The Fifth City Presuppositions

Working to demonstrate how a severely distressed neighborhood could be transformed, the Institute staff in the early 60s came up with a set of guiding principles that were revolutionary in their scope then and continue to be so today. Along with the personal impact of RS-1 courses, this comprehensive approach to community development was a powerful attractor for many of us. These principles continued to be the basis for the global Human Development Projects that the ICA undertook in the 1970s. The language in the piece below has not been altered from that of 1966, the date of this particular formulation.

For a later and expanded treatment of ICA's approach to community development, also see FifthCity.

1. The first operating presupposition has to do with geography. Comprehensive reformulation begins with a carefully defined area, set apart by clear boundaries. This reduces the sense of chaos created by the seeming impossibility of the task. It curtails dissipation and duplication of effort. It enables penetration in depth that reaches to the last citizen. It makes possible a clearer picture of the maze of problems that paralyze the citizens. The delimited area fosters a sense of community identity which is essential to the comprehensive approach.

2. The second presupposition demands that the depth human problem in the community be filtered out and radically dealt with: This is crucial to comprehensiveness. All other facets rest directly on this foundation. In the Negro ghetto this basic issue, as indicated above, is the self-depreciating image. Unless the imagination of these citizens is refurbished, re-programmed, if you please, nothing else can lastingly be altered for the black disadvantaged of the central city.

3. The third operating principle is that all the human problems in the community must be attacked simultaneously and co-ordinately. Piece-meal approaches never get at the real issues and cannot create the needed morale for action. Indeed they tend to cultivate the victim image. Though staggering sums are involved, the benevolence concept is devastating to the inner city spirit. Furthermore, ghetto problems tend to re-enforce one another. In order to move one problem toward significant solution it is finally necessary to move them all. The education, economic, social, political, and cultural problems cannot be radically disjoined from one another if effective resolution is intended. Inner city folk are total human beings.

4. Fourth, all age levels among the citizens must be dealt with at once. Just as community problems reinforce one another so the postures of the various age groups radically influence each other. If the elders are neglected they' will unintentionally communicate their images of submissiveness to the young. Programs must be created that will operate from the cradle to the grave. The comprehensive approach to community reformulation requires a network of interrelated and coordinated projects which deal with all the various levels and groups representing the beginning, rising, emerging, established, and elder generations.

5. The fifth operating principle, the use of symbols, may be the most important even though its function is also the most difficult to articulate. One difficulty is that it cannot be clearly separated from anything else in community reformulation in that it permeates every principle, model, strategy and structure. Every effort that deals with substantial body of people is deeply dependent upon symbols. In creating a community large or small, a sense of commonness in mission must be created. A task and a corporateness relative to the task defines community, and this is mediated through living. symbols. These include songs, festivals, the geographical area itself, its distinguishing name, landmarks, art pieces, rites, insignia, local leaders and respected persons and on and on. Symbols are crucial to the morale and expectation that makes the difference between social despair and creative society. Symbols are foundational to inclusive social change.

-- GordonHarper - 13 Jun 2006
Topic revision: r2 - 13 Jun 2006, GordonHarper
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