From Rural CHE to Urban Neighborhood Transformation

As you hopefully already know, CHE or Neighborhood Transformation (NT) is a multi-faceted, community/neighborhood-based, development strategy that deals with the whole person which builds on the people and their community’s assets. CHE/NT trains people how to use those assets to solve their own problem. It is about neighbor helping neighbor. It releases individuals and communities to be all they can be, by transforming individuals who transform their community from the inside out.

Individuals and rural villages were being transformed by this strategy; therefore it was felt that CHE had potential for use in working with under-resources neighborhoods in urban settings. Three years ago it was decided to see if we could adapt our International rural focused CHE ministry for use with the urban poor in the United States. To this end we began to look at what needed to be changed to adapt CHE for United States consumption.

Identifying and Entering the Urban Community
The biggest problem in doing any Urban CHE or Neighborhood Transformation program is identifying cohesive communities in urban settings that are not really a community as we describe in it rural CHE. The more people hold in common, the greater is their sense of unity. If you can enter their community there is more likelihood of change then in diverse populations. But most geographic neighborhoods do not hold much in common. The question becomes how we can begin to create communities that have something in common.

Mel King’s work in Boston defines creating community as “Where people can live and feel nurtured, sustained, involved and stimulated. Creating community is the continual process of getting to know people, caring and sharing responsibility for the physical and spiritual condition of the living space. He adds we need as individuals and as communities to be about getting people to deal with the fears that immobilize us and bar us from our basic instincts towards growth, change and harmony”

We were introduced to a system that had been developed by Northwestern University called Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) which really deals with the above problems in urban neighborhoods. All people and neighborhoods have assets, identify those assets, network them together, and then build on what is already in the neighborhood and what the people themselves want to do.

In reality, this is what CHE does in rural areas, but we use Participatory Rural Appraisal, (PRA) in entering the community. ABCD takes the place of PRA as it identifies assets in individuals even more than PRA.

ABCD became the main approach for entering the community in urban settings. When we find people who are interested in doing something, we provide small group training for them. This training might include how teenage mothers can have healthy pregnancies, how to get and keep a job, or parenting children.

Urban NT is About Creating Community Instead of Entering an Existing Community
We found in rural CHE that transformation occurs best working with groups of people that were not too large in number, in villages of 1500 to 2000 people. Most cities are much larger but are already divided into neighborhoods. We found the best size neighborhood is built around the catchment area of one elementary school. The elementary especially in poor neighborhoods many times is the geographic center for the neighborhood. In the US we moved from a focus on villages to small identifiable city neighborhoods.

Since there are very few identifiable geographic communities that hold many things in common, as noted above, urban NT is all about finding points of interests held by very small groups of people built their self interests.

In reality we are creating new sub-communities built around people’s interests and assets and then aggregating these small self interest groups into a larger group neighborhood group by doing Appreciative Inquiry which helps people identify the good things that have happened in the past and then coming to a consensus of individual dreams for their neighborhood. The neighborhood then develops a plan to accomplish the thing that the neighborhood wants to accomplish for their neighborhood.

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