Map: What is Greater Downtown Detroit?



This is somewhat of the same old story where different groups of people with a lot of money don’t agree on what boundaries matter.The question is really less: “what is Greater Downtown” and really more “What will Greater Downtown become?”


There have been a slew of recent articles noting the growth and expansion of Detroit’s “heart.” Whatever that means. Bedrock Real Estate and Rock Ventures have pushed the Quicken Loans Downtown plan with Capital Park quickly being renovated, assumedly with the Woodward Corridor being next (M1 streetcar). Dan Gilbert has said that its time to start going vertical Downtown before office space runs out and seems to have firm plans to build skyward on the old Hudson’s site.


Always in the news for the events, cultural attractions, and new happenings, Midtown doesn’t have as much new development left except around the edges. There are a handful…

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Tina Fey: international development is like. . . improv

“When you create something out of nothing, the first rule is to agree.” – Tina Fey

I’m not sure Tina Fey would attribute her words about improv as wisdom for international development, but there is a truth to the statement that can’t be ignored. Tina Fey might just be the best international development expert there is today and we all might need a little more improv training.

When we engage in development projects we are often creating something out of nothing. That is not to say that there is nothingness all around that needs to be “developed,” but many times development projects are creating new systems, organizations, norms, and terms of engagement. Before we can move into agreeing with our actual development project, we need to first take a step back and agree with the fact that we are outsiders, visiting unknown places, and often with no understanding of the history or culture of the people we are creating something with.

My Professor in my Capstone course in international development shared an excellent framing of how outsiders can engage in development work. I’m not sure if this concept can be attributed to her, but I have shared it many times since that course.

As development practitioners, aid workers, and humanitarians we can act in three unique roles, we can be:

Mirror – We can reflect back to a community what we see as an outsider. This can be beneficial  in letting others know how they are perceived and can lead to growth in areas that may have been overlooked by individuals who live with situations every day.

Echo – We can be a voice for a community that may be unheard or unknown. We can echo their concerns in our own communities and within the institutions that we work. We can extend their efforts further than they might be able, due to social or economic constraints.

Bridge – We can build connections between communities. We can assist development projects in landing grants and resources from outside institutions or organizations. We can create networks of support where they can be most beneficial for the community that we are working for.

At the very heart of development work, whether it is in a developing country or inner city, we must first remember to meet people where they are at. We cannot impose our understandings of reality on another if we hope to be successful. We must first take the time to learn the reality, culture, and everyday life of the community. Before we can start working to make something out of nothing, we must then follow the first rule of improv: to agree.

better health + growing population ≠ societal collapse #7billion

With each additional billion people on Earth, the collective news pundits, academics, development experts, and politicians freak out. Many pundits have been talking about the world’s population hitting 7 billion and how that relates to all the issues that we are seeing today. To many authors, talk show hosts, and even economic and development experts, population is the cause of everything. This is just fear-mongering and bandwagon journalism. The facts give a clearer picture.

If you’ve ever read Jared Diamond’s book, Collapse, the themes are all related to overpopulation and the Earth’s carrying capacity. We are constantly improving our health systems and keeping people alive longer than ever before in human history. As we grow in population there will be a breakdown in our social fabric and we will enter into international civil war over precious natural resources, like vegetation, water, etc. It happened on Easter Island, why can’t it happen on a global scale? In short, and to simplify: we are all screwed. I’m going to leave Malthus out of this conversation, but he is a good guy to read about if you are interested in population.

Environmentalism, Population Health, & Politics

Most of the pundits have talked about the impacts of overpopulation on the environment, but what about the impacts on health? This is an important area where the late Dr. Paul Epstein was world-renowned for his work connecting the growing environmental threats and their serious impacts on human population health.

By connecting climate change, exacerbated weather and environmental conditions, and the deep crises these create for the health of human populations, Dr. Epstein made the critical link between the health of our planet and the health of the people living on it.

Recent years have seen increased famines, droughts, and floods, loss of arable lands and increasing desertification, not to mention the inability of governments to respond to these crises. Some of Epstein’s work highlighted the increase of cholera after severe flooding and the increased range of malarial mosquitos as mountain tops warm up. Climate change and environmental issues are related to consumption, which is disproportionately carried out by wealthy countries consuming the majority of the world’s resources even with smaller percentages of total world population. Likewise, famines aren’t caused by too many people, but rather from bad government, violence, and global inequality.

The issues that many would like to attribute to the growing population are really fueled by politics. Population growth and climate change are above all else a political issues.

