The ‘business of community development’ and the right to the city: reflections on the neoliberalization processes in urban community development

The ‘business of community development’ and the right to the city: reflections on the... Abstract The paper explores emerging contradictions in community development, a subset of non-profit sector, within the context of neoliberalization. I examine non-profit sector as a site that has a potential for articulating counter-hegemonic discourse alternative to neoliberalism. Conversely, non-profit sector itself has been subjected to neoliberal co-optation and restructuring that resulted in restricted autonomy of the sector and decreased capacity to advocate for progressive social change. Drawing on my experience as a community engagement worker in one of Toronto's neighbourhood improvement areas, I problematize community development, posing questions about the role of the non-profit agencies in the production of specific socio-economic configurations that may, albeit inadvertently, support neoliberal discourse. Through an example of local community campaign for increased access to public space and services, I highlight options to enhance counter-hegemonic potential of community development as a critical practice aimed at advancing the commons. Introduction: Neoliberal co-optation of non-profit sector In this paper I discuss non-profit sector as a site of neoliberalization reflecting on the example of community development project in the Canadian urban context through the lens of political economy and class analysis. I argue that the advocacy potential of non-profit sector has suffered most in the wake of neoliberal austerity measures. I focus on the advocacy and capacity building output of non-profit sector for its importance in the context of sustaining and nurturing vibrant civil society capable of effectively challenging reactionary neoliberal policies such as, cuts to social assistance and public services combined with growing privatization/marketization tendencies in the public sphere. In that regard, non-profit sector presents both an opportunity and a challenge as it is a site that is capable of articulating oppositional counter-hegemonic agenda. At the same time, the sector has been subjected to neoliberal co-optation and restructuring that resulted in the restricted autonomy of the sector. Fyfe (2005) describes the location of non-profit sector within a triangular ‘tension field’ between the state, the market and the informal sector of family and community. The latter is also the location of the civil society or ‘the space of uncoerced human associations… and relational networks’ (Walzer in Phillips, 2003, p. 24). Historically the role of non-profit sector was delegated exclusively to charity work with a direct service delivery as the main output of the non-profit sector activities (Wolch, 1990). Progressive social change and transformative efforts aimed at civil society took prominence over charity discourse in the non-profit sector relatively recently. Such shift was prompted by the rise of progressive social movements that placed emphasis on advancing social justice agenda through active advocacy on behalf of the constituents of the non-profit sector. Advocacy and capacity building in the context of influencing public policies emerged as important outputs of the non-profit sector in addition to direct service provision (Phillips, 2003). During neoliberal downsizing of the welfare state the responsibility for the provision of many social services and programs shifted from the state to non-profit sector, and expanded an already existing contractionary regime (Wolch, 1990; Phillips, 2003; Fyfe, 2005; McBride and Whiteside, 2011). This shift of responsibility was accompanied by serious restructuring processes concerning financial regulations and managerial practices that reflected a transition to neoliberal governance (Phillips, 2003). Restrictions on advocacy output of non-profit sector have been part of this restructuring process enabled by new regimes of neoliberal governance. As a result the ability of non-profits to respond to the roll back of the welfare state weakened (Pross and Webb, 2003) forcing many organizations to reorient their activities to the delivery of direct service provision. Evans, Richmond and Shields (2005, p. 78) argue that ‘while the neoliberal state is content to ‘share’ some of the responsibilities of governance it retains ultimate central control of the overall direction of restructuring’. Drawing on Wolch's (1990) argument about the voluntary sector as a para-state apparatus that supports social reproduction processes in a way consistent with the interests of the state, it appears that neoliberalization of non-profits morphs the sector into neoliberal para-state apparatus that is more concerned with re/producing specific neoliberal subjects rather than facilitating the development of vibrant and participatory civil society. In such context the potential of non-profit sector to support counter-hegemonic discourse in solidarity with the communities affected by neoliberal policies is curbed. To illustrate the workings of neoliberalism and the emerging contradictions in the non-profit environment, I examine community development sector as a specific subset of non-profits commited to advocacy and capacity building. Drawing on my experience as a community engagement worker in one of Toronto's neighbourhood improvement areas, I problematize community development posing questions about its role in the production of specific socio-economic configurations that may, albeit inadvertently, support neoliberal discourse. I argue that uncritical approach to ‘capacity building’ may lead to co-optation of community development work. I discuss potential for counter-hegemonic action in community development, and within this context share an example of local community campaign for increased access to public space and services in the context of commoning. Entanglements of community development, non-profits and neoliberalism Location matters ‘We are in the business of community development’ – the quote from the staff's evaluation of community program has stuck in my memory as it captures all the contradictions and tensions I experienced as a frontline worker in the community development sector over the past ten years. The sentence ‘we are in the business of community development’ strikes me as semantically accurate given the situation when business practices and approaches consistent with neoliberal discourse and borrowed from the for-profit private sector seep into community development. What implications does it have for community development as a field of practice that is assumed to be contributing to enhancing democracy and civic participation? Community development projects are intended to support local, grassroots, residents-led initiatives and are often initiated by the various non-profit agencies in those neighbourhoods that are described as marginalized or under-served. In Toronto, Canada, such neighbourhoods once referred to as priority neighbourhoods were renamed as ‘neighbourhood improvement areas’ in 2014, and are generally characterized by having a higher percentage of low income residents, new immigrants, a higher concentration of high rise rental buildings and poor access to services (City of Toronto, 2015). Reflecting on my experience as a frontline community engagement worker in the Bathurst-Finch neighbourhood, I problematize and question neoliberal interpretation and approach to ‘capacity building’ in the context of the urban community development projects. I locate community development as situated inside a larger area of the non-profit sector, and the non-profit sector as immersed in the hegemonic discourse of neoliberal capitalist development. To avoid the notion of ‘totality’, it is necessary to clarify that ‘hegemonic’ does not necessarily imply static; ‘hegemonic’ denotes what is pervasive and dominant now, in this day and time. Gramsci (1971) described hegemony as a political project of particular groups that present their particular interests and agenda as universal. Such project is an ongoing process that is constantly in need of reproducing itself through manipulation, co-optation and coercion. Parallel to what is considered hegemonic, there is always counter-hegemonic, and the location of the non-profit sector within the hegemonic neoliberal discourse presents an important strategic location for developing and sustaining counter-hegemonic processes. Amidst such tensions community development can be pro-hegemonic through practices and discourses that conform to neoliberal processes, or counter-hegemonic i.e. creating and sustaining ‘cracks in consent’, or affirming the value of collectivism vs. individualism, of public or common goods vs. private gain. To consciously pursue counter-hegemonic efforts, community development practitioners must be aware of (i) neoliberalization as a process in the non-profit sector; (ii) co-optation as one of the means of neoliberalization; and (iii) the strategic location of the community development practice. Community development is best described as located ‘tactically inside and strategically outside the system’ in relation to capitalism (Mayo, 1999, p. 6). Living and working critically from such location requires ‘readiness to experience the tension involved in trying to move towards the “transformative end” of the continuum while being pushed towards the other end by the material forces with which we contend daily’ (Mayo, 1999, p. 6). To understand and analyse the tensions between community development and capitalist formation I examine the intersection between community development and access to public space in urban locale, reflecting on pro-hegemonic and counter-hegemonic interpretations and approaches to ‘capacity building’, a notion central to community development work. I examine these tensions through the lens of my experience as an immigrant woman, and at the same time a community engagement worker in the immigrant neighbourhood. Such positionality enables my analysis of what role community development practice plays in reproducing or transforming ‘ruling relations’ (Smith, 2005). It is important to clarify my subject position as a point of entry into the exploration of the tensions between urban capitalist development (i.e. material forces) and community development as a transformative practice. I describe my subject position as an ‘outsider inside’ meaning that my reflection is informed by my ‘inside’ position as a community engagement worker integrated with/in the system, and by my ‘outsider’ knowledge of what it means to be an immigrant woman supporting a family, living in a lower income neighbourhood and aware of her location on the margins of the ‘system’. What is community development? Community development is most commonly defined as grassroots driven process where people come together to generate solutions and take collective action to address issues of common concern. It places great emphasis on democratic values of equity, participation, social justice and universality to name but a few (Ontario Healthy Communities Coalition, 2016). Shaw (2011, p. 130) notes that community development has defined itself as a field