Thomas's Community Connection
The lubricant and glue that makes working together possible.
Community comes in a variety of shapes, sizes and forms. In common between these varieties is a collaboration between people of the community. Found at the heart of this collaboration is a basic trust in one another. This trust is expressed in different ways across different parts of communities. It is characterized by at least one person being willing to rely on the actions of at least another person. This trust is critical in any and all efforts, big or small, that aims to positively impact communities and their members. Whether responding to disasters of even beginning a social service or outreach program, without trust little to no change is possible.
Trust is not unique to community and social development. It is found in all forms of collaborations. From small groups of friends to large development projects, trust creates a shared understanding and accountability that allows for projects to happen and relationships to grow. Sometimes this trust is codified into a written legal document between parties. Other times this trust is maintained exclusively by the spoken word and actions of others. With trust, positive growth and development can occur.
In his practice to build sustainable and resilient water utilities, Dave Siburg identified trust as a critical attribute in order to leverage the capacity between water-sector utility organizations. With attributes of sharing a clear vision, aligned goals and values, and trust, Siburg found these allow multiple organizations to be able to effectively collaborate and leverage resources to create efficient and innovative outcomes that benefit communities impacted by water utilities. Siburg’s model of capacity leveraging (Figure 1) can be adapted to depict all types of collaborating organizations. Without shared trust, alignment and vision, organizations cannot effectively collaborate and leverage resources to create innovative community outcomes.1
Figure 1. Dave Siburg's Capacity Leveraging Model, 2010.
Trust seems like a simple attribute. In terms of positive community impact, simply hold a belief in wanting to see other people succeed and thrive. This belief creates an image of a better future for people. And, for many, this image of the future more than suffices to build the trust and desire to live into it. This is especially true when they have benefited from previous policies and actions. These populations are much more open to change as a result of outside expert decision-makers.2 Unfortunately, this is not the case for all populations. Some populations in the past have been intentionally or unintentionally destabilized or harmed by past policies and actions. Among these populations, having trust in decision-makers and a willingness to collaborate is much more challenging or in some cases impossible.
The history of the U.S. has ample examples of times when policies have existed that have hurt specific populations of people. These resulted in breaking the trust between members of the community and those with decision-making powers. In many cases these policies were understood to create a better and stronger community fabric. However, they helped to divide and destabilize populations, often whom were already vulnerable or marginalized. Below are three examples of countless policies from within the past decade that have harmed populations, broken trust and created further barriers to positive impacts and future collaborations.
1935 Aid to Families with Dependent Children
A Progressive Era social welfare program known as Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) existed from 1935 to 1996 when it was replaced by the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, however its legacies are still felt today. The goal of AFDC was to move families out of poverty and into the middle class. A policy of the AFDC was to give priority to single-mother households, as they were seen as having the greatest need. This led to fathers and husbands de facto being forced to leave their households so that their families could receive the financial support they otherwise would not.3 Families and marriages of poor households were broken up. This led to children growing up without their fathers, sometimes as a generational experience. As the general public became aware of fatherless families, the stigmatized image of father abandonment was created.4 In reality these households had to choose between financial stability and the presence of fathers. This de facto practice of breaking up poor families by prioritizing single-mother households to receive federal financial support was practiced until 2001 with the adoption of the Promoting Safe and Stable Families Act, where father involvement and maintaining marriages was promoted.5
1956 Highway Act
The creation and expansion of the US Interstate Highway system brought quicker connection between cities and places, lessened the burden of congestion within major cities across the U.S., and allowed for more development of and mobility to and from suburban communities. This bridging of distances and places was believed to bring greater social and economic development and freedom within the U.S. This was not true for everyone. The Interstate Highway system was built often using eminent domain and urban renewal policies which proactively seized land and buildings that were privately owned. The development of the Interstate Highway system was built in a way that intentionally displaced and divided ethnic and racial minority neighborhoods from white communities within major cities.6 The property seizure through eminent domain and urban renewal policies of the Interstate Highway system disproportionately affected ethnic and racial minority neighborhoods. These planning decisions devastated the social structures of cohesive neighborhoods across the country.7 The legacy of property seizure and constructing divisions within communities halted the creation of stronger, more connected and thriving communities today.
1934 National Housing Act
The National Housing Act of 1934 created the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) which implemented the policies determining for whom banks could underwrite loans. This specific policy document was known as the Underwriting Manual.8 The manual sought to protect banks from defaulting home loans and protect the value of the home. In doing so, the FHA explicitly states that the presence of non-white people within communities would decrease the home value of white homeowners. To ensure the value of homes is protected, this manual created the system of redlining neighborhoods based on the presence of racial diversity within them. As a result, the FHA explicitly prohibited home loans to current and potential households within redlined neighborhoods, which were racially diverse and integrated neighborhoods. This effectively limited home loans to only white households who were moving into all-white neighborhoods and cut out people of color from being able to secure housing loans until the Fair Housing Act of 1968, when such practices on the basis of race were explicitly banned.