Fertility vs. Population Growth: (think incidence vs. prevalence in epidemiology)

Everyone needs to take a step back and look at the numbers. Population numbers are increasing with population growth increasing in a number of key countries, however we need to also look more closely at fertility rates rather than simply population growth numbers.

Many areas that have high birth rates also have high infant mortality rates, so it is not completely implausible that families would have a higher number of children to account for the poor health conditions their children might face and not survive. Likewise, areas with high fertility rates often see high infertility rates due to the increased risk to women of infection from multiple attempts to have children.This is where the debate about family planning and contraceptives enters the discussion.

Helen Epstein writes that if men and women have “frank conversations” that may be the best contraceptive. However, John Seager, President of Population Connection, offers a rebuttal that conversations cannot replace contraceptives. He notes that the need for access to knowledge and adequate health care is just as important. He writes,

“When women can control the timing and spacing of their childbearing, they can get an education and a job, and take better care of their own health and the health of their existing children. What could be more empowering than that?”

Population Control as Development

Following Word War II, population control became an important issue for the US to pursue around the globe. The  world food crisis in 1967 made Congress recognize the importance of population growth and it allocatd $35 million to USAID for population control activities. Today, USAID is single largest funder of population control activities in “developing” countries.

During the World Population Conference of 1974:

“Opposition came not only from traditional Roman Catholic quarters, but also from many Third World countries, which saw the focus on population growth as a way to avoid addressing deeper causes of underdevelopment, such as inequalities in international relations. […] India argued that ‘development is the best contraceptive,’ and criticized the high consumption of resources in the West.”

Many began calling for changes to the status quo, however no one asked why the needs of the poor weren’t being met in the first place. Glaring inequalities in distribution of income, land, and power were avoided. Politics came out on top as Western powers pushed “developing” countries, with the backing of international donors, to deliver family planning to the poor, “without fundamentally altering the social order in which they live.”

Developing countries and activists called for “integrated development” focused on addressing both poverty and population.


Nothing is so cut-and-dry or simple when it comes to development, especially in regards to population health which pulls on issues ranging from: climate change, women’s rights, income equality, access to health care, infant mortality, family planning, and the list could go on. The population question touches on so many different issues that it only makes sense that health is at its core.

Seager makes good points about the need for women to be able to care for their own health and that of their existing children. Others have lauded similar ideas, specifically feminist groups who called for “voluntary motherhood” and the idea that unwanted children would become defective.

Recently, Bill Gates has touched on the issue of a growing population. He noted that a greater focus on infant/ child health could have a significant impact on slowing population rates and improving the health of populations around the world. As discussed in “fertility vs. population growth” – more surviving children will decrease population rates, in turn this would ideally improve the quality of health care available with smaller, healthier populations.

Gates pushes the idea that mobile technology can help to register new births and ensure that all children are vaccinated. However, the flip side of his optimism is the need to increase the capacity of health care systems to make this goal a global reality. Women play a critical role in this discussion and too often they are marginalized without the knowledge or resources to make changes. Women and health care systems need to be empowered to provide for newborns and children who will be the future of our world.

world record for enriching the poor goes to. . .

Mount Kilimanjaro sets the example for tourism that directly benefits local development, says the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), the UK based think tank that promotes evidence-based development theory. ODI’s report on tourism dollars in Northern Tanzania indicates, “that local residents earn 28 percent of the total revenue raised at Kilimanjaro from foreign visitors.” Granted this report (full report available here) publishes data collected from May – October of 2008. A lot can change in three years, especially in developing economic areas.

The study’s conclusion was that this represented the world’s highest and most successful transfer of resources from tourists to local poor people. “This is the most successful transfer of resources from international tourists to poor people living around the destination that ever seen anywhere in Africa or Asia,” stated Mr Elibariki Heriel-Mtui the SNV Adviser in Private Sector Development (quote from allAfrica). It is very unclear where the measures come or other examples of tourist dollars transferring to local people. Rarely are there stories about how a local resources actually benefit local communities instead of being exploited by outside interests. However, is 28 percent really the best that can be done?

Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest peak on the African continent at over 19,000 feet and attracts roughly 35,000 climbers per year. The ODI averages total in-country tourist expenditures at around US $50 million. Therefore, the 28 percent that makes it into the local economy is around $13 million. That $13 million is considered “pro-poor expenditure” – I wonder if it can be written off as a tax deductible donation? The report goes on to talk about other high tourist areas of Tanzania including Ngorogoro crater, which attracts almost 400,000 visitors, but has only 18 percent of expenditures considered pro-poor.

