Community Development for Social Justice

Community development emerged as a grassroots movement to improve quality of life in low-income neighborhoods, communities and countries, through empowerment, capacity building, and community-based generation of wealth and asset control. Community development practice embraces initiatives such as local neighborhood development planning groups, grassroots self-reliant strategies, social movements, participatory planning processes, and advocacy and equity planning. At the core of community development are grassroots neighborhood and community-based groups, along with advocacy and trade organizations, unions, local social service providers, financial institutions, for-profit businesses, government and public sector agencies, foundations, philanthropies, consultants, and academic institutions.

Community development professionals design and implement strategies to improve quality of life. While many planning programs treat community development and economic development as a separate set of practices, there is considerable overlap between the two fields. The two fields are often distinguished by their geographical focus (economic development at the metropolitan or regional scale and community development at the neighborhood level) or by their most common units of analysis or policy intervention (jobs versus households and neighborhoods). Individuals interested in pursuing a career in these areas should acquire knowledge that allows them to engage with both jobs and households, and at both the neighborhood and regional level. Successful professional practice in this area also requires perspective from other areas of planning practice, including transportation, land use, economic development, and real estate.

The CDSJ concentration teaches practice focused on addressing communities that have historically been denied equal access to economic benefits, adequate infrastructure, and political capital in both domestic and international contexts. Across contexts, the CDSJ concentration focuses on advocacy and grassroots self-reliance strategies, sustaining holistic and diverse partnerships focused on community problem-solving, and addressing issues of institutional bias and racism.

CDSJ Career Paths

The Community Development for Social Justice concentration is designed to prepare professionals for a range of practice contexts. The concentration links the local, regional, and the global, as well as theory and practice. CDSJ courses prepare practitioners to understand the key economic, social and political forces that matter for effective intervention. This expertise opens a diverse set of career paths for MUP students:

Professional Focus Types of Hiring Agencies
Neighborhood Planning, Engagement, and Advocacy Nonprofit organizations, local government, county government, consulting firms, regional planning agencies.
Community Economic Development Advocacy organizations, community development financial institutions, local government, county government.
Housing Policy and Development Local government, state housing finance agencies, community development corporations and financial institutions, federal government, legal assistance and advocacy organizations.
International Community Development Policy Nongovernmental organizations, international organizations (UN, World Bank, USAID), federal government.

CDSJ Faculty

Jesus Barajas (Disparities in cycling and pedestrian enforcement in Chicago), Lindsay Braun (Disparities in active transportation and health), Marc Doussard (Low-wage work and urban employment policy; inequality in mid-size cities; technological innovation and inequality; manufacturing policy and labor markets), Andrew Greenlee (Gentrification and neighborhood change, residential mobility and displacement, disparities in disaster risk and recovery), Faranak Miraftab (Critical analysis of neoliberal urban policies and privatization of public services, global justice movements, grassroots and community-based mobilizations for housing and basic neighborhood services, gender, globalization, immigration and transnational urbanism), Rolf Pendall (Metropolitan growth trends; land-use planning and regulation; federal, state, and local affordable housing and community development policy and programs; and racial residential segregation and the concentration of poverty), Ken Salo (Law and social movements of the urban poor; local and trans-local insurgent practices of squatter movements in Cape Town and Chicago), and Lou Turner (Red Line Extension of Chicago's CTA, Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, Hal Baron History, and Land Trusts)

CDSJ students can benefit from the teaching and research of faculty across campus, including: Lynn Dearborn, Rebecca Ginsburg, Brian Jefferson, Ruby Mendenhall, David Wilson, and many others.

CDSJ Course Recommendations

Students interested in working in the field of community development, either domestically or internationally, need to develop many of the same skills as in the other areas of specialization within the planning profession — e.g., problem solving, critical thinking, communication, analytical and process skills. Here are courses to choose from:

Recommendation Number Course

UP 473
UP 481

Housing and Urban Policy
Urban Communities & Public Policy


UP 474
UP 479

Neighborhood Planning
Community Engagement in Planning


UP 432
UP 470
UP 478

Transportation Equity
Shrinking Cities
Community Development Workshop


UP 407
UP 423
UP 475
UP 521
UP 533
UP 545
ARCH 521

FIN 447
FIN 541

State and Local Public Finance
Community Development in the Global South
Real Estate Development Fundamentals
Advanced International Planning Seminar
Community in American Society
Economic Development Planning
Built Environment, Architecture and Global Health and Wellbeing
Real Estate Development
Real Estate Fundamentals

CDSJ students may also pursue graduate certificates and/or minors with , for example, African American Studies, Latina/Latino Studies, American Indian Studies, Asian American Studies, Gender and Women's Studies, Women & Gender in Global Perspectives, and Global Studies.

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