that espouses egalitarian values and is concerned with enhancing democracy through greater participation. Mayo (1999) describes community development as rooted in critical pedagogy. For such complex practice a degree of professional reflexivity is constantly required in order to address the tensions inherent in community development (Shaw, 2011). Intended to support grassroots participation and action, which is often triggered by community discontent, community development may often find itself challenging the state and its policies. The state, although acting as a buffer between community (and its discontent) and the capital, is inherently biased toward capital (Coburn, 2006). Such bias is present because the state has to ensure a well-functioning economy to secure its own legitimacy given that the present societal ideology is overwhelmingly pro-market and pro-business (Coburn, 2006). The state's bias towards market and capital has implications for non-profit organizations, which, although declared not-for-profit, have been regulated and structured by the state institutions to serve profit-accumulating functions of the market. In such environment the danger of co-optation for community development is ever present. Tovey and Share (2003) describe two approaches to community development – integrationist and oppositional. The integrationist approach attempts to work with the state using the established networks and legitimate channels while the oppositional approach mobilizes against the repressive force of the state. Given the complexity of the world we live in, both approaches are not mutually exclusive and can be linked together in complex ways in the messy context of local development. The integrationist approach may be considered as more consistent with the neoliberal governance process that emphasizes partnerships and participation through established procedures and channels. Because such an approach defines itself as working with the state it may be more easily subjected to co-optation by neoliberal discourses permeating policy making. The oppositional approach on another hand recognizes the danger of co-optation inherent in the integrationist approach but faces far more obstacles at the practical level of frontline community development work. Drawing on my experience in low-income neighbourhood, I contrast two community development initiatives to reflect on how neoliberal tendencies in the non-profit sector affected community-based work. I focus particularly on how the issue of access to public space and services was addressed differently within the integrationist and oppositional approaches. I contrast Action for Neighbourhood Change Project Bathurst-Finch (ANC) as an example of an integrationist approach to community development with the Bathurst-Finch Network (BFN) as an example of community development with elements of an oppositional approach. I reflect on the meaning of ‘capacity building’ in each approach and the implications for the community development in terms of co-optation by neoliberal discourse or developing counter-hegemonic practice. It is important to clarify that my reflection is first and foremost is a reflection on the early years of my practice as a community engagement worker with ANC and is by no means a comprehensive analysis of the project as a multi-year, multisite initiative, nor it is a comprehensive review of the BFN. Community and the right to the city For Harvey (1989) the right to the city is the right to the use of surplus, the right to decide how the surplus value is redistributed in the city and what kind of city is created through the use of the surplus value. How much of the surplus value is directed toward developing the public sphere of the city and how much goes back to the private realm? Harvey (2012) describes the whole neoliberal restructuring of the urban as privatization of control over the surplus. The urban scene for control of the surplus becomes the central stage for political and class struggle. Caught in this struggle, or perhaps strategically positioned in this struggle, is urban community development that strives to empower those on the margins to participate in decision making concerning the development of the public realm, including public spaces and services. Yet community development itself has been subjected to the process of neoliberal restructuring in a way that has serious implications for how community development approaches ‘empowerment’ and ‘development’ work, and even how it defines ‘community’. Thus, the concept of development within the community context deserves closer examination in relation to the issue of community and the right to the city. When community development enters the urban scene with a claim ‘to develop creative locally-based solutions for sustainable community development and neighbourhood revitalization’ (ANC Community, 2015), how does it transform socio-spatial relationships? Does it make public spaces/services more accessible for ‘community’ (and if so, what is defined as community and who is included and excluded from this definition?) or does it contribute to privatization and gentrification processes that lead to the exclusion of marginalized community members? I reflect on the above issues while recalling my years as community engagement worker with the ANC Bathurst-Finch. The Bathurst-Finch neighbourhood was identified as a priority neighbourhood in 2005 through the City of Toronto's Strong Neighbourhoods Taskforce. The Toronto North Settlement and Employment Strategy (2012) (City of Toronto, 2012) described the neighbourhood as low-income, citing that ‘when compared to the larger City of Toronto Bathurst-Finch residents had an average after-tax household income of $49,440 in 2005 (compared to the rest of the City at $63,870)’. The same report points out that one of the primary indicators contributing to the Bathurst-Finch neighbourhood ‘priority neighbourhood’ designation was the community's isolation and poor access to services. According to Canadian Censuses in 2006 and 2011, Bathurst-Finch has a very large immigrant population where immigrants constitute over 70% of the neighborhood's residents (City of Toronto, 2012). The immigrant population of Bathurst-Finch is not homogenous in terms of immigration history and status. It includes permanent residents, naturalized citizens, temporary workers and spouses of temporary workers, refugee claimants and people with precarious immigration status. Their experiences and quality of life in the neighbourhood, the very extent of their participation in ‘community life’ are largely shaped by their immigration status that defines residents and their dependent family members’ ability to access many public services, including but not limited to healthcare, childcare, education and training, English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, recreational programs and legal clinics. In other words the services that are necessary to enable full participation in community life and that I describe as infrastructure of support. Engaging residents to volunteer with ANC Bathurst-Finch, as well as addressing lack of community spaces was one of the main priorities during the project's first years in Bathurst-Finch neighbourhood. To address the issues of both space and engagement we attempted to create more ‘open access’ spaces where residents could come together on a voluntary basis to exchange concerns about their experiences in Bathurst-Finch neighbourhood and share ideas about neighbourhood improvement. During first project years ANC Bathurst-Finch efforts were focused on building capacity of community residents to run voluntary groups to compensate for the lack of public service provision through the provision of seed funding for small scale voluntary projects. Leviten-Reid (2006, p. 3) describes ANC's approach as a resident-led, asset-based neighbourhood development initiative given that ‘a primary purpose of ANC's first phase was to build a strong foundation for its work by engaging residents as key participants in leading and producing change in their neighborhoods.’ In a multicultural neighbourhood that has been described as lacking social infrastructure and connections between residents, such approach seemed promising and yet, as I discovered later upon reflecting on my practice, contributed to some extent to further fragmentation as liberal spaces for voluntary engagement were at danger of transforming into elitist spaces despite the initial egalitarian intention. Ideas of liberal identity and voluntarism can become deeply problematic within the community development context as liberalism exhibits neutrality towards private differences assuming that these differences are a product of individual choice. The liberal public sphere tends to reproduce hierarchies of the private sphere where ‘participation of the public sphere is necessarily guided by the norms that are not in fact indifferent or neutral but are rather marked by the particular interests of a dominant group’ (Joseph, 2002: xxi). An asset-based approach with an emphasis on voluntarism is consistent with neoliberal practice of individualizing societal problems while hoisting the responsibility for dealing with these issues to the community. Within such approach individual lack of skills, literacy, time management, etc. and other shortcomings are presented as key targets for capacity building while systemic inequalities and structural causes that produce what is known as ‘priority neighborhoods’ or ‘vulnerable populations’, are downplayed if not dismissed. Murray (2004) demonstrated how various federal programs established to address poverty, crime, homelessness and other issues framed the lack of social and economic capital among groups of individuals as a product of subjective conditions, detached from those political and economic realities that are beyond individual or local community control. Similar to the programs described by Murray (2004), ANC as a community development project, while connecting issues of gender, race and class with vulnerability, fell short of going further upstream in connecting those issues to their structural causes. Under the disguise of buzzwords such as ‘community empowerment’ and ‘capacity building’, communities are led to believe that they are responsible for their own shortcomings, which also distinguish them as ‘priority neighborhoods’, and have the resources to overcome challenges that are in fact created and perpetuated by forces outside the community realm. By shifting the focus from the idea of social responsibility to community building in the context of vulnerable populations or ‘priority neighbourhood’, a rationale has been created for practices that are not able to address adequately the real conditions of those affected by poverty and inequality (Murray, 2004). Individuals affected by poverty and inequality become the targets of ‘capacity building’ efforts. When employing liberal conceptualization of ‘capacity building’ with an emphasis on rational self-improvement, community development may become instrumental for producing neoliberal subjects, who while exercising their enterprising abilities within the sphere of social reproduction nevertheless reinforce those modes of social reproduction and habits