Building a City for the 21st Century
· Empowerment · Inclusion · Support
· Community-centered economic development


This paper was developed in the Spring and Fall of 1994 with input from an interdisciplinary group of faculty of Wayne State University and community agency representatives. Michael Peterson and George Ntiri were responsible for taking the input of this diverse group and developing several drafts of a paper which was finalized in September of 1994. The paper was submitted to those involved in preparing Detroit's Empowerment Zone application to the federal government and has been used as a guide in work to enhance community inclusion and support of people with disabilities in Detroit.


As Detroit and the metropolitan area move into the 21st century, we appear to have a new opportunity to engage in the collective design of a better future. We have the opportunity of learning from the efforts of the last thirty years in Detroit, the country, and the world in dealing with the problems that beset us and in building caring, inclusive, supportive communities. An initiative in Detroit and in other communities in Michigan is needed that intentionally and publicly focuses on community as prerequisite to quality of life and economic development. The goals and strategies for a Detroit Initiative described below draw from innovative, working programs in Michigan and throughout the country.


The problems of Detroit are well known and discussed daily: violence, teenage pregnancy, poverty, unemployment, drug abuse, and crumbling fiscal infrastructure, flight by economic interests.

What are the solutions to these complex problems?

Typical strategies have been: (1) economic development through projects designed to attract investment into the city and (2) direct interventions, through various human services, designed to provide basic fiscal support and remedy personal deficits of individuals and families--through job training, counseling, health care, drug abuse treatment.

Several assumptions underlie these strategies. It is thought that economic development will bring jobs and income, produce hope and resources, and reduce some of the problems that plague the city. It is further assumed that a major cause of problems lies in the nature of individuals--lack of skills, attitudes, health. If people are made better, problems will be eliminated. Based on this assumption--largely unproven and increasingly questioned--an extensive set of human services have been developed to address human "deficiences." Unfortunately, these services typically operate in isolation from the community and often attempt to address each person's "problems" in isolation from the whole person.

Our experience with innovations in communities leads us to different conclusions. While economic development strategies are critical and human services have a place in communities, we believe that these strategies largely miss the mark. They do not address the central principles of empowerment, inclusion, and supports to human beings. These principles, we believe, provide the basic concepts and practical strategies necessary to improve quality of life and stimulate economic development. They represent proactive approaches designed to respond to the real roots of our problems. It is important to note that these three principles directly focus on the quality of human interaction in our city's neighborhoods. Thus, they provide the necessary basis for grassroots economic development. Economic development and quality of life are highly interactive. Without the support and involvement of the city's people, themselves, no level of economic access will be successful. Without attention to these matters, economic interests will eventually leave the city.

We are proposing that the City provide leadership for neighborhoods, the state, and country in designing and implementing a DETROIT INITIATIVE FOR INCLUSIVE COMMUNITIES--an initiative designed to improve the quality of life for its diverse citizens who live, work, recreate, and study together.

Inclusive community building in Detroit is part of a growing national movement where it is being recognized that the key to our problems and the key to our solutions ultimately has to do with the sense and reality of community in towns, cities, and neighborhoods. Multiple specific agendas are incorporating this approach. These include multiple prevention initiatives, the community service act, and the empowerment zone legislation. We believe that Detroit is in a unique place to provide national leadership while addressing its own unique problems and issues. Towards this end, we offer these ideas and recommend this initiative. First, let us discuss the key concepts upon which this initiative is founded.


When members of a neighborhood, a community, or a group feel they have no control, no resources, and no opportunity to shape their future, the inevitable results are hopelessness, alienation, and anger. In a range of ways many people in our city have been systematically stripped of a sense of empowerment. It is our challenge to change that situation. This is key to a better future.