What makes Kilimanjaro so much better? Is it the specialized skills needed to assist climbers to the peak? Is it the difficult and remote terrain? How can 28 percent be considered a world record of pro-poor expenditure? There must be other high tourist sites around the world where there is a higher percentage of expenditure that is returned to the local economy. Anyone have examples from other areas of the world?

carrenhos de chocque em mocambique (required to fight aid worker burn-out)

During my three-month long internship with a small-scale HIV/AIDS non-profit in South Africa, I visited a friend working in Mozambique with an HIV/AIDS activism organization as part of her Peace Corps placement. Beyond the entirely new experience of traveling to Mozambique, I met a very interesting crew of international development/ aid workers who gave me some great insights into who I might want to become if I entered the international development/aid arena. From working on a small operation in East Darfur, Sudan with a religious relief agency, to a technology focused firm constructing health curriculums funded by PEPFAR, to those doing backend all office-based, administrative work for USAID and the Clinton Foundation,  they were all at various stages in their lives and working in very different aspects of  development/ aid work. Some of the volunteers were in their 40s, others just out of college in Peace Corps, some had just come from extremely stressful environments where “guns were like sticks,” while others had just come to complete an internship for their Princeton graduate degree, all in all it was a motley group that gave a compelling snapshot of aid workers and the many directions they can come from and be headed towards.

4 August 2008

After walking from our hotel, my friend and I stopped at a “local” bar named Pirata (Pirate) to meet up with the motley crew of aid workers. We then headed into downtown Maputo for dinner at a restaurant recommended by one of the aid workers who had spent the longest time in and around Maputo (he had serious Mozambique cred). I had a supposedly traditional Mozambican dish of beans, rice, and shrimp which was very delicious or I was just supremely hungry from the day’s 8 hour bus ride from Johannesburg.

The Maputo based aid worker then took us to an odd sort of carnival hidden in what seemed like the middle of Maputo. It was randomly placed and not very large, but took me back to days of my earlier youth when we would visit the noise, lights, and crowds of the church carnival. We all were initially a bit shy about expressing our joy at the sight of children’s carnival games, but soon we were all reveling in the freedom from our assigned professional roles.

As we were the only ones at the carnival late in the evening, we had the whole place to ourselves. We all lined up and filled the bumper cars (carrenhos de chocque). The crackle of the electric wires, childish shouts of aid workers, and huge grins of pure joy made me realize that this should be a required exercise for all aid workers no matter if they are in the USA or based in a foreign country. We all need to take a step back every once in a while and just let ourselves enjoy being uninhibited by things as unimportant as bumper cars so that we can focus on important work.

A note for the future:

We all have to find what it is that helps us keep sharp and focused while also reducing stress, physical and emotional. The best thing to do is to schedule time when you can be unfocused, let loose, and enjoy time unencumbered by tasks, to-do lists, or responsibilities. My current job has a lot of frustrating client cancellations (currently the reason that I can sit and write this), long commutes with driving stress, and odd hours. As individuals who work in the field of aid, global health, and community development, we all want to love what we do, but the reality is that it is often a grind with harsh and far reaching social consequences that can cause us to resent a job. We all need to find those coping mechanisms that allow us to vent and rejuvenate our passions.



measuring poverty beyond a dollar a day

(Photo credit: Allianz Knowledge Partnersite)

How do you measure the worth or suffering of someone’s life? We’ve all seen the ads where a white man walks through desolate streets as malnourished children cling to his hands. He tells us that we can help and that these children can be helped for just a dollar a day. So why do these commercials play year after year if all that is needed is a dollar a day?

The truth is that a dollar a day tells you very little about those children, the reason for their lack of nourishment, or the history or their countries, communities, and families. For years international agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have been using the Human Development Index (HDI) created by the United Nations Development Program. The HDI is a set of statistics used to rank a country based on “human development” (i.e. mortality rates, life expectancy, etc.) The original idea was to “to shift the focus of development economics from national income accounting to people centered policies.”

The HDI and its statistics built such programs as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and many had criticisms. Some argued that the HDI was still too nation focused or that measuring material wealth could never promote “human development” thus ending poverty. Just yesterday the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) of Oxford University and the Human Development Report Office of the UNDP announced a new way to measure poverty called the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI). Director of the UNDP Human Development Report Office, Dr. Jeni Klugman, said. “The MPI provides a fuller measure of poverty than the traditional dollar-a-day formulas.” She noted that the MPI assesses critical factors at the family level and it will be used to compliment the HDI by examining broader aspects of well-being.