of mind that are consistent with the neoliberal capitalist ideology. Within the ANC model of community development Bathurst-Finch voluntary groups that were funded through the seed funding were able to provide some additional afterschool and recreational activities but only in the short-term. Few if any of them were able to survive after the start up funds were exhausted. Moreover, the activities designed to organize community residents to provide services in order to fill the gap in public service provision could not address socio-economic conditions shaping the life experiences of the most marginalized neighbourhood residents such as poverty, under- and unemployment, domestic violence and restricted access to services due to precarious immigration status. The small voluntary groups albeit being a benevolent effort were not capable of providing an adequate infrastructure of support to ensure the participation of the most marginalized community members. Without a sufficient and consistent infrastructure of support such as childcare provision, access to space and indiscriminate access to public services (including but not limited to healthcare) liberal spaces for voluntary participation will always be at danger of transforming into elitist spaces inaccessible for the most marginalized residents. Under neoliberal conditions, there is a tendency for ‘capacity building’ to acquire a specific bias, where ‘capacity building’ is interpreted as developing a set of specific technical skills on how to navigate existing systems of power without much attention to local contexts and power differentials between community residents, community workers and public officials. The Western development concept permeated with liberal values in relation to individual and property rights is essentially the capitalist development concept, and for that very reason it tends to foster and entrench those modes of social reproduction that are favoured by capitalist processes albeit through non-profit efforts. The non-profit efforts unfolding in the social realm become a disciplining force to keep labour subjected to domination of capital and its values in every facet of life so that the ‘work ethic’ and the ‘bourgeois values’ demanded by the capitalist work process can be secured (Harvey, 1976). This is how non-profits become strategically positioned agents of profit as in Kothari (2005), who describing neoliberalism as a social process, notes that ‘its diffusion is carried not simply by faceless structural forces but also by structurally positioned agents’ (Peck in Kothari, 2005, p. 37). Community development, when conveniently co-opted by neoliberal ideology and policy, becomes such ‘structurally positioned agent’ embedded into social reproduction with an agenda to modify and shape social reproduction processes according to the needs of the market and capital. The important aspect of neoliberal engineering and restructuring is that through employing the idea of liberal freedom and voluntarism it creates fragments and walls that obscure the facts of coercion and manipulation (Blomley, 2004). The so-called structurally positioned agents (e.g. community development organisations and workers) may often be unaware of their contribution in the processes that may contradict their values. The danger of capacity building approach as an idea(l) of community development is that when applied uncritically it becomes about building capacity to perform certain subjectivities necessary for producing (neo)liberal subjects who are able to perform and function as independent, self-sufficient individuals, stepping in where the state had withdrawn services and provide services for themselves, often using service provision as an entrepreneurial opportunity. Within such discourse, community capacity building may be easily co-opted by neoliberal discourse and reduced to a set of technical skills imparted by professionals of community development to community members within a climate of predetermined outcomes and culture of performance (Banks and Orton in Shaw, 2011). To prevent such co-optation of capacity building it is important to understand and conceptualize community development as a field of practice embedded in social relations that are produced and re-produced through relations of power. Practitioners of community development have to be acutely aware of the kind of social relations and relations of power that are reproduced through our actions and/or inactions. This awareness especially applies to the central concepts in community development, especially when their meanings and implications are often taken for granted such as in the case of ‘capacity building’. It would be naïve to presuppose that ANC as a community development project would have among its goals the destabilization of hegemonic formations and disrupting class structure through consciousness-raising of neighbourhood residents. However, it would be equally naïve to assume that community development is a politically neutral activity. Despite its limitations ANC as a community development project contributed to fostering a sense of collectivity among neighbourhood's residents. Yet the integrationist approach assumed by ANC model was largely a therapeutic band-aid solution to underlying community problems that are systemic in nature. Through the lens of my ‘outsider inside’ subjectivity that I have described earlier in the paper, I concluded that if as a practice community development is framed on therapeutic terms to help people to adapt to what is and to participate through the integration into the system as it is without challenging or questioning it, community development contributes to maintaining hegemonic power relations contrary to the claims of enhancing democracy, inclusion and participation. Enhancing democracy and participation cannot be politically neutral for it is about the re-negotiation of power by bringing into the decision-making process those groups whose participation is undermined. In the following section, I discuss the possibilities of initiating counter-hegemonic process by challenging the exclusionary qualities of limited access to public space and services imposed by neoliberal policies. The practice of ‘commoning’ in community development Describing the influence of neoliberal co-optation on community development where the sector becomes simultaneously an agent and a subject of this process, using the example of ‘modernization’, Shaw (2011) notes that there has been little objection observed in response to neoliberal agendas based on its capacity to silence counter-hegemonic discourse through creating a narrative that presents modernization and neoliberal restructuring as a politically neutral and pragmatic process. However, community development as a contested practice aimed at the most marginalized and disenfranchised groups still has transformative potential responding to the current crisis by initiating and supporting counter-hegemonic tendencies among these groups. As a practice rooted in critical pedagogy, community development is well positioned for advocating transformative action (Mayo, 1999). Critical pedagogy has the power to create educational conditions where people may start making ‘connections between their experience of current crisis and the wider context in which it has been created’ (Shaw, 2011, p. 143). When approached in this way ‘capacity building’ may become a powerful counter-hegemonic force for turning anger and desperation into collective action. Community development is strategically positioned in the social reproduction realm, and uncritical community development practice shapes it according to the hegemonic discourse in the interest(s) of capital. Yet such positioning simultaneously creates opportunities for community development for becoming counter-hegemonic practice. Targeting the exclusionary qualities of public services imposed by neoliberal austerity (e.g. increased or newly introduced user fees, tightened eligibility criteria and subsidy elimination) creates a potential for initiating and supporting counter-hegemonic discourse in civil society. Advancing such discourse requires a different kind of capacity building that targets the deficiencies of the system rather than the assumed deficiencies of individuals and therefore builds individuals’ capacity to identify and address systemic deficiencies collectively and at the political level. There is an urgent need for such capacity in times when neoliberal policies diminish the availability and quality of public goods and services, and when individual gains are prioritized over common good. The issue of commons, or the tragedy of commons, is conventionally (and often conveniently) described as an issue of neglect or abuse, but the real tragedy of commons is such that the public may soon have no commons left, and thus no space to exercise collective identities outside the private realm. Yet the opportunities to grow the commons are still widely presented in the public realm. Harvey (2012, p. 73) describes public spaces and public goods as contributing greatly to the qualities of the commons, and also reminds us that it takes political action on the part of citizens and the people to reclaim the commons in times when neoliberal politics diminish the financing of public goods. The commons are defined as ‘goods and resources that serve functions of social interest rather than functions of private ownership and as such operate on a rationale different from the hegemonic social, economic and political rationale of capitalism (Subirats, 2016). Based on such different rationale the commons present alternatively organized social relations and therefore are a significant ideological and discursive/pedagogical antidote to neoliberalism. At its basic level the commons include the earth and all its ecosystems, and in its most comprehensive notion the commons include much of the wealth of both nature and society. Such expanded definition of commons encompasses various kinds of public resources and services (Swift, 2014), including public spaces. In times of increased privatization, de-regulation and other incentives to support profit-seeking behaviours, the issue of the commons gains more prominence as the latest attack of neoliberal capitalism targets the commons as the new frontier for primitive accumulation. The transgressive potential of reclaiming commons lies in the principle of ‘commoning’ as a practice that stipulates that the relations within commons shall be both collective and non-commodified, and thus outside the boundaries of the capitalist logic of private property and market exchange (Harvey, 2012). Mitchell (2015) described rights to exclude as inherent and central to property rights that apply to both private and public property. Citizen mobilization around increased access to public spaces to combat exclusion becomes part of the larger claim on behalf of the community – the claim to have the right to the city, the right to inclusion against the exclusionary interests of capital. From this perspective, efforts to reclaim the commons could be one of the ways towards reclaiming original community development values of social justice. This may include advocacy efforts for increased access to public services and engaging