Saturday, February 22, 2014

Alinsky Model?

"The federal Model Cities program in the Lyndon Johnson years attempted to replicate elements of the Alinsky model, especially community-centered social programs designed with 'maximum feasible participation' of residents."

D. Bradford Hunt and Jon B. DeVries, Planning Chicago, Chapter 8, Chicago and Community Planning Innovation.

This mash-up of a book covers a lot of ground. The danger, of course, is getting some of the story wrong or leaving important things out. In this chapter, for example, I would have included some discussion of settlement houses and the playground movement from the late nineteenth century, early twentieth century as well as a discussion of "slum and ghetto." More recently, the story of CDCs in Chicago is much deeper than LISC and there is a great "advocacy planning" story related to the Chicago 21 Plan of the early 1970s.

This quote illustrates some of the problem. War on Poverty legislation articulated the principle of "maximum feasible participation" and established community action agencies and community-based social services. Model Cities represented some federal corrective action to put these investments firmly in the hands of local public agencies. Alinsky was appalled by these policies and programs and community organizing of the time was firmly in the camp of community power, not service delivery. Participation was not what Alinsky organizing sought. That was part of the rub between community planners and community organizers.

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