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Community, relationships and the power of place

Community developers know that committed partnerships make neighborhoods stronger. We have seen these relationships position our communities to better withstand shocks, to recover more quickly from disasters, and to seize new opportunities that might otherwise pass them by.  

Harvard Professor Robert Sampson has called this community culture "collective efficacy," which he's defined as "the working trust and shared willingness of residents to intervene in achieving social control."

We also know that it isn’t easy to measure this capacity, and to convince funders  to invest resources needed to support a community’s efforts to build and maintain social capital.

In his recent blog, Bob Van Meter, the executive director of Boston LISC, discusses Great American City: Chicago and the Enduring Effect Neighborhood Effect, Sampson's the latest book. It's a thick volume, with lots of ideas and statistics gleaned from Sampson's years of research, including some intriguing points about collective efficacy.

Bob singles out several important ideas for our work, including that, "the 'collective efficacy' of a place matters and is to some degree independent of the socio- economic status of a place--in other words, building a strong 'platform' in a poor neighborhood matters and can have a positive impact on the place and on the people that live there."

Robert Sampson himself builds on that idea in a recent Q&A with the website Atlantic Cities:

"Nonprofit organizations can make a significant difference in how vulnerable neighborhoods face burdens such as foreclosures due to the recent recession. Community-based organizations are an important ingredient in building up the collective efficacy of communities to meet everyday challenges. While national policies are obviously crucial, nonprofits serve as a kind of social buffer that can make the difference between which neighborhoods tip into a spiral of decline and which turn themselves around. I call this process the 'organizational imperative.'"

At the Institute, we're always interested in finding and disseminating research that helps support the work of building comprehensive community initiatives.

Great American City has the data and the theory to show why place-based anti-poverty programs are important and can be effective. We all know this to be true--so it's great to have the tools and research to back it up.


Read Bob's blog post, with more thoughts on what Great American City offers.

Read a review in the Institute Journal of Robert Sampson and Corina Graif's 2009 book Neighborhood Social Capital, which captures 15 years of research and gives more perspective on the idea of social capital.

Posted in Engaging, Evaluating, Thinking Out Loud

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