As our understandings of the root causes of poverty increase so must our means of measuring its affects. While some are focused on pulling our heart strings with “dollar a day” lines, the larger development institutions are working to become more innovative in their approaches to measure poverty.

While the MPI is a positive step in the right direction, it seems that it will still be very broadly focused and may still lose the “people centered” perspective. As large development institutions focus and innovate measures for poverty, why have they not just asked those most affected?

batman wears green in detroit

(Photo Credit: ComicVine)

There was a time when Batman acquired the super human powers of Green Lantern, no joke. Imagine the combined powers of Batman’s wit and charm paired with the power of Green Lantern’s ring which can alter the physical world and is as powerful as the wearer’s willpower and imagination.

Those interested in tackling the difficulties of Detroit can take a lesson from this partnership of sorts, a sharing of resources, and a use of imagination to solve social problems. I’ve written about some issues happening in Detroit, some background, and so the next few blog posts will be focused on highlighting some critical solutions that Detroit needs to implement as well as some creative programs already in place.

Number one on the list is job retraining for skilled labor in green building and technologies. For places like Detroit (and Flint) there is huge potential for centers of education to refocus their resources to offer training that contributes to the green economy. Countless case studies have shown that programs that target low-income communities with green job trainings take a serious jab at fighting poverty, reducing crime, and building communities (Sustainable South Bronx SSBx; Green for All). Detroit is a great setting for these trainings because of the density of community colleges and universities. The city is also a critical location where there is a need to increase home energy efficiency: heating, cooling, etc.

For Detroit, building an “inclusive green economy” Detroit can work to reverse its history of class divide, reduce crime, and innovate industry all at the same time. At a time when jobs are needed, poverty is rampant, and new ideas for growth are a must, investing in education and training makes the most sense.

I wrote previously that this is one area that Detroit can learn from Grand Rapids, and it has. Grand Rapids Community College offers a wind energy program. The city itself is number one in LEED-certified green buildings. How far off could this be for Detroit?

In the Roosevelt Institute’s Midwest 2.0 Journal, author Cory Connolly (Pg. 17) highlights the statistics for a bright future in green careers for Michigan. He writes that 72% of energy professionals believe that there will be a shortage of workers in the green economy in the next 5 years (Apollo Alliance). Many Michigan education institutions have started some programs, but the state is well behind. Cory focuses on integrating career based trainings at the high school level through existing infrastructures. By creating partnerships with green industries and fresh young workers the unemployment numbers for Michigan could drop significantly. California is invest 20 million in a program just like what Cory describes.

In the same journal, Valerie Bieberich (pg. 15) lays out the attractiveness and ease of bringing green jobs to the Midwest. The most critical point that Valerie makes is that the Midwest has a strong worker base and resource base for green industries. For states like Michigan the infrastructure already exists and unemployment is high – workers are ready for green jobs! Michigan has already seen two green energy firms start their work in Battle Creek and more recently Holland.

In Detroit, green job training is become more readily available. Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice is an organization pushing the green economy forward with a number of green jobs training and programs focused on making Detroit green.

Wayne County Community College (WCCC) is offering three tiered green jobs training courses in: energy efficiency, weatherizing certification, recycling, and green building certifications. It is an extremely comprehensive program targeting unemployed residents who have at least a high school diploma. This is an excellent example of the type of program needed to reverse the negative growth that Detroiters have seen.

grand rapids can’t afford for detroit to fail

One of the recent articles from “Assignment Detroit” in Fortune Magazine attempts to say that Detroit needs to learn from Grand Rapids. The content that follows in the article goes on to prove that Grand Rapids is not like Detroit at all.

The article was titled, “A Michigan Success Story” with the tagline: “Its not the kind of view you expect these days in downtrodden Michigan”. It seems they can never give a clear message about Michigan or Detroit. Its a success, but downtrodden. Its working hard, but never making the mark. Let’s jump right in – so it is true, Grand Rapids is growing, has retained young people, and has significant investment in higher education and medical services – but that does not mean Detroit can replicate the business successes of this tiny West Michigan city.

Grand Rapids is not similar to Detroit. They had different industries, different populations, and different mean levels of income. From the article:

“thanks to a combination of business leadership, public-private cooperation, and the deep pockets of local philanthropists.” 

