on both the left and the right are questioning the efficacy of CED as a strategy for fighting poverty.  Additionally, cuts in public and private sector financing put at risk the organizational infrastructure needed to carry out this work.  As a result of these and other forces, a key question arises: What is beyond community economic development?

This collection of white papers offers the responses of a group of thoughtful and dedicated students in the Community Enterprise Clinic to this question.  Together, the students enrolled in the Clinic in the spring of 2013 were asked to think of ways to push the CED field in new directions.  Thus, these white papers contain these students’ thoughts about what’s next for the field.  Though we know that these nine papers don’t contain all the answers, we hope you find them informative and even stimulating.  At the very least, we hope they will contribute to the broader effort to discover: What is Beyond CED?

Project background and overview

Beyond CED—Sustainable Community Development

In recent years, the CED field has faced significant challenges. Among the most evident of these are that the expansion of markets across regions and countries has demanded new approaches to place-based economic development, a growing recognition of environmental and natural resource limitations has demanded that any forward-looking approach to community change expressly address issues of sustainability, and recent economic downturns have limited the resources available to the institutions doing CED work. While CED has always been adaptive to new challenges, the breadth of these challenges seems to warrant an acceleration of this adaptation. So, many of us in the field find ourselves asking, what is next? What lies beyond CED?

To help the Community Enterprise Clinic students think about how to approach this question, we proposed Sustainable Community Development (SCD) as a possible alternative to traditional CED. We defined SCD as an approach to community development that puts values of environmental sustainability and human development on par with the values that underlie market-based economic growth.  To provide additional context, we identified certain tenets and values that underlie this new approach to fighting persistent poverty and creating opportunity. These include the following:

  • Environmental/Resource Sustainability. SCD assumes that there are limits to the extent to which our natural resources and the environment can provide for human communities that are safe, healthy, and productive. Further, SCD assumes that degradation in the environment and natural resources has negative effects on all communities but would affect poor communities in especially significant ways.  As a result, SCD strategies emphasize environmental and resource sustainability.
  • Relative de-emphasis of physical asset accumulation. For several decades, a primary tool of CED has been brick and mortar development, the goal of which is to promote individual and community wealth building through the accumulation of hard asset. For myriad reasons, including a changed economy, contraction in the availability of other social services, and changed environmental and community planning awareness, SCD seeks to broaden the focus to include a greater emphasis on human capital development, workforce development, and on other similar strategies.
  • A move into policy and the political. CED is a largely apolitical approach to community change.  Alternatively, SCD acknowledges the need to target the systems that perpetuate poverty, undermine democratic participation, and exacerbate inequality through advocacy.
  • A youth-oriented approach. Many current resources are focused on the needs of older generations.  Without needing to criticize those social investments, SCD intentionally focuses on capturing the individual, social, and economic benefits to be gained by investing in young people.  With limited resources, the most sustainable approaches to ending cycles of poverty will be those that invest in human development at critical, early stages and therefore reap the most significant return on investment.
  • A growing role for social enterprise. Organizations are increasingly seeking ways to do well and do good, to serve the multiple bottom lines of profit, people, and place. Social service providers are increasingly learning that profit and return on investment are not dirty words but indicators of ability to make lasting impact. SCD prioritizes those community-based organizations that push beyond traditional philanthropic models of support and seek ways to achieve positive revenues and positive community impact.

The white papers drafted by our students suggest specific ways that community-based development organizations might begin to make SCD a reality. They offer thoughts on the following:

  • The role of intermediaries in training the next generation of CED leaders;
  • The promise of adaptive reuse and sustainable deconstruction strategies;
  • The role of community-based development organizations in assisting minority-owned and women-owned business enterprises to secure government procurement contracts;
  • The promotion of human capital development through investment in the childcare sector;
  • The ways in which employer-assisted housing programs and community-based development organizations can create sustainable community growth through in-fill development;
  • The role of community-based development organizations and state flagship universities in providing educational opportunity to historically underrepresented groups;
  • The promise of community benefits agreements to promote accountable development and community empowerment;
  • The development of sustainable agriculture and healthy food systems; and
  • The role of community-based development organizations in merging environmental justice with the goals of SCD.

We hope this is just the beginning of a collective process to move this important work forward, and we hope you find these white papers informative, challenging, and inspiring.

White Papers