community in political action to claim control over how such goods/services are distributed as in the example of community-led advocacy efforts that also took place in the Bathurst-Finch neighbourhood, which I describe below in more detail. The case of Bathurst-Finch Network advocacy for reclaiming public space Bathurst-Finch Network (BFN) is a group of community agencies workers and residents in the Bathurst-Finch neighbourhood that was established in 2009. In response to the various issues identified by the neighbourhood, BFN, using participatory planning approaches, created a number of community-based programs run by partnering community agencies with planning and steering input from community residents. These programs were conceived and implemented through public and non-profit agency partnerships that strived to address exclusionary criteria imposed by funders in relation to access to public goods/services distributed by each agency individually as part of its core funding. Many ‘mainstream’ programs and services were geared to Canadian residency requirement, and required proof of permanent residence or conventional refugee status, effectively eliminating certain groups of residents. Other barriers included a lack of childcare provision, service user fees, income-based criteria, transportation and food security (Bathurst-Finch Network, 2013). Community Women's Dinners, Meet and Speak Conversation Circle and Community Resource Night are some examples of BFN programming efforts that provided indiscriminate access to their respective services to all neighbourhood residents regardless of their legal status and income level. One of the pressing issues identified in the Bathurst-Finch neighbourhood was access to recreation and community space. The Antibes Community Centre had one of highest number of Welcome Policy1 subsidy users in the city. As the requirements for the subsidy were tightened and the increase in user fees was introduced, the issue of access to public recreation services and space became even more prominent. BFN launched a campaign for increased access to the use of public spaces. The campaign included but was not limited to making Antibes Community Centre a Priority Centre, which meant that Antibes Community Centre would grant free access to recreational programs to all children, youth and seniors in the neighbourhood. For over two years community residents and workers made deputations at City Committees, lobbied and wrote letters to City Councilors and Parks, Forestry and Recreation Staff. In addition, the BFN lobbied the Library Board and the Toronto District School Board asking to extend the library opening hours and make access to one of the secondary school's spaces free for community groups (Bathurst-Finch Network, 2013). In 2012, the Antibes Community Centre announced its status as a Priority Centre and eliminated fees for youth, children and seniors. Consequently, Centennial Library added an additional day to its operational hours and the Northview Heights Secondary School opened its space free to community groups. Counter-hegemonic community development and reclaiming the commons The case of the BFN-led advocacy is an example of political action at the local level where residents’ capacity was built to advance the commons by mobilizing agency workers and residents to bring down (albeit to a limited extent) enclosures guarding the use of public space and service delivery. In this case capacity building was used to advance counter-hegemonic discourse and practice in efforts against further commodification of public services. Residents capacity was built to claim some of the service provision through expanding the limits imposed by the state, i.e. bringing down enclosures guarding public property, on the use of the public services on a neighbourhood scale. Integral to the success of the BFN's campaign for more access to public space was universal access to childcare, transportation and food security, as well as universality of some services provided through the efforts of the partner agencies, consistent with original principals and values of community development (Ontario Healthy Communities Coalition, 2016). The universality of service provision itself was an act of expanding the commons. This claim also contributed to the success of the BFN in building strong coalitions between community workers and residents as well as between non-profit community agencies, uniting efforts under a shared goal to bring services to people excluded from service provision. Service providers teamed together to bring help to those community members who did not fit into the neat boxes of ‘eligibility criteria’ or were deemed undeserving of support due to the precariousness of their legal and/or employment status, or lacked the infrastructure of support to access the services for which they were eligible. To address these barriers to participation the BFN provided childcare, transportation support and food, and opened access to services to everyone, regardless of legal status, employment status and/or income. The BFN opened the doors to its ‘community’ to those who had previously been excluded through a variety of structural barriers despite the ever-present rhetoric of ‘inclusive community’. These concrete actions around universal service provision and support signified solidarity with those who were most marginalized and excluded from civil society. This small local campaign simultaneously expanded and extended the commons through increased access to public space and services. Conclusion I see protecting and advancing the commons as a counter-hegemonic community development practice, necessary to counteract neoliberal tendencies in the non-profit and the push for more ‘integrationist’ approaches to community development. Advancing and expanding the commons through activating anti-austerity and anti-privatization initiatives at the local level is an act of resistance to neoliberal assault on public resources and pressures on community development to conform to neoliberal discourse. Federici and Caffentzis (2013, p. 95) describe commoning efforts as ‘the embryonic form of an alternative mode of production in the make’ and drawing on various examples from different parts of the world show the power of the grassroots efforts and its contributions to forging alternative discourse based on solidarity and social cooperation. Commoning efforts in community development act as a counter force to co-optation in times when neoliberal policies push human services delivery to volunteer sector and use the language of volunteerism and community participation to disguise the shift of social reproduction costs to community realm without allocating the necessary resources. Through expanding and extending the access to public services community development contributes to the advancement of commons and therefore reclaims ‘the right to the city’ on behalf of the wider community. Reclaiming the right to the city, in the form of the city's public space and public services, supports the struggle for preserving and re/constructing the commons in the neoliberal city concerned with privatization and commodification of its every inch. As I suggested earlier in the paper, community development occupies an important location in the system being ‘tactically inside but strategically outside’. The ‘outside’ dimension is crucial for community development critical stance and therefore for its progressive potential. Harvey (2012, p. 88) affirms progressive potential inherent in civil society stating that ‘there are abundant signs in the urban social movements occurring around the world that there are plenty of people and a critical mass of political energy available to do it’. Community development, when approached as counter-hegemonic practice is certainly well positioned to add to that critical mass. Acknowledgements I would to like to express my gratitude to the people of Bathurst-Finch neighbourhood who over the years shared powerful lessons about the true meaning of community, solidarity and hope. I am very grateful to Dr Don Mitchell, Syracuse University, for my deepened understanding of the issues surrounding non-profit sector in the capitalist environment and to my academic advisor, Dr Liette Gilbert, York University, for the continuous support and feedback provided on multiple drafts of this paper. Julia Fursova is a PhD candidate at the Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University where she researches non-profit sector and community action for health justice in urban environment. Footnotes 1  Toronto Welcome Policy – an annual financial subsidy to help low-income individuals and families living in Toronto to access City operated recreation programs. References ANC Community, Action for Neighbourhood Change, Toronto http://www.anccommunity.ca/toronto.html Bathurst-Finch Network ( 2013) The real BFN report. accessed at: https://sites.google.com/site/bathurstfinchnetwork/home/the-real-bfn-reporthttps://sites.google.com/site/bathurstfinchnetwork/home/the-real-bfn-report Blomley, N. K. ( 2004) Unsettling the City: Urban land and the Politics of Property , Routledge, New York City. City of Toronto ( 2015) NIA profiles, accessed at: http://www1.toronto.ca/wps/portal/contentonly?vgnextoid=e0bc186e20ee0410VgnVCM10000071d60f89RCRD (31 July 2015). City of Toronto, Toronto North Local Immigration Partnership, Toronto North Settlement and Employment Strategy, 2012, http://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2013/cd/bgrd/backgroundfile-55338.pdf Coburn, D. ( 2006) Health and health care: a political economy perspective, in D. Raphael, T. Bryant and M. Rioux, eds, Staying Alive: Critical Perspectives on Health, Illness, and Health Care , Canadian Scholars’ Press Inc., Toronto. pp. 59– 84. Evans, B., Richmond, T. and Shields, J. ( 2005) Structuring neoliberal governance: The nonprofit sector, emerging new modes of control and the marketisation of service delivery, Policy and Society , 24 ( 1), 73– 97. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Federici, S. and Caffentzis, G. ( 2013) Commons against and beyond capitalism, Upping the Anti: a journal of theory and action , 15, 83– 97. Fyfe, N. R. ( 2005) Making space for “neo‐communitarianism”? The third sector, state and civil society in the UK, Antipode , 37 ( 3), 536– 557. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Gramsci, A. ( 1971) Selections from the Prison Notebooks , International Publishers, New York. Harvey, D. ( 1976) Labor, capital, and class struggle around the built environment in advanced capitalist societies, Politics & Society , 6 ( 3), 265– 295. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Harvey, D. ( 1989) The Urban Experience , Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore. Harvey, D. ( 2012) Rebel Cities: from the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution , Verso Books, New York City. Joseph, M. ( 2002) Against the Romance of Community , University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis. Kothari, U. ( 2005) Authority and expertise: The professionalization of international development and the ordering of dissent, Antipode , 37 ( 3), 425– 446. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Leviten-Reid, E. ( 2006) Asset-based, resident-led neighbourhood development. The Caledon Institute of Social Policy, Ottawa, Canada, accessed at: http://www.anccommunity.ca/Res_Research.html (31 July 2015). Mayo, P. ( 1999) Gramsci, Freire and Adult education: Possibilities for transformative action , Palgrave Macmillan, New York City. Mitchell, D. ( 2015) Lecture Notes, Mean Streets: Class Struggle, Capital Circulation and Public Space. IPEE Summer School, York University. McBride, S. and Whiteside, H. ( 2011) Private Affluence, Public Austerity: Economic Crisis & Democratic Malaise in Canada , Fernwood, Halifax. Murray, K. B. ( 2004) Do not disturb: ‘Vulnerable populations’ in federal government policy discourses and practices, Canadian Journal of Urban Research , 13 ( 1), 50– 70. Phillips, S. D. ( 2003) Voluntary sector-government relationships in transition: Learning from international experience for the Canadian context, in K. L. Brock and K. G. Banting, eds, The Nonprofit Sector in Interesting Times: Case Studies in a Changing Sector , McGill-Queen's University Press, Montreal. pp. 17– 70. Pross, A. P. and Webb, K. R. ( 2003) Embedded regulation: Advocacy and the federal regulation of public interest groups. Delicate dances: Public policy and the nonprofit sector , 63– 121. Shaw, M. ( 2011) Stuck in the middle? Community development, community engagement and the dangerous business of learning for democracy, Community Development Journal , 46 ( Suppl 2), ii128– ii146. doi:10.1093/cdj/bsr009. Smith, D. E. ( 2005) Institutional ethnography: A sociology for people , Rowman Altamira. Subirats, J. ( 2016) The commons: beyond the market vs. state dilemma. www.opendemocracy.net, retrieved on 01/26/2016 Swift, R. ( 2014) SOS: Alternatives to Capitalism , New Internationalist Publications, Oxford. Tovey, H. and Share, P. ( 2003) A sociology of Ireland , Dublin: Gill & Macmillan Ltd. Ontario Healthy Communities Coalition ( 2016) Values and principles of community development, accessed at http://www.ohcc-ccso.ca/en/courses/community-development-for-health-promoters/module-one-concepts-values-and-principles/values Wolch, J. R. ( 1990) The Shadow State: Government and Voluntary Sector in Transition , Foundation Center, New York City. © Oxford University Press and Community Development Journal. 2016 All rights reserved. For permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Community Development Journal Oxford University Press

The ‘business of community development’ and the right to the city: reflections on the neoliberalization processes in urban community development

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Abstract The paper explores emerging contradictions in community development, a subset of non-profit sector, within the context of neoliberalization. I examine non-profit sector as a site that has a potential for articulating counter-hegemonic discourse alternative to neoliberalism. Conversely, non-profit sector itself has been subjected to neoliberal co-optation and restructuring that resulted in restricted autonomy of the sector and decreased capacity to advocate for progressive social change. Drawing on my experience as a community engagement worker in one of Toronto's neighbourhood improvement areas, I problematize community development, posing questions about the role of the non-profit agencies in the production of specific socio-economic configurations that may, albeit inadvertently, support neoliberal discourse. Through an example of local community campaign for increased access to public space and services, I highlight options to enhance counter-hegemonic potential of community development as a critical practice aimed at advancing the commons. Introduction: Neoliberal co-optation of non-profit sector In this paper I discuss non-profit sector as a site of neoliberalization reflecting on the example of community development project in the Canadian urban context through the lens of political economy and class analysis. I argue that the advocacy potential of non-profit sector has suffered most in the wake of neoliberal austerity measures. I focus on the advocacy and capacity building output of non-profit sector for its importance in the context of sustaining and nurturing vibrant civil society capable of effectively challenging reactionary neoliberal policies such as, cuts to social assistance and public services combined with growing privatization/marketization tendencies in the public sphere. In that regard, non-profit sector presents both an opportunity and a challenge as it is a site that is capable of articulating oppositional counter-hegemonic agenda. At the same time, the sector has been subjected to neoliberal co-optation and restructuring that resulted in the restricted autonomy of the sector. Fyfe (2005) describes the location of non-profit sector within a triangular ‘tension field’ between the state, the market and the informal sector of family and community. The latter is also the location of the civil society or ‘the space of uncoerced human associations… and relational networks’ (Walzer in Phillips, 2003, p. 24). Historically the role of non-profit sector was delegated exclusively to charity work with a direct service delivery as the main output of the non-profit sector activities (Wolch, 1990). Progressive social change and transformative efforts aimed at civil society took prominence over charity discourse in the non-profit sector relatively recently. Such shift was prompted by the rise of progressive social movements that placed emphasis on advancing social justice agenda through active advocacy on behalf of the constituents of the non-profit sector. Advocacy and capacity building in the context of influencing public policies emerged as important outputs of the non-profit sector in addition to direct service provision (Phillips, 2003). During neoliberal downsizing of the welfare state the responsibility for the provision of many social services and programs shifted from the state to non-profit sector, and expanded an already existing contractionary regime (Wolch, 1990; Phillips, 2003; Fyfe, 2005; McBride and Whiteside, 2011). This shift of responsibility was accompanied by serious restructuring processes concerning financial regulations and managerial practices that reflected a transition to neoliberal governance (Phillips, 2003). Restrictions on advocacy output of non-profit sector have been part of this restructuring process enabled by new regimes of neoliberal governance. As a result the ability of non-profits to respond to the roll back of the welfare state weakened (Pross and Webb, 2003) forcing many organizations to reorient their activities to the delivery of direct service provision. Evans, Richmond and Shields (2005, p. 78) argue that ‘while the neoliberal state is content to ‘share’ some of the responsibilities of governance it retains ultimate central control of the overall direction of restructuring’. Drawing on Wolch's (1990) argument about the voluntary sector as a para-state apparatus that supports social reproduction processes in a way consistent with the interests of the state, it appears that neoliberalization of non-profits morphs the sector into neoliberal para-state apparatus that is more concerned with re/producing specific neoliberal subjects rather than facilitating the development of vibrant and participatory civil society. In such context the potential of non-profit sector to support counter-hegemonic discourse in solidarity with the communities affected by neoliberal policies is curbed. To illustrate the workings of neoliberalism and the emerging contradictions in the non-profit environment, I examine community development sector as a specific subset of non-profits commited to advocacy and capacity building. Drawing on my experience as a community engagement worker in one of Toronto's neighbourhood improvement areas, I problematize community development posing questions about its role in the production of specific socio-economic configurations that may, albeit inadvertently, support neoliberal discourse. I argue that uncritical approach to ‘capacity building’ may lead to co-optation of community development work. I discuss potential for counter-hegemonic action in community development, and within this context share an example of local community campaign for increased access to public space and services in the context of commoning. Entanglements of community development, non-profits and neoliberalism Location matters ‘We are in the business of community development’ – the quote from the staff's evaluation of community program has stuck in my memory as it captures all the contradictions and tensions I experienced as a frontline worker in the community development sector over the past ten years. The sentence ‘we are in the business of community development’ strikes me as semantically accurate given the situation when business practices and approaches consistent with neoliberal discourse and borrowed from the for-profit private sector seep into community development. What implications does it have for community development as a field of practice that is assumed to be contributing to enhancing democracy and civic participation? Community development projects are intended to support local, grassroots, residents-led initiatives and are often initiated by the various non-profit agencies in those neighbourhoods that are described as marginalized or under-served. In Toronto, Canada, such neighbourhoods once referred to as priority neighbourhoods were renamed as ‘neighbourhood improvement areas’ in 2014, and are generally characterized by having a higher percentage of low income residents, new immigrants, a higher concentration of high rise rental buildings and poor access to services (City of Toronto, 2015). Reflecting on my experience as a frontline community engagement worker in the Bathurst-Finch neighbourhood, I problematize and question neoliberal interpretation and approach to ‘capacity building’ in the context of the urban community development projects. I locate community development as situated inside a larger area of the non-profit sector, and the non-profit sector as immersed in the hegemonic discourse of neoliberal capitalist development. To avoid the notion of ‘totality’, it is necessary to clarify that ‘hegemonic’ does not necessarily imply static; ‘hegemonic’ denotes what is pervasive and dominant now, in this day and time. Gramsci (1971) described hegemony as a political project of particular groups that present their particular interests and agenda as universal. Such project is an ongoing process that is constantly in need of reproducing itself through manipulation, co-optation and coercion. Parallel to what is considered hegemonic, there is always counter-hegemonic, and the location of the non-profit sector within the hegemonic neoliberal discourse presents an important strategic location for developing and sustaining counter-hegemonic processes. Amidst such tensions community development can be pro-hegemonic through practices and discourses that conform to neoliberal processes, or counter-hegemonic i.e. creating and sustaining ‘cracks in consent’, or affirming the value of collectivism vs. individualism, of public or common goods vs. private gain. To consciously pursue counter-hegemonic efforts, community