This picture is not as visible in Detroit, the deep pockets of philanthrophy don’t reach as far in a significantly larger city with a larger population (ever with Detroit’s population decline). Retired Chairman and CEO of Old Kent Bank, John Canepa is quoted saying,

“But Grand Rapids had an unusual set of assets. The wealth in this city in proportion to its size is extraordinary.” 

The Amway corporation and family, DeVos (whose name appears on far too many things in Grand Rapids), Steelcase and Meijer.

“The founders of those companies and their descendants still reside in Grand Rapids area, and match their deep roots with deep pockets of philanthropic dollars.” 

The article’s author is defeating his own argument with each quote he gets from local Grand Rapids leaders. They recognize that there were some similarities in how the decline in industry had effects on both cities, but are not as naive to think that what worked for Grand Rapids will work for Detroit.

Unemployment in Grand Rapids is still very high and not surprisingly this disproportionately affects minority communities. Detroit is a city of minorities, unlike Grand Rapids that holds its roots in the white, anglo-saxon, protestant traditions with traceable histories, long roots to local areas, propped by family assets and connections. The city government of Grand Rapids is also facing serious budget cutting and is working with unions to decrease benefits.

Grand Rapids is the “greenest city in the US” with more LEED-certified buildings per capita. This could also be attributed to the growing trends in environmental sustainability and the wealth that exists in Grand Rapids. Where Detroit can take a lesson is in offering more opportunities for Green Jobs. The Grand Rapids Community College just opened excellent training courses for various “green” industries. I will begin writing more about “green” solutions in following posts.

Detroit doesn’t have the hard cash wealth that Grand Rapids has, but it does have other rich assets when it comes to new ideas and initiatives for improvement. As in Grand Rapids, these ideas don’t come from the government or its funds.

A last final and important take-away from the article was a quote from Mayor George Heartwell, “we can’t afford to see Detroit fail. But if Grand Rapids recovery took two decades, how long will it take Detroit?”
No one can afford for Detroit to fail.

definition of development (revisited): beauty in the palm of your hand

Last summer I wrote about the definition of development after having a conversation with an incredible Peace Corps volunteer in Ghana who was really making the most of his time and abilities. The conversation that we had really made me think about the term ‘development’ and what it really means. Before that conversation and since I have been working to create my own definition, or rather I have been working to make the term stand for what I believe development should be all about.

This is what I wrote from Ghana on 7 June 2007:

This discussion with Alex really made me think about ‘development’ as the word was thrown around a lot that night. Alex has said that he really likes the Peace Corps model because it deals with integration. A volunteer is placed in a village or area and works with the people to improve their situation. This as opposed to some large organization or institution just giving out money to big plans they believe will work. But, what is the definition of development? Who gets to determine what development is? Who is allowed to call one developed or developing or underdeveloped? Is development all based on a desire or push to become Western? Yes, I think in the very recent past it was and really still is to a degree, but for me development holds a different definition. Development for me mirrors positive progress in people’s lives. Development should be based on getting and giving people their basic needs (rights) for survival and life. Even in this regard the almighty ‘West’ needs development.

Now my development studies have become more involved and I will apply certain paradigms of thought and different theories of development from many different minds. Before I get into theory I want to begin by tackling the continuously difficult task of writing a definition of development.

Development is a loaded term and cannot be the way that we approach others in need. From President Truman’s “launch” (Wolfgang Sachs, 2) of the idea of development in 1949 during his inauguration speech in which he declared “underdeveloped areas,” the West began a long blinding road on which the US would always be number one with no need for ‘development.’ Development in this sense creates an inferior to superior relationship between those who need help and those who have the resources. This is where the idea of the ‘third world’ comes in. Two years ago I wrote on the idea of the ‘third world’ and how the term’s use perpetuates bad ideas in development. The notion of being better because of circumstance is an extreme detriment in development work. In actuality the West is developing just as much as those we deem ‘underdeveloped.’

We are developing the way we see the world and how we react or act to the different situations that various people face. We are developing our ability to care and show compassion, the most basic human action, to those who need our help. We need to start developing a process to assist those who most need our help. We need to develop our government’s actions to fit the size of its big words and statements. The world’s people need to recognize that we are not separated by very much anymore, except maybe our prejudices and false perceptions. We are not so distant as to claim we live in different worlds any longer. The distance is only in our minds.
From: new world discovered 3 September 2006

Development and its Uses

Truman called others ‘underdeveloped’ and what we have now seen is the disparity between rich and poor has grown exponentially. The ‘underdeveloped’ were not able to come closer to the ‘developed.’ We began calling some countries ‘developing’ as they adopted our ideas for governance, economy, liberalized markets, and modernity. This began the ‘era of development’ and Wolfgang Sachs provides us with an excellent quote:

