THE CONCEPT OF COMMUNITY is now hailed as a pivotal construct for thinking about and promoting change. In almost any dialogue focused on the social good (for example, economic development, violence, prevention or health), the rebuilding of community emerges as an essential strategy.
There are two primary reasons for this contemporary embrace of community. The first is that the traditional top-down, professionally-led, big-budget models of change favored for the last several decades have produced disappointing results. When change making is done to citizens rather than with citizens, impact tends to be shallow and short-term. In many cases, we now discover, the real power for effecting behavioral and systemic change is vested in the norms, relationships and networks that connect (or disconnect) people within communities.
The second reason has to do with a new generation of research and scholarship on the predictive power of connected and engaged communities. The correlations are impressive: as the dynamics of connected community (such as social trust, shared vision, personal and collective efficacy) improve, so do a number of measures of social and personal well being. We can count here increased civic engagement (including voting behavior), reduced neighborhood and school violence and decreased mortality and morbidity rates.
We now find our communities and ourselves in the midst of a raw time. On September 11th, 2001, the world quaked and foundation beneath us shook. Although the pain that comes with this experience is deep, we can also see more clearly the power of connectedness and of community. We can see more clearly the human hunger for belonging, for voice and for illusion. We can see the interconnectedness of life, the absolute necessity to raise centered, whole, caring and asset-rich human beings. And we can see even more clearly the significance of this community movement.
And so the attraction to community is everywhere. We talk of rebuilding community, restoring community and unleashing community. The concept is discussed in policy circles. It informs foundations and government funding initiatives, enters school reform debates and frames many speeches from lectern to pulpit.
But here's the rub. Like often-compelling concepts and other "new discoveries," community building becomes a panacea too often ungrounded in good scholarship, good reflection and good practice. We Americans have a bad habit of seeking quick fixes. And we'll grab at anything. We'll design it, we'll implement it, we'll evaluate it and we'll move on to something else. Yet if we know anything about community building, we know it is complex and long-term, requiring a commitment to experimentation, discovery, reflection and ongoing learning that is all too rare in a culture seeking change fast and efficiently.
Trendbenders: Building Healthy and Vital Communities comes at the right time. Grounded in years of practice, reflection and scholarship, Trendbenders is an uncommon and valuable essay he potential, power and strategy of reclaiming community.
This impressive volume synthesizes theory and research, provides compelling conceptual frameworks and masterfully integrates case studies and anecdotes. While Trendbenders is certainly good for the head, it is equally good for the heart. One hears the passionate voice and experience of the authors, each of whom brings years of committed action and reflection to this work. And they do so humbly, inviting us into the journey of discovery.
For those of us who work in the field of community building, there is something re-energizing about this volume. It helps renew my personal and professional passion for this journey of learning. It reconnects me to a common stream of thinking and action that is underway, simultaneously, in many fields. It informs my thinking and stirs my heart.
I need Trendbenders at this moment. And as many of us join with the authors in this long-term process of learning and discovery, we will look forward to Trendbenders II.