development practitioners must be aware of (i) neoliberalization as a process in the non-profit sector; (ii) co-optation as one of the means of neoliberalization; and (iii) the strategic location of the community development practice. Community development is best described as located ‘tactically inside and strategically outside the system’ in relation to capitalism (Mayo, 1999, p. 6). Living and working critically from such location requires ‘readiness to experience the tension involved in trying to move towards the “transformative end” of the continuum while being pushed towards the other end by the material forces with which we contend daily’ (Mayo, 1999, p. 6). To understand and analyse the tensions between community development and capitalist formation I examine the intersection between community development and access to public space in urban locale, reflecting on pro-hegemonic and counter-hegemonic interpretations and approaches to ‘capacity building’, a notion central to community development work. I examine these tensions through the lens of my experience as an immigrant woman, and at the same time a community engagement worker in the immigrant neighbourhood. Such positionality enables my analysis of what role community development practice plays in reproducing or transforming ‘ruling relations’ (Smith, 2005). It is important to clarify my subject position as a point of entry into the exploration of the tensions between urban capitalist development (i.e. material forces) and community development as a transformative practice. I describe my subject position as an ‘outsider inside’ meaning that my reflection is informed by my ‘inside’ position as a community engagement worker integrated with/in the system, and by my ‘outsider’ knowledge of what it means to be an immigrant woman supporting a family, living in a lower income neighbourhood and aware of her location on the margins of the ‘system’. What is community development? Community development is most commonly defined as grassroots driven process where people come together to generate solutions and take collective action to address issues of common concern. It places great emphasis on democratic values of equity, participation, social justice and universality to name but a few (Ontario Healthy Communities Coalition, 2016). Shaw (2011, p. 130) notes that community development has defined itself as a field that espouses egalitarian values and is concerned with enhancing democracy through greater participation. Mayo (1999) describes community development as rooted in critical pedagogy. For such complex practice a degree of professional reflexivity is constantly required in order to address the tensions inherent in community development (Shaw, 2011). Intended to support grassroots participation and action, which is often triggered by community discontent, community development may often find itself challenging the state and its policies. The state, although acting as a buffer between community (and its discontent) and the capital, is inherently biased toward capital (Coburn, 2006). Such bias is present because the state has to ensure a well-functioning economy to secure its own legitimacy given that the present societal ideology is overwhelmingly pro-market and pro-business (Coburn, 2006). The state's bias towards market and capital has implications for non-profit organizations, which, although declared not-for-profit, have been regulated and structured by the state institutions to serve profit-accumulating functions of the market. In such environment the danger of co-optation for community development is ever present. Tovey and Share (2003) describe two approaches to community development – integrationist and oppositional. The integrationist approach attempts to work with the state using the established networks and legitimate channels while the oppositional approach mobilizes against the repressive force of the state. Given the complexity of the world we live in, both approaches are not mutually exclusive and can be linked together in complex ways in the messy context of local development. The integrationist approach may be considered as more consistent with the neoliberal governance process that emphasizes partnerships and participation through established procedures and channels. Because such an approach defines itself as working with the state it may be more easily subjected to co-optation by neoliberal discourses permeating policy making. The oppositional approach on another hand recognizes the danger of co-optation inherent in the integrationist approach but faces far more obstacles at the practical level of frontline community development work. Drawing on my experience in low-income neighbourhood, I contrast two community development initiatives to reflect on how neoliberal tendencies in the non-profit sector affected community-based work. I focus particularly on how the issue of access to public space and services was addressed differently within the integrationist and oppositional approaches. I contrast Action for Neighbourhood Change Project Bathurst-Finch (ANC) as an example of an integrationist approach to community development with the Bathurst-Finch Network (BFN) as an example of community development with elements of an oppositional approach. I reflect on the meaning of ‘capacity building’ in each approach and the implications for the community development in terms of co-optation by neoliberal discourse or developing counter-hegemonic practice. It is important to clarify that my reflection is first and foremost is a reflection on the early years of my practice as a community engagement worker with ANC and is by no means a comprehensive analysis of the project as a multi-year, multisite initiative, nor it is a comprehensive review of the BFN. Community and the right to the city For Harvey (1989) the right to the city is the right to the use of surplus, the right to decide how the surplus value is redistributed in the city and what kind of city is created through the use of the surplus value. How much of the surplus value is directed toward developing the public sphere of the city and how much goes back to the private realm? Harvey (2012) describes the whole neoliberal restructuring of the urban as privatization of control over the surplus. The urban scene for control of the surplus becomes the central stage for political and class struggle. Caught in this struggle, or perhaps strategically positioned in this struggle, is urban community development that strives to empower those on the margins to participate in decision making concerning the development of the public realm, including public spaces and services. Yet community development itself has been subjected to the process of neoliberal restructuring in a way that has serious implications for how community development approaches ‘empowerment’ and ‘development’ work, and even how it defines ‘community’. Thus, the concept of development within the community context deserves closer examination in relation to the issue of community and the right to the city. When community development enters the urban scene with a claim ‘to develop creative locally-based solutions for sustainable community development and neighbourhood revitalization’ (ANC Community, 2015), how does it transform socio-spatial relationships? Does it make public spaces/services more accessible for ‘community’ (and if so, what is defined as community and who is included and excluded from this definition?) or does it contribute to privatization and gentrification processes that lead to the exclusion of marginalized community members? I reflect on the above issues while recalling my years as community engagement worker with the ANC Bathurst-Finch. The Bathurst-Finch neighbourhood was identified as a priority neighbourhood in 2005 through the City of Toronto's Strong Neighbourhoods Taskforce. The Toronto North Settlement and Employment Strategy (2012) (City of Toronto, 2012) described the neighbourhood as low-income, citing that ‘when compared to the larger City of Toronto Bathurst-Finch residents had an average after-tax household income of $49,440 in 2005 (compared to the rest of the City at $63,870)’. The same report points out that one of the primary indicators contributing to the Bathurst-Finch neighbourhood ‘priority neighbourhood’ designation was the community's isolation and poor access to services. According to Canadian Censuses in 2006 and 2011, Bathurst-Finch has a very large immigrant population where immigrants constitute over 70% of the neighborhood's residents (City of Toronto, 2012). The immigrant population of Bathurst-Finch is not homogenous in terms of immigration history and status. It includes permanent residents, naturalized citizens, temporary workers and spouses of temporary workers, refugee claimants and people with precarious immigration status. Their experiences and quality of life in the neighbourhood, the very extent of their participation in ‘community life’ are largely shaped by their immigration status that defines residents and their dependent family members’ ability to access many public services, including but not limited to healthcare, childcare, education and training, English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, recreational programs and legal clinics. In other words the services that are necessary to enable full participation in community life and that I describe as infrastructure of support. Engaging residents to volunteer with ANC Bathurst-Finch, as well as addressing lack of community spaces was one of the main priorities during the project's first years in Bathurst-Finch neighbourhood. To address the issues of both space and engagement we attempted to create more ‘open access’ spaces where residents could come together on a voluntary basis to exchange concerns about their experiences in Bathurst-Finch neighbourhood and share ideas about neighbourhood improvement. During first project years ANC Bathurst-Finch efforts were focused on building capacity of community residents to run voluntary groups to compensate for the lack of public service provision through the provision of seed funding for small scale voluntary projects. Leviten-Reid (2006, p. 3) describes ANC's approach as a resident-led, asset-based neighbourhood development initiative given that ‘a primary purpose of ANC's first phase was to build a strong foundation for its work by engaging residents as key participants in leading and producing change in their neighborhoods.’ In a multicultural neighbourhood that has been described as lacking social infrastructure and connections between residents, such approach seemed promising and yet, as I discovered later upon reflecting on my practice, contributed to some extent to further fragmentation as liberal spaces for voluntary engagement were at danger of transforming into elitist spaces despite the initial egalitarian intention. Ideas of liberal identity and voluntarism can become deeply problematic within the community development context as liberalism exhibits neutrality towards private differences assuming that these differences are a product of individual choice. The liberal public sphere tends to reproduce hierarchies of the private sphere where ‘participation of the public sphere is necessarily guided by the norms that are not in fact indifferent or neutral but are rather marked by the particular interests of a dominant group’ (Joseph, 2002: xxi). An asset-based approach with an emphasis on voluntarism is consistent with neoliberal practice of individualizing societal problems while hoisting the responsibility for dealing with these issues to the community. Within such approach individual lack of skills, literacy, time management, etc. and other shortcomings are presented as key targets for capacity building while systemic inequalities and structural causes that produce what is known as ‘priority neighborhoods’ or ‘vulnerable populations’, are downplayed if not dismissed. Murray (2004) demonstrated how various federal programs established to address poverty, crime, homelessness and other issues framed the lack of social and economic capital among groups of individuals as a product of subjective conditions, detached from those political and economic realities that are beyond individual or local community control. Similar to the programs described by Murray (2004), ANC as a community development project, while connecting issues of gender, race and class with vulnerability, fell short of going further upstream in connecting those issues to their structural causes. Under the disguise of buzzwords such as ‘community empowerment’ and ‘capacity building’, communities are led to believe that they are responsible for their own shortcomings, which also distinguish them as ‘priority neighborhoods’, and have the resources to overcome challenges that are in fact created and perpetuated by forces outside the community realm. By shifting the focus from the idea of social responsibility to community building in the context of vulnerable populations or ‘priority neighbourhood’, a rationale has been created for practices that are not able to address adequately the real conditions of those affected by poverty and inequality (Murray, 2004). Individuals affected by poverty and inequality become the targets of ‘capacity building’ efforts. When employing liberal conceptualization of ‘capacity building’ with an emphasis on rational self-improvement, community development may become instrumental for producing neoliberal subjects, who while exercising their enterprising abilities within the sphere of social reproduction nevertheless reinforce those modes of social reproduction and habits of mind that are consistent with the neoliberal capitalist ideology. Within the ANC model of community development Bathurst-Finch voluntary groups that were funded through the seed funding were able to provide some additional afterschool and recreational activities but only in the short-term. Few if any of them were able to survive after the start up funds were exhausted. Moreover, the activities designed to organize community residents to provide services in order to fill the gap in public service provision could not address socio-economic conditions shaping the life experiences of the most marginalized neighbourhood residents such as poverty, under- and unemployment, domestic violence and restricted access to services due to precarious immigration status. The small voluntary groups albeit being a benevolent effort were not capable of providing an adequate infrastructure of support to ensure the participation of the most marginalized community members. Without a sufficient and consistent infrastructure of support such as childcare provision, access to space and indiscriminate access to public services (including but not limited to healthcare) liberal spaces for voluntary participation will always be at danger of transforming into elitist spaces inaccessible for the most marginalized residents. Under neoliberal conditions, there is a tendency for ‘capacity building’ to acquire a specific bias, where ‘capacity building’ is interpreted as developing a set of specific technical skills on how to navigate existing systems of power without much attention to local contexts and power differentials between community residents, community workers and public officials. The Western development concept permeated with liberal values in relation to individual and property rights is essentially the capitalist development concept, and for that very reason it tends to foster and entrench those modes of social reproduction that are favoured by capitalist processes albeit through non-profit efforts. The non-profit efforts unfolding in the social realm become a disciplining force to keep labour subjected to domination of capital and its values in every facet of life so that the ‘work ethic’ and the ‘bourgeois values’ demanded by the capitalist work process can be secured (Harvey, 1976). This is how non-profits become strategically positioned agents of profit as in Kothari (2005), who describing neoliberalism as a social process, notes that ‘its diffusion is carried not simply by faceless structural forces but also by structurally positioned agents’ (Peck in Kothari, 2005, p. 37). Community development, when conveniently co-opted by neoliberal ideology and policy, becomes such ‘structurally positioned agent’ embedded into social reproduction with an agenda to modify and shape social reproduction processes according to the needs of the market and capital. The important aspect of neoliberal engineering and restructuring is that through employing the idea of liberal freedom and voluntarism it creates fragments and walls that obscure the facts of coercion and manipulation (Blomley, 2004). The so-called structurally positioned agents (e.g. community development organisations and workers) may often be unaware of their contribution in the processes that may contradict their values. The danger of capacity building approach as an idea(l) of community development is that when applied uncritically it becomes about building capacity to perform certain subjectivities necessary for producing (neo)liberal subjects who are able to perform and function as independent, self-sufficient individuals, stepping in where the state had withdrawn services and provide services for themselves, often using service provision as an entrepreneurial opportunity. Within such discourse, community capacity building may be easily co-opted by neoliberal discourse and reduced to a set of technical skills imparted by professionals of community development to community members within a climate of predetermined outcomes and culture of performance (Banks and Orton in Shaw, 2011). To prevent such co-optation of capacity building it is important to understand and conceptualize community development as a field of practice embedded in social relations that are produced and re-produced through relations of power. Practitioners of community development have to be acutely aware of the kind of social relations and relations of power that are reproduced through our actions and/or inactions. This awareness especially applies to the central concepts in community development, especially when their meanings and implications are often taken for granted such as in the case of ‘capacity building’. It would be naïve to presuppose that ANC as a community development project would have among its goals the destabilization of hegemonic formations and disrupting class structure through consciousness-raising of neighbourhood residents. However, it would be equally naïve to assume that community development is a politically neutral activity. Despite its limitations ANC as a community development project contributed to fostering a sense of collectivity among neighbourhood's residents. Yet the integrationist approach assumed by ANC model was largely a therapeutic band-aid solution to underlying community problems that are systemic in nature. Through the lens of my ‘outsider inside’ subjectivity that I have described earlier in the paper, I concluded that if as a practice community development is framed on therapeutic terms to help people to adapt to what is and to participate through the integration into the system as it is without challenging or questioning it, community development contributes to maintaining hegemonic power relations contrary to the claims of enhancing democracy, inclusion and participation. Enhancing democracy and participation cannot be politically neutral for it is about the re-negotiation of power by bringing into the decision-making process those groups whose participation is undermined. In the following section, I discuss the possibilities of initiating counter-hegemonic process by challenging the exclusionary qualities of limited access to public space and services imposed by neoliberal policies. The practice of ‘commoning’ in community development Describing the influence of neoliberal co-optation on community development where the sector becomes simultaneously an agent and a subject of this process, using the example of ‘modernization’, Shaw (2011) notes that there has been little objection observed in response to neoliberal agendas based on its capacity to silence counter-hegemonic discourse through creating a narrative that presents modernization and neoliberal restructuring as a politically neutral and pragmatic process. However, community development as a contested practice aimed at the most marginalized and disenfranchised groups still has transformative potential responding to the current crisis by initiating and supporting counter-hegemonic tendencies among these groups. As a practice rooted in critical pedagogy, community development is well positioned for advocating transformative action (Mayo, 1999). Critical pedagogy has the power to create educational conditions where people may start making ‘connections between their experience of current crisis and the wider context in which it has been created’ (Shaw, 2011, p. 143). When approached in this way ‘capacity building’ may become a powerful counter-hegemonic force for turning anger and desperation into collective action. Community development is strategically positioned in the social reproduction realm, and uncritical community development practice shapes it according to the hegemonic discourse in the interest(s) of capital. Yet such positioning simultaneously creates opportunities for community development for becoming counter-hegemonic practice. Targeting the exclusionary qualities of public services imposed by neoliberal austerity (e.g. increased or newly introduced user fees, tightened eligibility criteria and subsidy elimination) creates a potential for initiating and supporting counter-hegemonic discourse in civil society. Advancing such discourse requires a different kind of capacity building that targets the deficiencies of the system rather than the assumed deficiencies of individuals and therefore builds individuals’ capacity to identify and address systemic deficiencies collectively and at the political level. There is an urgent need for such capacity in times when neoliberal policies diminish the availability and quality of public goods and services, and when individual gains are prioritized over common good. The issue of commons, or the tragedy of commons, is conventionally (and often conveniently) described as an issue of neglect or abuse, but the real tragedy of commons is such that the public may soon have no commons left, and thus no space to exercise collective identities outside the