Academic journal article Review of Social Economy

Urban Community Development: An Examination of the Perkins Model

Academic journal article Review of Social Economy

Urban Community Development: An Examination of the Perkins Model

Article excerpt

Abstract Using a paradigmatic framework, this paper examines the ideas of John M. Perkins, a visionary of central city neighborhood renewal in the community development tradition and a co-founder of the Christian Community Development Association. Perkins' model of redevelopment is qualitatively different than those offered to date because of its emphasis on the parish church, long-term relationships, the relocation of leaders to the community, the reconciliation of people across race and class and a redistribution predicated on a prior relocation and reconciliation.

Keywords: Community development, John Perkins, urban poverty, church

In chapter one of Principles of Economics we find Alfred Marshall's judgment that "the two great forming agencies of the world's history have been the religious and the economic" (1920: 1). Max Stackhouse, a Princeton University ethicist, also accords economics and religion prominent roles in shaping society. In paraphrasing Pope John Paul II, in Centesimus Annus, Stackhouse writes that:

The two key forces likely to have the most direct bearing on the future are corporations and religion. Corporations are the instrument of economic productivity for the foreseeable future, and religion is the bearer of those decisive values by which we guide our production, distribution, and consumption of whatever wealth is generated. (1996: 40)

The United States began its modem response to poverty during the Great Depression. Starting with Title IV of the path breaking Social Security Act (1935), which created Aid to Dependent Children (changed to Aid to Families with Dependent Children in 1962), we have seen the evolution of a welfare system. [1] Although welfare programs contribute to the alleviation of poverty, we must be clear that they were not necessarily designed to end poverty. [2] The Civil Rights Movement and the attendant legal rulings, such as Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968, also contributed to a decline in the incidence of poverty. Additionally there have been a number of private and/or public sector site-specific programs emphasizing urban renewal. These include, Gray Areas, Mobilization for Youth, Model Cities, Enterprise/ Opportunity Zones, and community-based organizations, inclusive of community development corporations, many of which were products of the War on P overty (Halpern 1995).

Despite these efforts William Julius Wilson claims there is a "'new urban poverty' [characterized by] segregated neighborhoods in which a substantial majority of individual adults are either unemployed or have dropped out of the labor force altogether" (1996:19). This reality garners the attention of the politician and social scientist alike, each searching for answers to a seemingly convoluted problem. The apparent intractability may well call for new perspectives.

The purpose of this paper is to examine the ideas of John M. Perkins as they pertain to the "new urban poverty". In the late 1940s he left the racial oppression of Mississippi for the opportunities of California, but returned to address the injustices of his people. Perkins became a visionary of central city neighborhood renewal in the community development tradition and a co-founder of the Christian Community Development Association. His life corroborates Marshall's and Stackhouse's observation regarding the primacy of religious and economic thought and institutions in molding society. The presentation and assessment of Perkins' model contributes to the public policy debate on efforts to improve the well-being of many residing in impoverished urban communities. The model is qualitatively different than those offered to date because of its emphasis on a parish church, long-term relationships, the relocation of leaders to the community, the reconciliation of people across race and class, and a redistribution predicated on a prior relocation and reconciliation. …

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