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Community Economic Development

Reprinted from Issue # 99 of Communities Magazine


In “My Turn”, readers share ideas, opinions, proposals, critiques, Lind dreams about com­munity living. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of the publisher, staff, or advertisers of Communities magazine.


Whenever anyone asks me where I spend my time these days, I often say, "In my car." For most of the past three years, I have commuted between Oakwood Farm, near Muncie, Indiana, and the community of Stelle, Illinois (where I have recently returned), partly due to continuing connections and partly for work I do in Kankakee County, Illinois, in Community Economic Development (CED).

My participation in one community occasionally benefits another. For example, I met pianist Will Tuttle when he gave a concert at my local Unity church in Indiana, and that led to my producing an event with him at Stelle. While at the event, I picked up an article in Solar Today featuring information about straw bale construction recently completed at Stelle. Returning to Indiana, I shared that article with several Ball State University students who were holding a concert to raise funds to build a prototype straw-bale house at Oakwood Farm!

In reflecting on the cross-pollinating that has resulted from my own commuting, I am struck by the great potential for cross-pollination between intentional communities and the wider culture.

What has been especially exciting for me is the potential connection between members of intentional communities and the field of' Community Economic De­velopment, a citizen-initiated strategy to develop the economy of a community (in the generic, "neighborhood" sense), region, or country for the benefit of its residents.

Community Economic Development strategies take into account a neighborhood or town's social, cultural, and political values. It emphasizes local people owning their own businesses; learning to participate in and manage their own economic development process; and actively participating in local government, helping to make decisions about proposals that affect them.

The people-oriented approach of CEO helped me understand why so many traditional approaches to community and economic development fail: They lack comprehensive focus and commit­ment to self-help, empowerment, and teaching people leadership and decision­ making skills.

After living in intentional communities for many years and working in the field of Community Development, I studied CED in a Masters Program at New Hamp­shire College. My classmates and I developed a list of what we saw as root causes of common social problems:

· Spiritual and cultural disintegration;

· The "me generation";

· Lack of a common vision;

· Absence of wisdom;

·Focus on accumulation of money versus circulation of money;

Lack of an appropriate values system and ways to express it.


Later we brainstormed solutions to these problems by reflecting on the values of Community Economic Development:

· Building collaborative partnerships;

· Active citizen participation in government and community;

· Applying cooperative principles;

· Retaining wealth in the neighborhoods;

·Seeing personal and organizational goals within the context of community and society;

Considering and appreciating multi­cultural differences in religion, race, val­ues, perspectives, and communication;

  Enabling people and communities to empower themselves;

Recognizing a spiritual underpinning, a sense of oneness.

Most intentional communities share many, if not all, of these values.


Many cities and neighborhoods that have applied the principles of Community Economic Development have discovered that this approach addresses root causes of major concerns such as crime, drugs, gangs, quality of schools, and the need for jobs. An estimated 2,500 Community Development Corporations (local organi­zations which use Community Economic Development principles) have generated over 90,000 jobs in their local communities, developed or renovated over 19. mil­lion square feet of industrial and commercial space (which means more jobs), and developed over 350,000 units of affordable housing.


These are outstanding accomplish­ments for what are often grassroots, com­munity-based organizations comprised primarily of so called "disadvantaged citi­zens." Just imagine the possibilities if the combined wisdom, experience, and re­sources of community veterans and activists in Community Development Corporations could share their ideas and expertise with each other!


How many more people could benefit from state-of-the-art community development techniques if they were also taught and used by people living in intentional communities? And how much more effectively could CDCs enable citizens to co-create their individual and collective destinies if we communitarians shared our expertise in consensus decision-making, conflict resolution, and a balanced approach to meeting individual and community needs?


I believe we should be actively identi­fying all the other organizations and dis­ciplines that could benefit from discussing community issues and the methods of Community Economic Development. And I believe we should organize regional, national and perhaps international forums for these discussions. In addition to inten­tional communities and CEO organiza­tions, I would include Community Service, Inc., Scott Peck's Foundation for Community Encouragement, the Community Development Society, the Na­tional Congress for Community Economic Development, and various government entities that have demonstrated an interest in resident-empowered com­munities, such as the US Department of Housing and Urban Development and its 3,500 Public Housing Authorities.


I invite every intentional community and network of intentional communities, such as the Fellowship for Intentional Community, the Federation of Egalitarian Communities, the Emissaries of Divine Light, and so on, to explore the questions: "How can our community better serve those around us?" "How can we more effectively demonstrate the relevance of intentional community experiences to the wider society?"


Together, we may yet achieve our ultimate dreams and realize the potential for having the lasting, transformational influence and positive impact I believe we should have, by sharing our vision, expertise, and accomplishments with the wider society. Q


For more information:

National Congress for Community Economic Development, 202-234­5009; H7eb site: www.ncced.org

CED Masters Program, New Hampshire College, 2500 N River Rd., Manchester; NH 03106; 603-644-3103.

Charles Betterton
, founder of CENTER SPACE, the Center for Spiritual, Personal  and Community Empowerment, has over
25 years of administrative experience in community, organization!, and economic develop­ment.  He co-founded the Fellowship for Intentional Community, edited Communities magazine (1984--1992), and has lived in intentional communities over 18 years. He can be reached at 127 Sun Street, Stelle, IL 60919; 760-212-9931 or by email at charlesbetterton@gmail.com .















The CAN DO! Empowerment Resource Center is a joint venture of three affiliated non-profit organizations: Ultimate Destiny University; CENTER SPACE (The Center for Personal, 
Spiritual And Community Empowerment); and the
Center for Conscious Sustainable Living.


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