Empowerment occurs when people in local communities and neighborhoods are provided resources, support, and capacity to imagine their futures and shape their communities. Empowerment, to be effective, does not only deal with economic issues but with the quality of human interactions in a community. Empowerment involves the wide range of people in the community, not just the power elite; special attention is given to insuring supports and involvement of the poorest, the least powerful in the community. When a community engages in such mutual support, with assistance and partnership from the city administration, state agencies, and university expertise, dramatic changes may occur in individual lives and a community's capacity for sustained economic development.

What we do not mean by the concept of empowerment is giving people and communities the responsibility without the resources and support to engage in meaningful action. We do not mean using the word, "empowerment," as a cover for withholding significant control of resources.


Equally important, all people in a community must feel that they belong. After the Los Angeles riots in 1992, the Chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights stated in a television interview that the real problem is that people "do not feel at home in America." Many people in our city feel excluded or rejected by the larger society. People with disabilities, poor people, older people and others may be systematically denied opportunities. Much of the long-standing debate regarding the suburbs and the city clearly centers around emotional responses to the feeling and reality of rejection.

The concept of inclusion is a critical response to people's sense of alienation and the problems that arise from their exclusion from meaningful participation in the lives of communities and society at large. If we are to have a city where people want to live, we must systematically and intentionally attend to creating a sense of belonging for all. We can systematically work toward the richness of inclusive communities through using resources and operating businesses and public organizations to support and empower people who are often excluded.

There are several reasons for our advocacy for inclusive community building. First, social justice requires the opportunity for all individuals to be meaningful, responsible and active participants in the life of their community. Second, the habits of thought and behaviors that are required to sustain a viable community--conscious interaction, meaningful participation and a sense of interdependence--can be better cultivated and sustained in an inclusive environment that provides people with reasonable opportunities for control over the outcomes of their behavior. Finally, while rules and regulations are needed to shape people's behavior and to ensure the orderly conduct of community life, the glue which binds people together in an orderly community requires us to attend to more delicate traits. We must not underestimate the importance of empathy, the sense of interdependence and caring that people have for one another, and the capacity of groups to nurture such sentiments into habits thoughts and feelings in their behaviors and sense of responsibility. Hence, a community at all times must find ways to nourish these bonds and vividly express them by using all talents to support and complement individual aspirations and needs.

Our challenge, then, is to begin by intentionally assuring a central role to those most typically excluded: people who are old, very young, economically disadvantaged, disabled, or experiencing any combination of these or other characteristics making them stand out from the majority. When those with more power assure the central inclusion of such people, when all engage in mutual support for this to occur, some powerful messages are sent: "If those most excluded can be given support to `make it', then we can all have hope." Inclusive community building therefore, serves simultaneously to redress both personal and social injuries of exclusion and to unify people around their common concerns.

Inclusion does not mean providing special programs for people where they are separated from the community in preparation for being "included" in society. This is, segregation and exclusion. Inclusion may be further clarified through a discussion of support.


When we use public resources to help people with problems, we typically do so in such a way to insure that such services fail: (a) we label people as "deficient" in some way before we help them, (b) we often wait to help people until they are so destitute and needy that they are desperate, and (c) help is often provided in demeaning, fragmented ways that undermine community inclusion.

We can change this destructive manner of providing services. We can redesign the way we use social service, mental health, job training and other human service resources to provide a more effective support system in communities. We can engage in a process of empowerment and inclusion by encouraging collaboration among people who need help and the resource experts charged with providing help. These collaborative teams can redesign delivery of supports and services.

We have models for how this can happen. Human services are providing supports to individuals and families, helping them to draw on their own resources, identify and reach their own dreams, and develop support networks of people in the community. We can also use resources differently to provide more effective and responsive support systems in our communities.

Support does not mean providing assistance as a means of limiting self-determination or usurping individual initiative. Nor does it mean help to people who do not desire or perceive a need for help. In order to facilitate empowerment and community inclusion, support must be person-directed.

