O’Conner, Alice. 2008. Swimming Against the Tide: A brief history of federal policy in poor communities. In: J. DeFilippis and S. Saegert, eds. _The Community Development Reader_. New York and London: Routledge, Ch. 2.

This impressive history is an abbreviated version of a piece O’Connor did for the Brookings Institute in 1999. She is now Professor of United States Public Policy at UCSB; she received her PhD at Johns Hopkins.

This piece tracks the history of American community development policy-making (e.g. Progressive Era, New Deal, Great Society, retrenchment in the 70s and 80s, and Clinton reform) and notes that while their ideologies might have been different, they share distinct patterns. Community development creators, thus, “seem continually to replicate, rather than learn from, what has been tried in the past” (9). O’Conner begins the article with the discernible patterns and concludes with challenges to break from said patterns. The former: (1) large-scale government policies wind up overwhelming small-scale intervention efforts; (2) place-based initiatives confound the wisdom of macroeconomics and have ideological foes, therefore they often lose out in the budgeting process; (3) community development struggles to get powerful political backing as constituencies in question are often those unable to woo politicians for their support; (4) policies suffer mightily from bureaucratic rivalries; (5) American government is primarily federalist in its functions; (6) poverty policies are means-tested and stricken (as opposed to the untested, amorphous, and thriving middle-class programs); and (7) America still doesn’t know what to do with the issue of race, despite its deep connection with poverty. O’Connor’s consequent challenges: (1) devise community development / antipoverty programs that relate directly to inequity in wealth, employment opportunities, and race; (2) re-involve the federal government; (3) bolster community development’s political clout; (4) recognize race is a major factor and program accordingly; and (5) “reverse the policy contradictions that keep community development swimming against the tide” (26).

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Filed under Annotated Bibliographies, Community Development

One response to “O’Conner, Alice. 2008. Swimming Against the Tide: A brief history of federal policy in poor communities. In: J. DeFilippis and S. Saegert, eds. _The Community Development Reader_. New York and London: Routledge, Ch. 2.

  1. Pingback: #ReadUrbanandPlanningWomen2014 entry #15: Alice O’Connor | Urban ethics and theory

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