Public Health Community Development
Frances Dunn Butterfoss
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 June 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 February 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756797-0019


Although its work is continuously redefined by current social issues, community development (CD) is a broad term applied to the values, practices, and academic disciplines of civic leaders, activists, citizens, and professionals to improve local communities. CD empowers individuals and groups to affect change by providing them with skills that build political power and alter their communities’ positions within the context of larger social institutions. CD methods are used at many levels of society and focus on organizational, community-wide, and international campaigns. Because CD work is so broad, this article acknowledges its many approaches, including community-driven economic development, community empowerment and capacity building, social-capital formation, political participatory development, ecologically sustainable development, asset-based community development, community-based participatory research, community building/mobilization, and coalition building and participatory and community-based planning. Since some of these areas are covered elsewhere in Oxford Bibliographies Online, this article will focus more on community development as it relates to community empowerment and capacity building, social capital formation, community building/mobilization, and coalition building and participatory and community-based planning.

Introductory Works

Two books stand out as introductions to the field for the novice community developer. Ferguson and Dickens 1999 tells the story of the development of community development (CD) using broad examples, and Phillips and Pittman 2009 focuses more on CD’s tools and methods.

  • Ferguson, Ronald F., and William T. Dickens, eds. 1999. Urban problems and community development. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.

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    Survey of CD’s past, current, and potential contributions. Diverse authors define CD as capacity building (social, intellectual, physical, financial, and political assets) to improve quality of life in low- to moderate-income neighborhoods. History of urban development, politics of resource allocation, business and workforce development, CD corporations, informal social organizations, schooling, and public security are highlighted.

  • Phillips, Rhonda, and Robert H. Pittman, eds. 2009. An introduction to community development. London: Routledge.

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    Comprehensive book that demonstrates how to rebuild, revitalize, and develop communities utilizing various economic and strategic tools. Chapters cover social capital and community building, CD practice, visioning and strategic planning, building community-based organizations, developing leadership, asset mapping, programming techniques, and strategies and issues impacting CD.

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