Community-Centered Economic Development

When we engage in economic development based on the three principles discussed, above, our goal is to use the power and energy released by the community to stimulate grassroots economic development and community skill building. With reasonable support and resources, people in neighborhoods themselves may create businesses, jobs, and cooperative resources. If we provide resources, information, and expertise to support such a process of empowerment, inclusion, and support of all people, we can draw on the reservoir of capacity and resources in the community itself. In many places in the city, we are experimenting with empowered, inclusive economic development strategies. We can build on these and the ideas and lessons of others in our country and around the world.

Therefore, what we do not mean by economic development is exclusive reliance upon large corporations and wealthy individuals for investing in our city. Neither do we see community-centered economic development relying heavily upon large projects, whether recreation facilities or factories. We must approach economic development with concern for the people of the community, the environment, and community building. This focus recognizes the critical importance and need for economic development along with the fact that destruction of community bonds and infrastructure often has occurred in the name of economic development.


How can we move from ideas and concepts to the organization of a complex process of empowerment and community building? The following goals provide a method of organizing a comprehensive framework. Each of these goals is discussed in greater detail below.

1. Organize community-university support teams for technical assistance, access to expertise, evaluation, and support for systems change: Facilitate organization of collaborative teams of community and university personnel for collaborative approaches to problem-solving and mutual learning.

2. Conduct neighborhood and community futures planning: Engage in a process in which the community articulates its present needs and resources, envisions a new future, and develops action strategies to move towards that vision. Support community members in developing plans emphasizing the inclusion of all segments of the community (especially those most marginalized groups) and evaluating the results and impact of community improvement efforts.

3. Design and implement new strategies for supporting families and individuals in inclusive neighborhoods:Work in partnership with existing human service agencies to innovatively restructure services to empower, provide more holistic service approaches, and support families and neighbors in providing informal networks of support to one another.

4. Develop Inclusive Community Support Centers as partnerships between Neighborhoods, the City, Universities, and the State: Expand on existing successful efforts to establish an infrastructure of support for community building and community empowerment through centers for facilitating planning, support, recreation, leadership development, and learning for an inclusive neighborhood community.

These goals are intended to contribute to the following outcomes:

Build empowered and inclusive neighborhoods in which those most disenfranchised groups are intentionally supported in community decision-making and activities.

Expand economic development and health of the city and neighborhoods.

Celebrate the cultural diversity and capacity of the City and its neighborhoods.

Improve supports to individuals and families.

Reduce incidence of violence, poverty, teenage pregnancy, infant mortality, and crime.


Following is an overview of ideas that are critical to this process. We emphasize the concept and operation of INCLUSIVE COMMUNITY SUPPORT CENTERS as key entities which may be centerpieces for community empowerment.


Universities have vast stores of collective expertise, knowledge, and capacity that can be properly organized to provide the City and Neighborhoods with assistance and support. Similarly, individuals in the community bring an understanding of community issues, a sense of ownership, and a set of resource networks and relationships that are the key to community building. Additional resources may come from individuals in partner communities across a region or state. Such "cross-community teams" can provide powerful mutual learning and support.

To build community and facilitate change and innovation requires a partnership of community leadership and external expertise and support. It must be recognized at the outset that communities are often distrustful of universities. Often this distrust is justified when university researchers engage communities in studies but do not contribute to the community itself, when a university tries to wrest control of projects and programs from the community, and when the university exists as part of a community but does not contribute in signficant ways. This is not what is intended here.

A key in involving the university as an outside agent is to (a) carefully develop partnerships with the community and (b) organize activities and roles based on the concepts of empowerment, support, and inclusion. University faculty will work in partnership with community personnel to design, implement, and evaluate activities. The central role of the university is to provide expertise in particular aspects of supporting neighborhood groups and individuals in achieving their own goals.

To build community, however, it is very critical that we establish a set of supportive resources that the community may draw on, as needed. This insures that the process of empowerment will be real.

