Asset-based Community Activism: Lessons from Seattle

The Young Foundation recently had the pleasure of welcoming Jim Diers. With a career spanning more than 30 years, Jim is a seasoned community organiser and activist as well as former senior civil servant. He is passionate about getting people involved in their communities and in the decisions that affect their lives. Appointed as Seattle’s first director of the Department of Neighborhoods in 1988, Jim spent 14 years serving the department as it grew to become a model for planning and development nation wide. Today Jim teaches at Washington University in courses on community development and organising.

Jim believes in ‘community power’ and how it can be manifested to create neighbourhoods and places where people want to live and work. This power is two-fold; on one hand, communities can demonstrate power by organizing to hold outside agencies and organisations accountable for meeting community needs.

Communities can also mobilise themselves to exploit their own capacity to meet local needs and realise their community vision. Having been involved in both types of processes, Jim clearly advocates that both forms of community power are important in the regeneration of local communities.

As an example, Jim highlighted the successes of Delridge, a community in Seattle that had produced inspiring changes in their community though the creation and help of their neighborhood development association.

Various examples of community organizations that have taken responsibility for neighbourhood improvement and assumed ownership of local area assets also exist in the UK. One such example is the Parks Trust in Milton Keynes that has taken over management of the city’s large green spaces.

Throughout his career, Jim has been able to maintain his passion for improving communities and gives an amazing example of the work that can be done with persistence and enthusiasm.

More can be found in Jim’s book titled, Neighbor Power: Building Community the Seattle Way

For a contemporary view on the subject of community organising, see Nicola Bacon’s recent blog post for CLES-New Start.

Posted by: Tanya Wragg-Morris