The Silver Linings of Asset-Based Community Development

All community members have assets — abilities or skills that they can contribute to others in the neighborhood (e.g., teaching others or getting them involved in a neighborhood initiative such as slowing down traffic). Similarly, all communities have the building blocks to be great neighborhoods (e.g., businesses that offer services or transportation lines).

Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) is a framework to discover and mobilize assets or resources available in a community and how to use them to benefit residents. The new PAS QuickNotes offers an overview of this valuable planning approach.

According to the founders of the ABCD Institute, John Kretzmann and John L. Knight, who were committed to neighborhood organizing, when residents (especially those in working-class or lower-income areas) focus their attention on the assets within their communities and on what makes them successful, they can improve the social and economic conditions of their communities and strengthen their neighborhoods overall. The basic idea is to map the assets within a community, invest in those assets, and become more powerful together.

Community Asset Mapping Identifies Overlooked Resources

To map community assets means to identify the assets and resources that can help strengthen the community. Planners are most familiar with mapping physical assets, which could be infrastructure, vacant lots, homes, and stores that can contribute to the vitality of a community and provide solid reasons for people to live in that community and give back.

The ABCD concept of mapping community assets, however, goes further. Mapping assets is not only about mapping the physical spaces or important places in a neighborhood but also about identifying other assets that are often overlooked by planners.

For example, individuals, associations, and institutions are key assets that can improve the future of a community. Individuals have "gifts" or skills that can improve community development once identified. Associations within a neighborhood or town, such as town councils, clubs, and volunteer programs, allow communities to gather all their available resources and provide them to their members. Institutions, such as libraries, service centers, healthcare, and education centers, provide structure within the community and help build value.

One of the most important factors of the entire ABCD approach is the connections among individuals, associations, and institutions.

Through identifying and building connections, a community can network, learn, build, and increase the output of social capital. Individuals with different gifts can connect with associations and institutions, which can then provide better resources and services to other parts of the community. These connections allow a community to provide the best opportunities to its members.

Case Study: Community Connections

Westpointe Neighborhood, Salt Lake City, Utah

Community partners wanted to call attention to two unique community assets in the neighborhood — the Pacific Heritage School and the Westpointe Park. Together, the Westpointe Community Council, Pacific Heritage Academy, University Neighborhoods Partners, the City and Metropolitan Planning Department of the University of Utah, and the Utah Arts Alliance organized a "Paint the Pavement" event.

Sam Afu, a Pacific Islander artist, worked with more than a dozen volunteers, using their skills and capabilities to help paint a colorful compass (the Westside Community Council symbol) along with several sailing boats to represent strength, invention, and courage. The compass, painted in front of the Pacific Heritage Academy, points community members to explore these two vital community assets. This is just one of many neighborhood initiatives, driven by residents with the support of institutions, including planning faculty and students, to highlight Westpointe community assets.

Students and Westpointe Council and community member working together. Photo courtesy Ivis GarcĂ­a.

Students and Westpointe Council and community members working together. Photo courtesy Ivis García.

ABCD Empowers Communities for Future Success

The practice of ABCD comes from the mobilization of community members, which can then improve the livelihood of the community overall. The approach begins with mapping assets necessary for growth and then making those assets known to others. It is up to the community members to identify the assets, organize their skills, and create a vision to bring forth change to the public. Only then can a community take advantage of its strengths and apply them for future success.

With ABCD, planners can help empower community members to think positively about their neighborhoods. When the community comes together, it can realize the full potential it has to offer. Neighbors' involvement in planning activities can improve the social culture and enable better distribution of resources. It can shift mindsets by helping residents see their community's advantages and successes rather than focusing on its flaws — revealing the silver linings of strengths that may have been unrecognized by conventional narratives of shortcomings. ABCD is a framework that can be applied to any community that wants to thrive.

Top Image: Students and community members paint a mural highlighting community assets in Salt Lake City's Westpointe neighborhood. Photo courtesy Ivis García.


About the Author
Ivis García, AICP, PhD, is an assistant professor in the city and metropolitan planning department at the University of Utah. She is a fellow and board member of the Asset-Based Community Development Institute at DePaul University, Chicago.

December 7, 2021

By Ivis Garcia