In this review, I question whether community development in deeply depressed neighborhoods involves a dynamic that further complicates success of its initiatives. That dynamic is race. More often than not, community development initiatives occur in predominately African-American low-income neighborhoods. In this article I raise the issue as to whether the residents of these neighborhoods prefer assimilation over their current neighborhood–a place that houses the “community”. What if a sizeable percentage of residents do not want to assimilate, or define their personal assimilation in such ways that render assimilation difficult. Do recent community mobilizing movements potentially affect the success of current and future community development initiatives by encouraging place-based solutions for African-Americans. Assimilation in such a context becomes a cultural cul du sac that threatens to create a perpetual ghetto.
This issue offers an unasked for critique of several community development issues/principles that reflects an outsider’s sense that this very significant economic development approach is at a crossroads. My recommendation is that community developers might rethink of a couple of long-standing conceptual pillars which have come to be dysfunctional. As a benchmark I will dredge up a perspective, now almost seventy years old, that I believe will be helpful.
Let’s turn the recent Baltimore riots into a teachable hour for economic developers. Sandtown, Freddie Gray’s neighborhood, offers a unique and fascinating perspective on neighborhood-level, people-based economic development. So let’s task ourselves with the following objectives: (1) briefly outline the two types of community development that were applied to Sandtown; and (2) review post 1990 Sandtown community development(s), participants and their objectives; (3) briefly critique Sandtown-style community development, finally conclude, and send you off on your merry way.