“Like a towering lighthouse guiding sailors towards the coast, ‘development’ stood as the idea which oriented emerging nations in their journey through post-war history. No matter whether democracies or dictatorships, the countries of the South proclaimed development as their primary aspiration, after they had been freed from colonial subordination. Four decades later, governments and citizens alike still have their eyes fixed on this light flashing just as far away as ever: every effort and and every sacrifice is justified in reaching the goal, but the light keeps on receding into the dark.” (Thomas, Ch. 1)

Here is where we can draw on a theme of ‘development of the mind.’ This idea has been grown on the backs of the very people that ‘development’ seeks to assist. Born of colonization which promoted a certain nihilism of colonized populations and modernization as a result of capitalist systems imposed on those populations, the development of the mind made people think that they weren’t good enough and that they did not have the capacity to do for themselves. This is also a mentality that can be found within the slave and Black populations of the US. When a people is subjugated it takes a long time to redevelop the thinking that is not rooted in subordination. Everything was made simple and efficient for the imperial masters to control and capitalise on stolen wealth. Esteva importantly notes that for people to embrace ‘development’ they have to first perceive themselves to be ‘underdeveloped.’ (7) In this sense development negates the very person seeking to improve their life through ‘development’ because, “it undermines confidence in oneself and one’s own culture.” (Esteva, 8) The nature of ‘development’ almost always forgets about history and culture. Economists come at development with the idea of a level playing field that just needs to be built upon, but that is never the case. Histories of colonization which spurred war and violent conflict cannot be sliced out of development work. Colonized populations often had their histories and cultures re-written. In the case of Rwanda a homogeneous people were divided and pitted against one another. In South Africa culture was bound by ‘bantustans.’ In every corner of the globe a system focusing on mass production and the attainment of ‘wealth’ was imposed on traditional ways of life, cultures were and are altered as a result – sometimes even discarded. The “standardization of desires and dreams” (Wolfgang Sachs, 4) resulted and now we have ‘development.’

What we also can look back and see is the use of ‘development’ as a “weapon in the competition between political system.” (Wolfgang Sachs, 2) The Cold War led to a widespread allocation of ‘rogue aid,’ that is aid that is given without restriction and without being tied to a government or ‘development’ agency. This ‘rogue aid’ was given to win over world leaders to the side of the US or Soviet Union. Development as a weapon has created long-term effects that can still be seen as countries fell to dictators and authoritarian regimes fueled by ‘rogue aid’ and their militarization by Cold War powers. The ‘era of development can also be called the ‘era of the Cold War.’ (Wolfgang Sachs, 4) Our privilege and ‘wealth’ does not give us a free ticket to ‘develop’ the rest of the world or tell them that they are living poorly. If the world was to be ‘developed’ entirely we, as a global society, would be reduced to a dead population living on top of each other on a barren planet devoid of all nature because we exploited both ourselves and our habitat. In some areas of ‘development’ I would even say that the West has taken irrational steps backwards.


There are three non-distinct paradigms or theories of development. The first is what we have seen for the past four decades since Truman’s statement on underdevelopment. Development as Modernization puts forth the idea that the “modern money economy should and would overcome the traditional subsistence economy.” (Ruonavaara, 2000) This is where ‘development’ has acted as a “Westernization of the world” (Wolfgang Sachs, 4) and the beginnings of a failed system that does not serve people’s needs.

In the 1980s Alternative Development came into fashion to deal with the failure of Development as Modernization. The problem here was a misuse of privilege. Scientific knowledge was favored over all as professionals and experts came in as ‘facilitators.’ The positive of Alternative Development was the greater focus on people and ‘including the excluded.’ Women, minority groups, and the actual people being ‘developed’ were engaged in their own development. The failure of this paradigm was the hierarchical structure of facilitator and underdeveloped community, the lack of agency given in development, and the focus on modern and scientific knowledge as the only way to go.

Now there is the paradigm of Alternatives to Development or what some call Post-Development. This is an absolute “rejection and the replacement of the Development as Modernization model.” (Ruonavaara) Alternatives to Development employs re-membering people into society, a step further than ‘including the excluded,’ participatory and cooperative practices, as well as allowing “professionals and non-professionals to talk about development in new ways.” (Ruonavaara)

I say these paradigms are non-distinct because it is often difficult to specifically define approaches to development in reality as one paradigm or the other. Often it is easy to place certain development practices within the paradigms, but not the actions of an entire agency or organization.