Some roles for community-university support teams may include:

Plannning, facilitating, documenting, and interpreting Community Futures Planning;

Providing technical assistance, training, and consultation in the redesign of supports for individuals and families building on established systems change and service redesign initiatives;

Staffing a Community Support Team for neighborhood centers;

Planning and implementing leadership development programs;

Facilitating use of services and skills of university students as part of their applied studies in ways that benefit neighborhoods and the city;

Assisting community members--involving those most disenfranchised groups--in
designing meaningful evaluation questions, engaging in data collection, and interpreting results as applied to services;

Facilitating and supporting the involvement of community members in local and state policy change (e.g., coaching and training for presentations to policy boards, being available as back-up resources of expertise); and,

Access to and partnership with university faculty can be a powerful mechanism for enhancing empowerment, if facilitated with care and respect. Such a relationship provides knowledgeable support that is outside of the typical hierarchy in the community structure. As such, university personnel can be freer in promoting community change and innovation and can support individuals in expanding their impact in the design of their own communities.

A critical element of true community empowerment is the involvement of people affected by practices in the design, data collection, and interpretation of outcomes of community building experiments. Additionally, for research to be effective in social change, we believe that participatory action research is an important model--that is, the ongoing use of information to provide a basis for action planning, information that is collected and interpreted by those deeply involved, including ethnographers. This empowerment evaluation approach stands in stark contrast to typical evaluation strategies that gather "objective," quantitative data through instruments designed by "experts" with results interpreted by such "experts." Such models typically devalue the perspectives and expertise of individuals intended to benefit from services and ultimately serve to disempower.


Using approaches developed over the last 25 years, communities and neighborhoods throughout the city will be provided opportunities to come together in "Future Search Conferences" to identify resources and needs, develop a vision for the future, and organize an action plan. Trained facilitators and individuals with expertise in various areas will support the community in its planning efforts, paying particular attention to developing an authentic community vision. These sessions, repeated periodically, will provide the basis for community development and action. They will be inclusive, involving the widest spectrum of representation and central roles for the often-excluded groups we have identified. Information may be made available to communities in preparation for and in contribution to the process of Futures Search Conferences, including quality of life assessment, economic development and infrastructure resources, informal family support patterns, relationship to and use of human services, social problems, status of exclusion and inclusion, social and cultural resources.

While Detroit faces many challenges, the fact is that these very challenges and our concerns provide opportunities. Clearly, the structure of communities in American society contributes to loneliness and isolation. We can provide options for envisioning a better future with potential for reinvigorating Detroit to be a model of community for the 21st century. Options can be made available from the diverse expertise of architects, anthropologists, future search consultants, etc.


Out of the process discussed, above, additional planning strategies will be used, with support by facilitators and individuals with expertise in human services, so that people in communities can identify the most pressing needs and redesign the use of resources. Within the Empowerment Zone process, there is substantial latitude that may be provided for waiving existing regulations regarding use of human services resources. Community members will be provided information regarding various options that have been tried that may assist them in meeting their most pressing needs. Uniquely, the following approaches (a) use human services to support people helping one another--insuring support to all--and (b) address needs holistically--whole people and whole communities--by linking the resources of multiple organizations in new ways.

Examples include:

personal futures planning where individuals are supported by neighbors, people in the community, and professionals in identifying their own dreams and barriers, and in developing strategies and a circle of community networks to reach those dreams.

nurturing inclusive schools--where children at risk or with disabilities are included in regular classes with support services being provided in the regular class.

comprehensive schools--where schools serve as community centers and points of linkage for multiple health care and human services.

supporting and training natural helpers and volunteers--providing pay, training, and
consultation to natural helpers who are providing care to children and adults. Churches could be involved with members being encouraged to tithe their time to help others.

providing professionals to train, support, and help youth and adults to develop cooperative helping projects for others in the community--eg. youth teams making curb cuts for people with disabilities of engaging in home renovation projects.

facilitating creative financing and in-home living supports to assist people with disabilities, older people, and families at risk live in their own homes rather than in group homes or nursing homes.

developing cross-agency workers (DSS, mental health, schools, health) who have training and responsibilities to facilitate informal networks of support and linkage with multi-agency resources under direction of the local community on contract with such agencies.

developing cross-community support teams where individuals across the metropolitan area are given intentional opportunities to provide assistance to Detroit neighborhoods and where residents of Detroit may provide perspectives and assistance to other communities.


