Community as Industry

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A. Allen Butcher:

The Contemporary Conceptual Foundation of Community as Industry

"The theoretical foundation of the contemporary community industry may generally be explained by the sociological concept of "social capital" and the socio-economic concept of "asset-based community development." There are many other theories and philosophies relevant to the question of developing community as industry, yet these two provide a good start."

Social Capital

A. Allen Butcher:

"Since the printing of Robert D. Putnam's "Bowling Alone : The Collapse and Revival of American Community" (see: Journal of Democracy 6:1 [January 1995], 65-78) the question of how to structure our social opportunities and cultural processes to increase "social capital" has been an ongoing debate in many fields, particularly those of social welfare. Articles can be found via an Internet search relating social capital to community development, the housing industry and economic growth by the National Civic League, the Fannie Mae Foundation, the World Bank and many other organizations.


Some of the range of local community-based economic development methods available are described in James DeFilippis' article "The Myth of Social Capital in Community Development," including community land trusts, mutual housing associations, micro-enterprise lending, and community development credit unions. These plus other strategies are advocated by a range of different organizations including the E. F. Schumacher Society, Community Service, Inc., and the Solari investment advisory company. (See the following.

Proximity enables the environment necessary for Francis Moore Lappe's three criteria for the spontaneous generation of social capital through community life: hope for or the

  • belief in the possibility of solutions,
  • real opportunities for citizen engagement, and
  • new public life skills among our citizens.

(See: "Building Social Capital Without Looking Backward," by Frances Moore Lappé & Paul Martin Du Bois, National Civic Review, February 14, 1997)

Business Opportunities Capitalizing upon Building Social Capital

One of our most basic needs, which is also typically our largest expense as well as our most valuable asset is housing. When people speak of "community" today we generally think of our contacts with friends and acquaintances in the associations we join, or at work or school, and don't consider the neighborhood in which we live to be our primary community identity. Yet proximity or living next door or within easy neighborhood walking distance remains far more of an inducement for, or provides greater opportunity for, face-to-face or in-person community connections than any kind of technological method of communication or even getting in a car or on public transportation to meet with others. Where we live, and with whom we are living as a "neighborhood" becomes the greatest opportunity we have for building social capital.

It seems to be an assumption that is rarely explained in most articles about social capital that an important aspect is regular face-to-face contacts among people. Proximity is one of the most important elements in creating community, and therefore must be emphasized as a requirement for converting social capital to a market commodity. Two good examples of such methods of using the "human scale" level of community for converting social capital into a market commodity include the industries of business investment and of housing." (

Asset-Based Community Development

A. Allen Butcher:

"In the paper, "From Clients to Citizens: Asset-Based Community Development as a Strategy For Community- Driven Development" (2002) Alison Mathie and Gord Cunningham present "Asset-based community development (ABCD) ... as an alternative to needsbased approaches to development.

Following an overview of the principles and practice of ABCD, the paper examines five major elements of ABCD in the light of current literature on relevant research and practice:

  • the theory and practice of appreciative inquiry;
  • the concept of social capital as an asset for community development;
  • the theory of community economic development, such as the sustainable livelihoods approach;
  • lessons learned from two decades of international development in the participatory paradigm;
  • the theory and practice of building active citizenship engagement and a stronger civil society."

(See: )

Mathie and Cunningham provide an excellent example of the application of the ABCD strategy. In the U.S., one of the most notable examples of an ABCD approach to community economic development is the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI) in Roxbury, Massachusetts (see: "Group capacity building has been at the center of this strategy: a community land trust that has provided hundreds of affordable housing units; a local merchants' organization that encourages a diverse economic landscape dominated by locally, independently and cooperatively owned businesses; a group of 50 young people trained in urban agriculture; and the Resident Development Institute, which hosts community economic literacy workshops." (See: