Community development is a double edged sword. It cuts in both directions. Who decides when a community development process should commence? Can a community initiate its own development process? Do communities or even society (to raise Margaret Thatcher's dismissal) really exist? Three conditions seem to apply: 1) there is a geographic or other specific population that could be a community; 2) There is an agreement by some people with presumed agency, inside or outside the community who think a process of development is necessary; and 3) there is a source of power, money and resources including that of at least one worker to catalyse and coordinate community learning and change.
Does It work?
For over 40 years there has been a concerted effort from neo-liberal power brokers to dismiss community in favour of a market. We are all supposed to be selling ourselves industriously. Community development presumes that there is a better order to things, and that collectively we can plan and act to improve things. I've heard older people look back to the 1980s saying; "today nothing is happening, 30 years ago our parents were working towards things and building community." They were also struggling to have land and economic possibilities returned, which has still not been returned. So it will always be a question of what kind of society and community we are trying to grow.
Global financial crises, the failure of neo-liberal power to deliver, quickly result in community rebuilding and resourcefulness. From Detroit to the Greek Islands, people are returning to closer relationships with the living planet, growing food in community gardens etc. Community development has a place in combatting environmental destruction and achieving peace where violence and impostition of external industrial costs are destroying life and community.
What Role do the Arts Play?
Real arts inspire, invigorate, celebrate, and identify who we are. Therefore, there is a role for the arts in rallying and empowering, or disempowering. Powerful people know this and seek to dominate the arts and determine regimes of cultural management. So when we make true art we engage in a brokerage of relationships, with each-other, and with other species in the ecology to which we belong.