Alan Thomas tells us that the term ‘development’ is used in three main ways:

1. as a vision, description or measure of the state of being of a desirable society;
2. as an historical process of social change in which societies are transformed over long periods;
3. as consisting of deliberate efforts aimed at improvement on the part of various agencies, including governments, all kinds of organizations and social movements.

Chambers (1997, from Thomas, Ch. 2) defined development as just ‘good change.’ Thomas breaks this down excellently in his second chapter and the important concept to note is the ambiguity of ‘development.’ People have different ideas of what change is, of what progress entails, and especially of how we should get to that good change from where we are now. The nature of the defining is how ‘development’ happens in reality.

Cowen and Shenton write, “The burden of development was to compensate for the negative propensities of capitalism through the reconstruction of social order. To develop, the, was to ameliorate the social misery which arose out of an immanent process of capitalist growth.” (Thomas, Ch. 2) If capitalism is to be a working system of self-regulating markets then everything must become a commodity. The problem here is that everything cannot be a commodity: life, mind, dignity, equality – these cannot be bought, sold, and produced or regulated by any market.

Jeffrey Sachs talks about development (economic) in relation to a ladder, (Sachs, 18) where once you reach the first rung you are set on your path to development. This falls in line with the Development as Modernization approach. The problem with Sachs’ definition is that he creates a linear model that does not work in reality, people are often moving up and down the ladder – or not even on it because development can not focus solely on the economic. The political, social, and cultural must also be taken into account. Sachs’ other problem arrives when he defines poverty as a trap. This definition takes out all history and accountability in relation to one’s poverty. It discounts how one got into poverty in the first place or how a country or community lives in poverty.

Wolfgang Sachs defines development as, “an amoeba-like concept, shapeless but ineradicable. Its contours are so blurred that it denoted nothing – while it spreads everywhere because it connotes the best of intentions. The term is hailed by the IMF and Vatican alike, by revolutionaries carrying their guns as well as field experts carrying their Samsonites. Though development has no content, it does possess one function: it allows any intervention to be sanctified in the name of a higher goal.”(4)

Responsible Development– My definition:

Therefore all past implementations of development as intervention, as hegemonic control, as a political weapon, as a ladder, as Westernization, as capitalist, and as modernization have led to a more underdeveloped world where people are not valued and all that matters is the production and perpetuation of the current system for those are the forefront. Wolfgang Sachs says, “The idea of development stands like a ruin in the intellectual landscape” and “its time to dismantle this mental structure.” (Thomas, Ch. 1) I already wrote about the idea of development of the mind and so now how does someone from the West who wants to help those in need around the world engage in ‘development’ that will actually produce the desired results for people?

My definition of development falls along the lines of the ‘alternatives to development’ paradigm. I believe very strongly in people-centered development that is needs based. Where there is a focus on individuals as part of the whole and not on just numbers of people assisted, growth of GDP, or increase in production. I want to see development that uses what works and not just what looks good. Development that strengthens local communities and connects them to others, that evaluates itself often, that doesn’t ‘other,’ that spreads a cooperative mentality of interdependence, that believes in the co-evolution of people with nature, that does not feel guilty, but responsible, that uses unsustainable development to adopt sustainable practices. Development should be a resource for people who have historically and systematically been subjugated and oppressed so that they may have agency and actualize their own development. I am a strong believer in a communal and cooperative living style, this is a ‘modern’ idea based in practices of traditional societies. My definition of development is not an ideology, but rather it draws on wisdom from historical experience.

Development should be a vision that is defined by the community as a whole. I believe strongly in empowerment where the ‘developer’ does not act as an overseer or facilitator, but a resource and a support. This is where development needs to become a redistribution of power and resources that will transform the way institutions have worked. Along with empowerment comes the idea of participation. Both the ‘developer’ and those to ‘develop’ need to be participants on equal footing in the development process. In this way communities are able to develop themselves and take into account their social and cultural practices without being controlled by an outsider. Development as we have seen pushed for a conformity of global society – development should instead embrace diversity and equality in difference.

