After seeing Cornelia Butler Flora present at a Minnesota Rural Summit a number of years ago, I decided to look into her work in more detail. One of the things I found was a piece that she had written as Director of The North Central Regional Center for Rural Development. It was titled, “Quality of Life Versus Standard of Living,” and it presented a couple of ideas that I have found invaluable over the years when framing civic engagement conversations and strategies.
The first is that people often confuse these very different concepts: standard of living, and quality of life. Standard of living is essentially determined by how much stuff you can afford to buy. Quality of life, on the other hand, is sometimes more difficult to quantify or even articulate very easily.
My other big take away from the article was that quality of life, in all of its complexity can be measured both qualitatively and quantitatively. This is important to know because if money doesn’t buy happiness (or a high quality of life), then we should know how we might implement strategies to improve quality of life in the community and measure the impact of our actions.
Some of Flora’s more recent work has focused on the development of the Community Capitals framework, which facilitates planning for and measuring community or organizational change. Cultural capital, human capital, social capital, political capital, financial capital and built capital work together to sustain healthy ecosystems, economic security, and social well-being. Our understanding of how these capitals inform and interact with one another is important if we are interested in holistic approaches to contributing to positive community change.
We are pleased to be co-hosting a webinar featuring Dr. Flora on Tuesday, September 27, titled, “Using the Community Capitals Framework to Understand and Measure Community Impact.” We hope you will join us and begin to look at new ways to understand how your partnerships can contribute in meaningful ways to healthy, vibrant communities.
By John Hamerlinck
A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “Big Classes Encourage Experiments in Teaching” by David Glenn, shed some light on the fact that strained budgets are leading to larger class sizes at many colleges and universities. I have written previously that we need to look at economically-driven institutional change in terms of the opportunities they present. This phenomenon is a good example.
There couldn’t be a better time to expand our notions of what “service,” and “service-learning” might entail. If you previously had 20 students volunteering at – let’s say – a food shelf; and now you suddenly have 30 students in that class – why not expand your options beyond either sending 30 students to the food shelf or giving up altogether because logistically, 30 is just too much extra work.
What if 15 students did the food shelf service and 15 students worked on strategies to help food shelf users find employment. What if all the students worked on a sustainability plan for the employment piece, so that the effort could be part of a long-term commitment by multiple faculty, staff and students. What other ways can we come up with to mobilize even more educated people to solve pressing societal issues?
By Maria Ortiz
Minnesota Campus Compact supported a collaboration between the nonprofit Juxtaposition Arts, the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs (CURA) and the University of Minnesota’s Department of Landscape Architecture and Design Institute, dedicated to the revitalization of Northeast Minneapolis. Their work began with the West Broadway Gateway Project. This project created murals, sculptures, seating and other people-centered amenities meant to transform the community into a welcoming and aesthetically attractive commercial avenue. The partners and community members focused on the environment, geographical prospective, ownership, zoning issues and public art. All aspects of the project were modeled after other successful projects around the United States.
As the project developed so did its support, scope and goals, eventually being renamed Remix: Creating Place for People on West Broadway. The project completed the installation of a sculpture garden at the West Broadway East Gateway Area. Where artists, architects, landscape professionals and university students and faculty designed and fabricated public art and landscaping elements in a former parking lot. Neighborhood youth and artists also created light post street banners with images of their artwork that were hung along the five block West Broadway commercial district.
The Remix: Creating Place for People on West Broadway project is the kind of project that advocates for community-based place making. The activities created reasons for people to visit to particular places and raised awareness and interest in those places. This project not only brought beauty, but also brought people together in building this place, their community. MORE
By John Hamerlinck
In 2001, St. Cloud State University received a grant from the Minnesota Campus Compact administered Community Service-Learning & Campus-Community Collaboration Initiatives program. That initial investment of $14,000 has leveraged many times that amount in contributions. It has also provided an invaluable community asset and valuable educational experiences for hundreds of St. Cloud State University students. For more information see the SCSU Web site and this story on the Kaboom! site.
By John Hamerlinck
A few years ago Aaron Schutz, who teaches community organizing at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, wrote an interesting blog post on “cutting an issue.” Schutz wrote, “The world is full of what organizers call “problems,” aspects of the world we don’t like—e.g., world hunger, or educational achievement. Problems, however, are too big and vague to grapple with in any coherent manner. In fact, just thinking about them can be disempowering.”
Academics love the 20,000 foot view of the problem. It compliments an “expert” model of community engagement as opposed to the crucial, but messier work of organizing. The trouble is that both knowledge and organizing are necessary to create change in communities.
Expertise-driven “programs” too often focus on addressing temporary solutions to issues one person at a time. Community organizing seeks to engage large numbers of people to find collective solutions. It changes the balance of power by creating previously undiscovered power bases.
Partnerships between institutions (like a college and a social service agency) can only produce goods or services. That is what institutions do. Institutions are not so good at mobilizing people who are passionate about an issue to come to a consensus to actively change something. Individuals associated with institutions might be part of organizing efforts. More often than not, however, they are participating on their own time.
If higher education institutions cannot commit to organizing for community change, perhaps we might figure out ways that campuses could support community organizers with the same gusto that they add capacity to other types of traditional client-serving, program-driven nonprofit organizations. This might mean embracing radical notions like a campus-community partnership where the community partner is not a nonprofit organization, but rather, an informal group of passionate and motivated citizens.
If your campus has any effective partnerships with informal associations please share them. If you have ideas on how colleges and universities can support community organizing in general please share those as well.