Prior to the Fair Housing Act (1968), the GI Bill (also known as the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act) of 1944, gave servicemen guaranteed loans for housing or businesses and assistance in finding jobs. This was guaranteed to all US servicemen regardless of race. However, the practice of redlining by banks, supported by the FHA, resulted in realtors refusing or unable to sell homes in predominantly and exclusively white neighborhoods to nonwhite servicemen and their families.9
Additionally, during the years immediately following WWII, the US had a huge housing shortage. As a result, the American Housing Act of 1949 was adopted, permitting the FHA to directly underwrite home loans. Prior to this, most home loans were underwritten by private financing. During this time, the FHA maintained use of their Underwriting Manual, prohibiting loans to current and potential non-white homeowners and prohibited loans in redlined neighborhoods. Again, these policies were practiced to protect the home value of all-white neighborhoods and to protect from defaulting loans against perceived risks of racial integration. As a result, white households accrued housing wealth that befitted them for generations to come (college financial support from accrued home equity to increased inheritance from family wealth) and non-white households were exclusively left out of this legacy of vast housing wealth gain.10 This federally supported practice of racial discrimination ended in 1968, however redlining neighborhoods to prevent housing loans to non-white people continues to still be privately used today.11
These examples are in the past, however these and other policies continue a legacy of disenfranchisement and destabilization of specific populations. Some experts taught these policies would be beneficial for the exact populations they harmed, and even worse, other experts intentionally held biases against specific populations in order to harm or disenfranchise them due to some perception of differences and otherness between them. Either way, any trust that had existed in influential experts and policy makers was lost. Effects and legacies of these and other policies continue to exist and reverberate into mistrust today.
Receiving direct benefit from past policies and actions makes it easy to trust others’ future decisions. However, receiving no benefit or worse being harmed by past decisions creates barriers to trusting and collaborating with decision-makers in the future.12 Even if decision-makers believe they have others’ best interests at heart, without needed trust, positive community impact is greatly reduced. This said, much city planning, community development and social service programs continue to attempt to positively impact communities in how they know best. In what are understood by decision-makers as neutral policies and practices, meaning they are intended to impact everyone equally, unintentionally maintain the status quo of benefit and disenfranchisement. Those who already see benefits continue to benefit and those who have been left out or harmed continue to be even with “neutral” policies and practices.13 This is because the planning and decision-making involved in these policies continues to exclude the voices of populations who have already been harmed and disenfranchised.14 It is easier and quicker to continue work without people who do not trust you than spend what seems like limited time and energy building difficult trust. However, building trust that is currently absent is critical to stronger, healthier and more resilient cities and communities. The question then is, how do you do it? How do you build trust when it is absent or has been broken?
When people have been harmed, excluded, or marginalized, or are simply different than traditional decision-makers, be accountable, have an open mind, be humble, listen, and give honor. Admit what occurred was wrong and acknowledge how it continues to be felt today. Be open to new ideas, perspectives and beliefs, to examine preconceived notions personal blind spots, and to set aside held and believed assumptions. Recognize you are an outsider to the experiences felt and lived through the trauma and marginalization that has occurred. Listen to the voices and perspectives of others. Recognize and value the experiences, opinions and skills of people who have been negatively impacted by past efforts. And, ensure these members of the community have the power to make decisions, especially on policies and practices that affect them.15
Trust is the lubricant and glue that forms collaborations and makes sharing and working together possible.16 When people can have a voice and share input in what affects and matters to them, more unique and innovative outcomes are created. The inclusion of differences built on greater trust in city planning, community development and social services will lead to more robust positive community impact.
Returning to the three highlighted examples from U.S. history where economic class and racial and ethnic differences led to policies that ultimately negatively divided families and communities from one another. Legacies of these community traumas continue to be experienced today. Efforts to move households out of poverty, streamline connectivity between communities, and grow affordable homeownership options must include the voices, experiences and expertise of people who are directly impacted by these decisions (and they ought to ultimately be the drivers of these efforts). Since these and many other communities have been harmed by previous decisions and those who made them, in order to move forward requires the extra work of being accountable, being open-minded, being humble, listening, and giving honor and respect to these (and all) communities – it requires the work of building and rebuilding trust.
Thomas D. Francis-Siburg
Next month’s Community Connections will delve deeper into this discussion around the inclusion of difference within collective action. Works by Elinor Ostrom will be referenced.
1. Siburg, David. Pre-Publication Draft. “Strengthening Organizational Sustainability in the Water Sector Through Capacity Leveraging: Working Together with Attitude … in a Systems World.” 2014.
2. Ochs, Holona L. “‘Colorblind’ Policy in Black in White: Racial Consequences of Disenfranchisement Policy.” The Policy Studies Journal, Vol. 34, No. 1, 2006. <
3. Blank, Susan and Barbara B. Blum. “A Brief History of Work Expectations for Welfare Mothers.” The Future of Children, Vol. 7, No. 1, Spring 1997. <
5. Yarrow, Andrew L. “History of U.S. Children’s Policy, 1900-Present.” First Focus, April 2009. <
6. Karas, David. “Highway to Inequity: The Disparate Impact of the Interstate Highway System on Poor and Minority Communities in American Cities.” University of Delaware. New Visions for Public Affairs, Vol. 7, April 2015. <
8. Gross, Terry. “A ‘Forgotten History’ of How the U.S. Government Segregated America.” NPR, 3 May 2017. <
11. Badger, Emily. “Redlining: Still a Thing.” The Washington Post, 28 May 2015. <
12. Ochs, Holona L. 2006.
14. Fulton, William. “To Help Poor Neighborhoods, Urban Planners Have to Do More Than Urban Planning.” Governing the States and Localities, 1 October 2015. < AND
Budds, Diana. “How Urban Design Perpetuates Racial Inequality – And What We Can Do About It.” Fast Company, 18 July 2016. <https://www.fastcompany.com/3061873/how-urban-design-perpetuates-racial-inequality-and-what-we-can-do-about-it>
15. Siburg, David. 2014.