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Developing strong communities encompasses a wide variety of actions and approaches. Some community development work focuses on changing individual lives as a path to changing the larger community. Thus, job training programs, financial literacy or after-school programs for children are part of the world of community development. Other work seeks to improve community life through capital investments and economic development in a specific neighborhood or area. Residents may work to build a community center or undertake streetscape improvements, providing physical spaces for improved interaction of community members. The way land is utilized in communities is an important aspect of community development because it shapes the way residents relate to their physical environment. Community development can occur block by block or in larger regions and can be big budget projects or smaller programs that focus on individuals.
The breadth and depth of this work demonstrates that there are many ways to improve the quality of life in our communities. In Connecticut, community development has many faces and these efforts occur in neighborhoods throughout the state’s cities and towns, striving to create communities that are great places to live, work and visit.
Asset development on an individual level may range from increasing job skills and continuing education to the provision of adequate daycare that allows adults to work. Programs provided by community development organizations may focus on children and teenagers, such as early childhood education, youth employment, daycare, summer activities, after school care, sports teams and social clubs. Other programs focus more on adults, such as job training, English-as-a-second-language (ESL) courses, general educational development (GED) courses, continuing education, financial literacy and home ownership training. These kinds of programs focus on building individual assets by providing children, youth and adults with skills that will allow them to compete and prosper in today’s competitive society. As community members build their personal skills, they become more economically and socially stable as do their families and the larger community.
The built environment of a community - streets, sidewalks, buildings, architecture, lighting, parks and more - greatly shapes the perception of that community for those who live, work and visit by creating a sense of place. In many disadvantaged or distressed communities, working to improve the built environment is a very important way to turn communities into the kinds of places where people choose to spend their time.
Strong networks of local businesses and civic organizations are also important assets for communities, adding stability and diversity and increasing economic growth. Businesses, religious and social institutions and community development organizations provide residents with jobs and social networks. Growing and nurturing the businesses and organizations that provide community members with opportunities for social and economic growth is also a crucial component of asset development.
Land use in Connecticut is often driven on the local level by various commissions, including those overseeing planning, zoning, conservation and inland wetlands. These commissions create and enforce regulations, making decisions on a regular basis that affect how land is used in their community. Because the responsibilities of the land use authorities in Connecticut’s towns are significant, there are a number of both private and non-profit organizations throughout the state that work to provide these commissions with advice and training. And although Connecticut does not have county government, there are councils of governments and regional planning organizations in the state that work to foster cooperation among towns on issues that cross town boundaries, such as land use, conservation and growth.
Some organizations focus on conserving open space and environmentally sensitive areas, hoping to preserve those spaces for future generations and protect the overall integrity of our natural resources. Other organizations are looking at how economic development, transportation and housing can work together to create livable communities. Focused on smart growth, responsible growth or transit-oriented development, these groups are examining how growth can be focused in areas where infrastructure and amenities already exist in order to make better use of Connecticut’s cities while preserving open space and agricultural land.