Community Development for Social Justice

"Community development is the economic, physical and social revitalization of a community, led by the people who live in that community."
A Guide to Careers in Community Development, by Alice Shabecoff and Paul C. Brophy

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 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/public sector agencies, foundations, philanthropies, consultants, as well as academic institutions.

The CDSJ concentration concerns community development in both domestic and international contexts. The concentration links the local and the global, as well as theory and practice, in order to understand the processes through which successful intervention occurs. The key and elective courses offered within and outside the Department of Urban and Regional Planning (DURP) give students an understanding of community development that recognizes its underlying economic, social and political forces and structures and considers a range of actors, including the poor, racialized and disadvantaged populations, women and men, policy makers, planners and activists.

Expertise in CDSJ opens several career paths for the graduating student. Students may work directly with communities as a neighborhood planner, community organizer, or advocate in a public sector or nonprofit organization, either domestically or internationally. CDSJ students may focus on community-level job creation, micro-enterprise, and wealth creation, leading to a career path in the community development finance or community economic development field. Students specializing in CDSJ may also concentrate on affordable housing development, leading to a career with a community development corporation or in the Low Income Housing Tax Credit industry.

Join our mailing list

Join the CDSJ Listserv to receive announcements about courses offerings, news about community events, and training and workshop opportunities, and other materials related to CDSJ.


UIUC brings together a strong group of faculty in the area of social planning with specific concern for social justice in community development and housing. The faculty's expertise in cross cultural investigation of gender, race, ethnicity and class in processes of community development uniquely marks our Department among planning schools as a vibrant center for critical investigation of planning process and practice. Key faculty and their areas of expertise and interest in the field include:

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; infrastructure privatization.

Andrew Greenlee

Gentrication 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. Empirical work spans South Africa, Mexico, Canada, and the U.S.

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 segragation and the concentration of poverty.

Ken Salo

Law and social movements of the urban poor. Current projects focus on the local and trans-local insurgent practices of squatter movements in Cape Town and Chicago to secure shelter, food, work and municipal services.

Lou Turner

Red Line Extension of Chicago's CTA, Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, Hal Baron History, and Land Trusts.

Other Faculty on Campus

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:

  • UP423 Intro International Planning
  • UP470: Shrinking Cities
  • UP473 Housing & Urban Policy
  • UP474 Neighborhood Revitalization
  • UP478 Community Development Workshop
  • UP481 Urban Communities & Public Policy
  • UP494-JB: Transportation Equity
  • UP521 Advanced International Planning Seminar
  • UP533: Community in American Society

Other Courses Across Campus

DURP encourages students to consider courses in other MUP concentrations. In addition, there are a wide variety of courses across campus on topics related to community development for social justice. CDSJ students may also purse 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.

Practical Experience

Academic preparation combined with volunteer, community activism and internships, opens up a diverse range of career options for students in the Community Development for Social Justice concentration (CDSJ). Students in the CDSJ concentration are strongly encouraged to complement their course work with practical experience in the area of community development. The department offers a great variety of opportunities for internship, volunteer work, and field based course work both domestically and internationally.

Non-profit / Community-based Opportunities:

Campus Opportunities:

Opportunities Abroad:

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