Fall 2014 - 62535 - PA388K - Advanced Topics in Public Policy
Building and Sustaining Local Communities
A community is a place of many interacting parts. A sustainable community is one that successfully balances current needs, resources, and limitations against future ones. ‘Sustainable’ now often replaces ‘economic’ as the preferred term when describing development. Likewise, communities are marketed as ‘livable’ rather than urban, suburban, or rural. Rebranding, however, has done little to help us understand how communities actually work. We lack clarity and insights on the structural, institutional, and social-cultural arrangements that shape the everyday realities and experiences of real people in real places. The lack of clarity is a weakness in scholarship. It also misdirects action.
We’ve changed how we think and talk about community since the beginnings of the LBJ School of Public Affairs. Then, Lyndon Johnson charged his School with producing a ‘new’ type of public policy professional. The new professional would develop and blend critical analytic skills with a commitment to tackle messy social problems. The problems—end poverty, promote equality, improve education, renew cities, and protect the environment—were vividly illustrated by the events of Freedom Summer and The Great Society’s prosperity agenda. They still engulf us. Did Johnson’s new professional prove ineffective? If not, what changed: the problem, our understandings, or both? We explore these questions by doing two things. We unpack general ideas about community, neighborhood, and sustainability. We then lay out an alternative framework to consider and pursue positive change in low- to moderate-income neighborhoods wherein citizens work with and learn from each other.
An extensive cross-disciplinary literature is available to help us expand on the two policy traditions that have dominated community studies for more than four decades. One is the community/economic development tradition. The other is a community-organizing framework. We go beyond these intellectual traditions by emphasizing adaptive capacity and resilience as useful analytic concepts for community studies. The adaptive capacity concept shifts attention from top-down linear models to a more systemic one. It focuses on the structural (patterns and relationships) while resilience focuses on the transactional (process and interactive) dimensions of community. Structure includes the physical, organizational, and procedural features of the social institutions found in communities. The transactional dimension of community includes the individual and institutional relationships that define the actual social interactions within and among communities. The change in focus allows us to see and examine community as something other than merely economic growth.
The major scholarly challenge in the course is synthesizing an often-disparate interdisciplinary literature that cuts across the specialty fields of community, international, and sustainable development. The practical challenge is developing a ‘working theory’ you can use to help you complete a research project/paper on a community-related topic you choose. The goal is to help you improve your scholarship and to enable you to carry out Lyndon Johnson’s charge to the LBJ School—become the thinkers and doers needed to create the prosperous, progressive places citizens call home.