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10 Mapping Community Capacity JOHN L. MCKNIGHT JOHN P. KRETZMANN 171 No one can doubt that our older cities these days are deeply troubled places. At the root of the problem are the massive economic shifts that have marked the past two decades. Hundreds of thousands of industrial jobs have either disappeared or moved away from the central city and its neighborhoods. And while many downtown areas have experienced a “renaissance,” the jobs created there are different from those that once sustained neighborhoods. Either these new jobs are highly professionalized, and require elaborate education and credentials for entry, or they are routine, low-paying service jobs without much of a future. If effect, these shifts in the economy, and particularly the removal of decent employment possibilities from low-income neighborhoods, have removed the bottom rung from the fabled American “ladder of opportunity.” For many people in older city neighborhoods, new approaches to rebuilding their lives and communities, new openings toward opportunity, are a vital necessity. Traditional Needs-Oriented Solutions Given the desperate situation, it is no surprise that most Americans think about lower-income urban neighborhoods as problems. Such areas are noted for their deficiencies and needs. This view is accepted by most elected officials, who codify and program this perspective through deficiency-oriented policies and programs. Then, human service systems—often supported by foundations and universities— translate the programs into local activities that teach people the nature of their problems and the value of services as the answer to their problems. As a result, many low-income urban neighborhoods are now environments of service where behaviors are affected because residents come to believe that their well-being depends upon being a client. They see themselves as people with special needs to be met by outsiders. And gradually, they become mainly consumers of services with no incentive to be producers. Consumers of services focus vast amounts of creativity and intelligence on the survival-motivated challenge of outwitting the “system” or on finding ways—in the informal or even illegal economy—to bypass the system entirely. There is nothing “natural” about this process. Indeed, it is the predictable course of events when deficiency- and needs-oriented programs come to dominate the lives of neighborhoods where low-income people reside. The Capacity-Focused Alternative The alternative is to develop policies and activities based on the capacities, skills, and assets of low-income people and their neighborhoods. There are two reasons for this capacity-oriented emphasis. First, all the historic evidence indicates that significant community development takes place only when local community people are committed to investing themselves and their resources in the effort. This is why you can’t develop communities from the top down, or from the outside in. You can, however, provide valuable outside assistance to communities that are actively developing their own assets. The second reason for emphasizing the development of the internal assets of local urban neighborhoods is that there is very little prospect that largescale industrial or service corporations will be locating in these neighborhoods. Nor is it likely that significant new inputs of federal money will be forthcoming soon. Therefore, it is increasingly futile to wait for significant help to arrive from outside the community. The hard truth is that development must start from within the community and, in most of our urban neighborhoods, there is no other choice. Unfortunately, the dominance of the deficiency-oriented social service model has led many people in low-income neighborhoods to think in terms of local needs rather than assets. These needs are often identified, quantified, and mapped through conducting “needs surveys.” The result is a map of the neighborhood ’s illiteracy, teenage pregnancy, criminal activity, drug use, and so on. But in neighborhoods where there are effective community development efforts, there is also a map of the community’s assets, capacities, and abilities. For it is clear that even the poorest city neighborhood is a place where individuals and organizations represent resources upon which to rebuild. The key to neighborhood regeneration is not only to build upon those resources that the community already controls but also to harness those that are not yet available for local development purposes. The process of identifying capacities and assets, both individual and organizational, is the first step on the path toward community regeneration. Once this new “map” has replaced the one containing needs and deficiencies, the regenerating community can begin to assemble its assets and capacities into new combinations, new structures of...


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