private realm. Yet the opportunities to grow the commons are still widely presented in the public realm. Harvey (2012, p. 73) describes public spaces and public goods as contributing greatly to the qualities of the commons, and also reminds us that it takes political action on the part of citizens and the people to reclaim the commons in times when neoliberal politics diminish the financing of public goods. The commons are defined as ‘goods and resources that serve functions of social interest rather than functions of private ownership and as such operate on a rationale different from the hegemonic social, economic and political rationale of capitalism (Subirats, 2016). Based on such different rationale the commons present alternatively organized social relations and therefore are a significant ideological and discursive/pedagogical antidote to neoliberalism. At its basic level the commons include the earth and all its ecosystems, and in its most comprehensive notion the commons include much of the wealth of both nature and society. Such expanded definition of commons encompasses various kinds of public resources and services (Swift, 2014), including public spaces. In times of increased privatization, de-regulation and other incentives to support profit-seeking behaviours, the issue of the commons gains more prominence as the latest attack of neoliberal capitalism targets the commons as the new frontier for primitive accumulation. The transgressive potential of reclaiming commons lies in the principle of ‘commoning’ as a practice that stipulates that the relations within commons shall be both collective and non-commodified, and thus outside the boundaries of the capitalist logic of private property and market exchange (Harvey, 2012). Mitchell (2015) described rights to exclude as inherent and central to property rights that apply to both private and public property. Citizen mobilization around increased access to public spaces to combat exclusion becomes part of the larger claim on behalf of the community – the claim to have the right to the city, the right to inclusion against the exclusionary interests of capital. From this perspective, efforts to reclaim the commons could be one of the ways towards reclaiming original community development values of social justice. This may include advocacy efforts for increased access to public services and engaging community in political action to claim control over how such goods/services are distributed as in the example of community-led advocacy efforts that also took place in the Bathurst-Finch neighbourhood, which I describe below in more detail. The case of Bathurst-Finch Network advocacy for reclaiming public space Bathurst-Finch Network (BFN) is a group of community agencies workers and residents in the Bathurst-Finch neighbourhood that was established in 2009. In response to the various issues identified by the neighbourhood, BFN, using participatory planning approaches, created a number of community-based programs run by partnering community agencies with planning and steering input from community residents. These programs were conceived and implemented through public and non-profit agency partnerships that strived to address exclusionary criteria imposed by funders in relation to access to public goods/services distributed by each agency individually as part of its core funding. Many ‘mainstream’ programs and services were geared to Canadian residency requirement, and required proof of permanent residence or conventional refugee status, effectively eliminating certain groups of residents. Other barriers included a lack of childcare provision, service user fees, income-based criteria, transportation and food security (Bathurst-Finch Network, 2013). Community Women's Dinners, Meet and Speak Conversation Circle and Community Resource Night are some examples of BFN programming efforts that provided indiscriminate access to their respective services to all neighbourhood residents regardless of their legal status and income level. One of the pressing issues identified in the Bathurst-Finch neighbourhood was access to recreation and community space. The Antibes Community Centre had one of highest number of Welcome Policy1 subsidy users in the city. As the requirements for the subsidy were tightened and the increase in user fees was introduced, the issue of access to public recreation services and space became even more prominent. BFN launched a campaign for increased access to the use of public spaces. The campaign included but was not limited to making Antibes Community Centre a Priority Centre, which meant that Antibes Community Centre would grant free access to recreational programs to all children, youth and seniors in the neighbourhood. For over two years community residents and workers made deputations at City Committees, lobbied and wrote letters to City Councilors and Parks, Forestry and Recreation Staff. In addition, the BFN lobbied the Library Board and the Toronto District School Board asking to extend the library opening hours and make access to one of the secondary school's spaces free for community groups (Bathurst-Finch Network, 2013). In 2012, the Antibes Community Centre announced its status as a Priority Centre and eliminated fees for youth, children and seniors. Consequently, Centennial Library added an additional day to its operational hours and the Northview Heights Secondary School opened its space free to community groups. Counter-hegemonic community development and reclaiming the commons The case of the BFN-led advocacy is an example of political action at the local level where residents’ capacity was built to advance the commons by mobilizing agency workers and residents to bring down (albeit to a limited extent) enclosures guarding the use of public space and service delivery. In this case capacity building was used to advance counter-hegemonic discourse and practice in efforts against further commodification of public services. Residents capacity was built to claim some of the service provision through expanding the limits imposed by the state, i.e. bringing down enclosures guarding public property, on the use of the public services on a neighbourhood scale. Integral to the success of the BFN's campaign for more access to public space was universal access to childcare, transportation and food security, as well as universality of some services provided through the efforts of the partner agencies, consistent with original principals and values of community development (Ontario Healthy Communities Coalition, 2016). The universality of service provision itself was an act of expanding the commons. This claim also contributed to the success of the BFN in building strong coalitions between community workers and residents as well as between non-profit community agencies, uniting efforts under a shared goal to bring services to people excluded from service provision. Service providers teamed together to bring help to those community members who did not fit into the neat boxes of ‘eligibility criteria’ or were deemed undeserving of support due to the precariousness of their legal and/or employment status, or lacked the infrastructure of support to access the services for which they were eligible. To address these barriers to participation the BFN provided childcare, transportation support and food, and opened access to services to everyone, regardless of legal status, employment status and/or income. The BFN opened the doors to its ‘community’ to those who had previously been excluded through a variety of structural barriers despite the ever-present rhetoric of ‘inclusive community’. These concrete actions around universal service provision and support signified solidarity with those who were most marginalized and excluded from civil society. This small local campaign simultaneously expanded and extended the commons through increased access to public space and services. Conclusion I see protecting and advancing the commons as a counter-hegemonic community development practice, necessary to counteract neoliberal tendencies in the non-profit and the push for more ‘integrationist’ approaches to community development. Advancing and expanding the commons through activating anti-austerity and anti-privatization initiatives at the local level is an act of resistance to neoliberal assault on public resources and pressures on community development to conform to neoliberal discourse. Federici and Caffentzis (2013, p. 95) describe commoning efforts as ‘the embryonic form of an alternative mode of production in the make’ and drawing on various examples from different parts of the world show the power of the grassroots efforts and its contributions to forging alternative discourse based on solidarity and social cooperation. Commoning efforts in community development act as a counter force to co-optation in times when neoliberal policies push human services delivery to volunteer sector and use the language of volunteerism and community participation to disguise the shift of social reproduction costs to community realm without allocating the necessary resources. Through expanding and extending the access to public services community development contributes to the advancement of commons and therefore reclaims ‘the right to the city’ on behalf of the wider community. Reclaiming the right to the city, in the form of the city's public space and public services, supports the struggle for preserving and re/constructing the commons in the neoliberal city concerned with privatization and commodification of its every inch. As I suggested earlier in the paper, community development occupies an important location in the system being ‘tactically inside but strategically outside’. The ‘outside’ dimension is crucial for community development critical stance and therefore for its progressive potential. Harvey (2012, p. 88) affirms progressive potential inherent in civil society stating that ‘there are abundant signs in the urban social movements occurring around the world that there are plenty of people and a critical mass of political energy available to do it’. Community development, when approached as counter-hegemonic practice is certainly well positioned to add to that critical mass. Acknowledgements I would to like to express my gratitude to the people of Bathurst-Finch neighbourhood who over the years shared powerful lessons about the true meaning of community, solidarity and hope. I am very grateful to Dr Don Mitchell, Syracuse University, for my deepened understanding of the issues surrounding non-profit sector in the capitalist environment and to my academic advisor, Dr Liette Gilbert, York University, for the continuous support and feedback provided on multiple drafts of this paper. Julia Fursova is a PhD candidate at the Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University where she researches non-profit sector and community action for health justice in urban environment. Footnotes 1  Toronto Welcome Policy – an annual financial subsidy to help low-income individuals and families living in Toronto to access City operated recreation programs. 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Community Development JournalOxford University Press

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