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Participation & Sustainable Development in Europe

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Community development (first developed in the 1970s) involves orienting social work largely toward the physical environment. For instance, the content and principles of community development are applied to the process of developing disadvantaged city districts, and also play a vital part in modern district management.


The community is seen as a theatre in which community developers identify the inhabitants’ needs, interests or sources of vexation, draw attention to these and discuss them with stakeholders (aiming at positive change). Joint action is taken together with stakeholders to draw attention to existing problems in the district, or work is started on reconfiguring squares, parks and other spaces there. The emphasis is not on externally controlled processes of change, but on complex forms of intervention aimed at structuring residents’ surroundings or their existential situation to fit in with their needs.

Community development involves everyone with a stake in the district: people of all ages and from all social and ethnic groups. Special support is provided for disadvantaged segments of the population.

Community development acts as a link between residents’ interests and activities and the resources and institutions of the city / district; it has the function of interpreting, i.e. making the citizens’ concerns intelligible to decision-makers and administrators and vice versa. The mediation and networking characteristic of community development make it possible to treat social conflicts with lasting effect.


Community development reaches its limits where it is faced with problems affecting society as a whole (such as unemployment) that cannot be solved at a local or regional level. Community development can draw attention to such problems, though.