We are proposing the establishment of a series of INCLUSIVE COMMUNITY SUPPORT CENTERS that would be focal points of community activity in selected City of Detroit neighborhood. The establishment of community-based centers for empowerment with support and resources from universities and mechanisms for policy impact in the city and state will provide an infrastructure for community empowerment. These have the potential to last long beyond the relatively short-term funding of the Empowerment Zone project or any similar funding. We see such centers as partnerships between local communities, universities, and the city. Such centers may be designed in various formats. They may be single buildings or a series of renovated houses; they may be linked by computer networks. Centers would provide a focus for collective and inclusive activities to assist empowerment for sustained community-centered change and development.

The Centers are conceived as places, resources, forums and structures that are owned by the people in a given community and within which they determine, support and control a range of transactions to meet their mutual needs, empowering community members towards sustained innerdirected change and development. Within this framework, traditional roles of outsiders (university faculty, city and state officials, networks of volunteers from the metropolitan area) will be radically reconstructed. They will provide a temporary means for helping people to become more aware and confident in their own skills and dreams for developing their communities. Such individuals will engage in roles as facilitators, consultants, organizers, technical assistants, links to external resources, all in support of the direction given by the community. In essence, the Centers may serve as less intrusive, more "client-based" links between "service providers" and communities. In the process, the Centers will enhance the prospects for empowering the people within the community.

Empowerment through support centers: At the core of the idea of Inclusive Community Support Centers is relationship building to enhance a community's capacity--empowerment-- to take control over its affairs. Each Center will conduct activities to connect people, foster mutual support and partnerships, and serve as a pathway to inclusion and meaningful participation in the community's affairs. The ways in which the Center will serve for capacity building for inclusion and empowerment include the following:

Recognizing and mobilizing individual talents and skills--regardless of their circumstances.

Spur people to pursue larger social and economic goals, giving people the opportunity for inclusion and meaningful roles to explore and act on some problems that result from a sense of hopelessness.

Enabling people to make external support and services flexible and more responsive to their community's changing needs, strength and client status.

Redirecting resources from state and city agencies to realize sustaained change and
development along with reduced dependence on those agencies.

Providing the community an opportunity to evaluate the benefits of inclusion and its own capacity to set and meet goals of mutual support in areas such as collective safety, exchanges of skills, materials or services, formal and informal community activities, information and links to external sources of support or technical assistance for communityand individual member needs.

Activities through support centers: Centers would be one focal point for community activities and a place for community-wide planning and coordination. The choice of activities for each center would be determined by the residents of the given community. The following list of activities are therefore tentative and are constructed with a view to relationship building for mutual support and empowerment. Our vision, however, links community planning, fun, and social interactions of various types of people. Centers would seek to stimulate action in the community--intentionally reaching out to and involving those most typically excluded--alongside those with more traditional power. Possibilities include:

Neighborhood planning center - Based on the identified needs of the community, provide information, expertise, and linkage with external resources, to engage in ongoing planning and evaluation of economic development and supports services in the community. This process would be assisted by assigned community-university support staff, access to technical expertise, use of online computer information resources through INTERNET and other sources, and technical support for engaging in community change and development efforts.

Technology center - Provide access and training to help people to "understand the inner workings" and how to operate equipment such as computers, fax machines, ATM, current multiple uses of telephone. Use these tools to assist people, groups, and neighborhoods to access information that is needed to resolve specific types of issues.

Assistive technology - Provide resources and expertise to people who need to use
technology to help them work, live in their own homes, or participate in community
activities. For many people with disabilities and older people, simple adaptations, use of computers with speech input and output, and other assistive devices will allow their independent living and contribution to their community.

