Green, Gary Paul and Anna Haines Asset Building and Community Development.
There are two important claires made in the preface of this book. The first is that while it is not a "cookbook" for community development, the book is intended as a resource for students and practitioners. The second is the strange assertion that "community development is rooted largely in the US experience". The first claim is a fairly accurate assessment of the book's usefulness. However, the second is a foreshadowing of the limited utility of this book outside of the US context.
The book is firmly grounded in the now popular approach to community development pioneered by Kretzmann and McKnight known as asset-based community development (also called "ABCD"). The ABCD approach views poor communities not as reservoirs of need and despair, but as collections of resources and assets that can be tapped in order to realize social and economic development.
True to its mission, the book is structured much like a university text. It is divided into three sections, each with three to rive chapters. The first section, on the history and organizational context of community development, is arguably the most useful for non-US readers and includes definitions of basic concepts as well as an overview of some thorny and persistent dilemmas within the field such as "growth vs. development", "people vs. place" and the challenges of race and gender. Also included in this section is a helpful overview of practitioners' tools, such as public participation techniques and approaches to community organizing, community visioning and strategic planning. The section ends with an historical review of community development in the US, focusing primarily on the evolution of community development corporations (CDCs) and local development corporations (LDCs), and the various government programs which have fostered (or not fostered) them.
Notwithstanding some serious skepticism about the concept of social capital offered by writers such as De Filippis, the second section of the book is centred on the authors' notion of "community capital", which they divide into rive sub-categories: human (workforce development), social (trust, norms and networks), physical (the role of housing), financial (funding availability) and environmental capital (or conservation and control of land development). The third section, perhaps the weakest in the book, focuses on the role of community development in "sustainability" (another controversial subject) and international development.
In textbook fashion, each chapter ends with a brief summary and conclusions section, a list of key concepts, a set of questions for further discussion, some exercises or assignments based on the material included in the chapter, references, and selected additional sources for further study that include readings, web sites, videos and periodicals.
As a resource for practitioners and students in the US, the book would appear to fulfill its mandate. It is well written and structured, comprehensive, up to date, carefully researched and highly appropriate, particularly for an undergraduate reading audience. However, the book establishes a close conceptual linkage between community development and institutional structures and government programs in the US. It is this linkage which limits the usefulness of the book for readers outside of the US, and leads the authors to the questionable assumption that community development is a phenomenon somehow peculiar to the US. The applicability of the book to a non-US context would be enhanced if there were greater emphasis on processes, methods and models rather than programs and institutional structures specific for the US.
Having stated this, from a research and policy perspective, there is much to be learned in Canada and elsewhere from the US experience with community development. Despite the long list of community development-oriented government programs outlined in this book, communities in the US experienced persistently low levels of government investment over several decades relative to Canada. Paradoxically, this resulted in the evolution of a rather complex network of institutions and organizations at the community level not yet evident in Canada, where government investment decline took root more recently. For this reason, a study of the community development system in the US as presented in this book might offer a window on the future for Canadian communities that are currently struggling to tap into more diverse resources to improve the quality of life.
Anna C. Vakil
Independent Researcher and Consultant