My economics mirrors the ideas of E.F. Schumacher where he focuses on economics as if people mattered. Schumacher uses Buddhism as an example of people and nature centered development practice. He writes:

“Simplicity and non-violence are obviously closely related. The optimal pattern of consumption, producing a high degree of human satisfaction by means of a relatively low rate of consumption, allows people to live without great pressure and strain and to fulfill the primary injunction of Buddhist teaching: ‘Cease to do evil; try to do good.'” (62)

He also writes about production at the local level for the local level and how that lessens human consumption as a “rational way of economic life.” Schumacher notes that now (1973, even more now) the human population lives parasitically on the earth, the market is an institution of individualism and severs all responsibility. (46) Development needs to be about wellbeing of both the individual and the world around them.

The examples of subsistence and traditional communities are excellent, ‘small’ examples of how development should work.

“A world of ‘humanized’ production, based on a small scale but modern and scientific technology, a world of co-operation in villages and small towns, a world of enriched social relationships growing out of a process of production and exchange that is under human control rather than ‘alienated’. . .” (Kitching, 1982, p.179 from Thomas, 35)

There are many examples of this and even now practices within the ‘developed’ world are moving towards subsistence and small scale, cooperative and local. Within the ‘developed’ world there is a growing number of local farmer’s markets, organic growers, and alternative organizations focused on serving people’s needs. Even Barbara Kingslover’s latest book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is based on locally grown, locally purchased food as a way to develop a more environment friendly and people friendly society. This local food movement is growing fast.

Some may try and say that it is just a phenomena as food and fuel prices soar, but really it is a long held style of living rooted in historic, traditional knowledge which we are finally returning to: a method of living that is more holistic and accounts for the co-evolution of humans and nature. Evidence of these traditional practices is still seen today. There have been attempts to return to a historically sustainable way of life through movements like Kibbutz in Israel, Ujamaa in Tanzania, Revolutionary Inter-Communalism within the Black Panther Party of the US, as well as implementations of communes, cooperatives and collectives in the Western world – some that begin as far as 200 years ago. There are distinct reasons why these models have failed to achieve widespread results, but the most detrimental effect brings us back to the idea of ‘development of the mind.’People are too often trapped in a system’s way of thinking and living that it is too difficult to cut out un-necessary desire or it creates an inability to see beyond the current status quo and way of life.

One example of a community that was self-sufficient, sustainable, and at peace with others and its environment was the Ladakh in northern most point of India next to Kashmir. The Ladakh were a traditional indigenous community that operated on communal living. They lived with no strain on the natural environment. There was no pollution, excessive noise, or a lack of resources. People worked on their own time and used what would be called ‘primitive technology.’As soon as modernity and ‘development’ entered the scene the sustainable way of life of the Ladakh disappeared. Modern society claimed to understand and control the natural order, with energy and capital intensive, consumptive, and environmentally unfriendly practices. The elderly no longer had a role in the community with the creation of Western schools and business because of this young people did not learn tolerance and responsibility at an early age. Modern society broke down family and community ties. Agriculture was no longer an acceptable business, pollution grew, the status of women fell as men felt more and more insecure in the ‘modern world.’ A community where there were no constraints, no stresses, no violence, no capital or pollution was turned into what we now see on a worldwide scale with the propagation of capitalism. Polluted environments, where everyone is in a rush, and once you can no longer produce you have no place in society. We now live as parasites on the earth as opposed to co-evolving partners with the earth. We now value products and productivity above people. There are many related examples across the globe of communities like the Ladakh. Now the Ladakh Development Foundation exists to empower the community to improve itself.

It seems with all this understanding of history, ‘development’ should become a simplifying of life. We should re-learn traditional values of these communities and apply them to our own lives. Living non-hierarchically, with community consensus, subsistence, and holistically. There are too many broken people, we need to reverse our practices and rewrite our theories. There are many efforts now developing across the globe to spur a “green economy,” one that attempts to place the environment at the core of our societal progression. It has had mixed results, but the majority good. Where gardens are established on roofs (green roofs), community parks take the place of abandoned factories, and bringing people out of poverty is the norm. The Green for All organization is working to build an inclusive “green” economy that will assist and benefit everyone.

Green For All believes a shift to a clean, green economy can improve the health and well-being of low-income people, who suffer disproportionately from cancer, asthma and other respiratory ailments in our current pollution-based economy. Such a shift can also create and expand entrepreneurial, wealth-building opportunities for American workers who need new avenues of economic advance. In other words: we believe that the national effort to curb global warming and oil dependence can simultaneously create well-paid green-collar jobs, safer streets and healthier communities.

The notion of a growing or strong nation or country by way of its GDP or economic output does not give a comprehensive definition of the development of a country when people are a means to an end. And so ‘development’ at national and state levels is irrelevant when there are people who still live without their basic necessities at the small-scale, local and community level.