Council of Elders - Mentor younger people and provide guidance to the community.

Employment support network - Link people with special needs--those who are retired, employed, unemployed, young, and old--to share experiences, job prospects and contacts, and other resources.

Community house - Centers would function as neighborhood gathering places where youth, families, older persons may be together. Scheduled activities would be mixed with opportunities to simply be together. Members of the community may use a gym, lunch room, and other common areas. The center would provide an ongoing, easily accessed place for a range of meetings of support groups.

Family support center - Provide on-site consultation to families, training on specific
issues, and parent training classes.

Community support co-op - Link skills, capacity, and needs of individuals to exchange such services as -- chores, child care, shopping, errands, lawn care, snow removal, home maintenance and repair, car pooling, respite, tutoring, friendship and conversation. New technology such as cable television and computers networks could be designed to facilitatecommunication for such purposes.

Facilitating support networks - Rotate phone calls, visits, personal futures planning, and informal support teams to those who are in need through disability, being home bound, or anyone who is going through a major life change (e.g. new baby, moving, divorce,illness).

Lectures, seminars, and discussions - Provide training, information, and discussions on issues important to the community.

Leadership development - Provide opportunities for neighborhoods--with support by University faculty and human services--to design and access leadership opportunities and programs for both youth and adults. Examples might include:

- partners in policymaking training - training through a nationally developed program for people with disabilities and their family members to impact on policy that affects their lives. This model is easily modified to the larger community.

- youth mentorship program - linking youth with individuals in and outside of the
community for mentoring and leadership development.

- community college and university courses - courses could be targeted to the needs of the community and involve both external and community students in working on community issues together.

- leadership retreats and seminars - retreats and leadership forums may be co-designed by community people with support by university faculty and others.

School support activities - Provide after-school programs with individual assistance to students in areas such as homework and study skills.

Celebrations - Develop multiple ways to celebrate the community and its members
through music, art, etc.

Linkages to informal supports and formal services - Provide paid human service staff to listen, to help people connect and organize problem-solving, to provide each other mutual support, and to link with formal services in a user-friendly way. These staff persons would be paid by agencies providing services in health care, mental health, vocational rehabilitation, social services, etc.

Technical assistance resource center for creating inclusive organizations - Organize resources to assist other community organizations--eg. churches, businesses, public
entities--develop skills and capacity for including and support a range of diverse people.Such assistance may range from assuring physical accessibility for people with severe physical handicaps, access to interpreters for individuals who are deaf or do not speak English, techniques for accomodating activities (recreation events, etc.) for groups with multiple levels of abilities, etc.

Center staff Staff of centers will include people within and outside the target community. The primary goal of the support staff is to assist the people in the community to become more aware and confident in their abilities and--where needed--to assist them to develop the skills to support the community. Centers would be staffed by people in the neighborhood, human service providers (redesigned per discussion above). Centers would be supported by:

Community-University Support Team A Community Support Team of assigned university faculty and community members would assist in supporting the mobilization of community and external resources. Such teams may provide expert assistance in community planning, inclusion and accommodations of typically excluded groups, and identification of resources to respond to neighborhood needs. University faculty will also provide expertise in documenting the outcomes of various experimental programs within designated neighborhoods and in supporting involvement of local citizens in impacting city and state policy).

Resource network Opportunity would be provided for a range of individuals outside the community to contribute to community building efforts on an as-needed basis. We would expect volunteer services from engineers, architects, teachers, accountants, counselors, lawyers, etc. We further expect this network to provide an opportunity to bridge some gaps between the suburbs and the city since many of these individuals now in the suburbs may have historical roots in the city.


Detroit has many challenges but many resources that can be brought to bear. We believe this to be a time of opportunity--a time for Detroit to again provide a model for the nation in confronting its own challenges, particularly the challenges of diversity, economic development, and empowerment and support of its people.

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