Sunday, August 26, 2007

Week 1: Hallsmith's Key

In order to create the foundation for sustainable development in a community, the perception of “connectedness” is necessary. This is a holistic view of a city as a living thing, not just the infrastructure, but the social systems and relationships between them as well. All parts, on every level, from the individual to the local organizations to the government, are essential to each other and to the whole for sustainability.

Community needs are defined as something required to live “whole human lives” – and include the physical, economic, governance, and social. Community Capacity is the community’s ability fulfill to its member’s needs. Community assets are individual need satisfiers, (i.e.; facilities, services, relationships, programs, natural resources, and people) and assets are accessed through need satisfaction systems. Critical mass is the aggregate amount of an asset required to satisfy the demand. How distribution is handled (equitably or not) and planning for regeneration of an asset can affect its qualification as critical mass.

Systems thinking is a holistic asset-based approach to problem solving in communities, as opposed to a problem-focused way of thinking. It encourages an examination of relationships between all elements of the larger social system. There is an emphasis on relationships being more important than elements themselves. A critical concept is that a system always becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

The view of the community as a living entity with different parts of the system working together like parts of a living organism is something that I’ve been exposed to since I came to Cornell, and have found to have extreme relevance. I’ve most often heard it referred to as the “(bio)ecological systems view”. Over the summer, I worked in the Division of Nutritional Sciences, on research having to do with stemming the rising tide of childhood obesity. Our research team was continually coming back to the ecosystems view of the community; the micro, meso, macro, and exso parts and their interconnectedness, in order to dissect the cause and effect relationships and sources of influence. I appreciated the description of the dynamic state of cause and effect; as being either linear (feedback) or cyclical (feedback loop). The term “causeffect” was extremely poignant to me, as the reality and enormous destructive (or restorative?) potential of the “vicious cycle” when it comes to humans and their relationship with the environment is what I hope to better understand through this course.


I felt that the Hallsmith’s definition of needs as "a lack of something required to live whole human lives" could have been bolstered by a further definition of what a "whole human life" would look like. Perhaps by referring to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, Hallsmith could have explained what elements of the various levels of "need" constitute a "whole human life," and how this might change according culture, background, socio-economic status, etc. Also, when comparing the success of one community to the next, at meeting it’s member’s needs, it seems that success would be dependent on these different levels of need.

I was left wondering if an asset is still considered an asset if there isn’t a critical mass? I am in complete agreement with Hallsmith’s assertion that “a community is impoverished if only a very few people are able to satisfy their needs.” I felt that the Capacity Building Story seemed rather superficial and lacking in critical content without telling us what type of capacity building they did in Maine? The significance of the statement “you can’t have community development without building trust” seemed incomplete without an explanation of what they actually did to build the trust.

Hallsmith mentions on pages 42/43 "that it is possible to predict the level of crime in a neighborhood by merely quantifying the social interactions of its residents." She goes on to say that when social networks are strong, sense of community and social well-being are consequentially reinforced. I was confused without a further elaboration of how "social interactions" were measured, and/or categorized in order to determine that there was a causal relationship with the level of crime.

In regards to systems thinking, I was excited by the “systems are alive!” ecological view. I had previously been under the impression that the concept of biomimicry can only be designed into a community at the onset. However; Hallsmith’s description made me realize that it may just need to be facilitated in existing communities!! (i.e. revitalization of a community by allowing it to become a open system instead of a closed system.)

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