Master of Urban Planning

Community Development for Social Justice

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

Community development emerged as a grassroots movement to improve quality of life in low-income neighborhoods, communities and countries, through empowerment, capacity building, and community-based generation of wealth and asset control. Community development embraces initiatives such as local neighborhood development planning groups, grassroots self-reliant strategies, social movements, participatory planning processes, and advocacy and equity planning. At the core of community development are grassroots neighborhood and community-based groups, along with advocacy and trade organizations, unions, local social service providers, financial institutions, for-profit businesses, government/public sector agencies, foundations, philanthropies, consultants, as well as academic institutions.

The CDSJ concentration concerns community development in both domestic and international contexts. The concentration links the local and the global, as well as theory and practice, in order to understand the processes through which successful intervention occurs.

The key and elective courses offered within and outside the Department of Urban and Regional Planning (DURP) give students an understanding of community development that recognizes its underlying economic, social and political forces and structures and considers a range of actors, including the poor, racialized and disadvantaged populations, women and men, policy makers, planners and activists. These courses offer techniques and skills for participatory planning and community development through formal and informal organizations and processes.


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

Stacy Harwood
Participatory approaches to community development, the role of planners and universities in social justice (East St. Louis); scenario planning as a way to bring about collaboration and negotiate differences (Costa Rica); land-use practices in diverse immigrant communities(Southern California, Midwest).

Faranak Miraftab
Critical analysis of neoliberal urban policies and privatization of public services, global justice movements, grassroots and community-based mobilizations for housing and basic neighborhood services, gender, immigrants and transnational urbanism. Her empirical work spans South Africa, Mexico, Canada, and the U.S.

Ken Salo
Law, power and ecology in communities polarized by racial, gendered, generational and economic hierarchies. Research aims to explain how disempowered groups within these communities use, avoid and resist dominant legal forms to secure and sustain equitable access to the ecological resources necessary for a dignified livelihood. Current projects focus on disputes between subsistence and commercial fishing communities who work South Africa's fertile west coast and the racial politics of organic and local food movements situated in east central Illinois.

CDSJ Listserv

Join the CDSJ Listserv to keep track of happenings in the Department and on campus in this field.

CDSJ Course Recommendations

Students interested in working in the field of community development, either domestically or internationally, need to develop many of the same skills as in the other areas of specialization within the planning profession—e.g., problem solving, critical thinking, communication, analytical and process skills. The Department encourages students to consider courses in other concentrations, for example, in environmental planning, economic development, urban design, and GIS to complement the courses suggested below.

Students wishing to develop professional competence in community development for social justice are strongly encouraged to take at least three of the CDSJ Core Courses listed below.

Courses in Community Development for Social Justice
Core CDSJ Courses Other CDSJ Courses
UP 423
UP 474
UP 473
UP 494
Introduction to International Planning
Neighborhood Planning
Housing & Urban Policy Planning
Community Economic Development
UP 420
UP 428
UP 429
UP 494
UP 478
UP 494
UP 494
UP 521
UP 587
Planning for Historic Preservation
International Planning Development Study
International Environmental Policies & Practices
Affordable Housing Developments & Finance
Community Development Workshop
Gender & Dev in Russian & Former Republics
Gender & Race in Community Dev Planning
Seminar in International Dev Planning
Qualitative Methods

Practical Experience

Academic preparation combined with volunteer, community activism and internships, opens up a diverse range of career options for students in the Community Development for Social Justice concentration (CDSJ). Students in the CDSJ concentration are strongly encouraged to complement their course work with practical experience in the area of community development. The department offers a great variety of opportunities for internship, volunteer work, and field based course work both domestically and internationally. The East St. Louis Action Research Project (ESLARP) offers course-based experience, graduate assistantships, and client-based research/practice opportunities in the domestic context. DURP's Transnational Stream offers opportunities for field-based course work and research outside of the United States. For example, students should consider participating in the Sustainable Futures Program and the Network for European and U.S. Regional and Urban Studies (NEURUS) program, both of which are available on a regular basis.

Career Paths

Expertise in CDSJ opens several career paths for the graduating student. Students may work directly with communities as a neighborhood planner, community organizer, or advocate in a public sector or nonprofit organization, either domestically or internationally. CDSJ students may focus on community-level job creation, micro-enterprise, and wealth creation, leading to a career path in the community development finance (CDFi) or community economic development (CED) field. Students specializing in CDSJ may also concentrate on affordable housing development, leading to a career with a community development corporation (CDC) or in the Low Income Housing Tax Credit industry. The chart below schematically represents the possible career paths, potential employers, and recommended course tracks for students graduating with expertise in Community Development for Social Justice.

Career Path Potential Employers Recommended Courses & Electives
Community development, neighborhood planning, community organizing & advocacy

Nonprofit and non-governmental organizations such as CDCs, neighborhood organizations, or international development agencies that become directly involved in implementing projects or programs with disadvantaged communities.

Public sector agencies operating at various levels and tiers of government including local, regional, state and federal/national, particularly in planning department, public housing, community and economic development departments

Potential employers also include university extension programs such as East St Louis Action Research Project and non-profit organizations and community based organizations that work with disadvantaged communities, such as Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) and Pacific Institute for Community Organizing (PICO). In the international context these include non-profit and non-governmental organizations that work with local grassroots groups and/or social movements; e.g., Green Belt Movement Kenya, 50 Years is Enough, Washington, D.C.

UP 423 (Introduction to International Planning) or UP 474 (Neighborhood Planning) are recommended for this career path.

Other electives include UP 429 (International Planning Seminar), UP 478 (Community Development Workshop), UP 494 (Gender and Race in Community Development Planning), UP 521 (Seminar in International Development Planning), and UP 587 (Qualitative Methods).

Also see electives in Globalization and Development and Community Development, Group Process and Collective Action.

Community development finance, community economic development planner/

International: bilateral and multilateral development organizations such as USAID, CIDA; DFID, or non-profit foundations such as Ford, McArthur, or international development organizations such as OXFAM and the Grameen Bank (India) that fund micro enterprise and local community development projects.

Domestic: financial intermediaries or capital providers who provide loans, charitable grants, training and technical assistance, examples include South Shore Bank in Chicago; Self-Help Credit Union in Durham, North Carolina; LISC; Enterprise Foundation; Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation; and Women's self employment project (Chicago).

UP 494 (Affordable Housing Development Finance) and UP 494 (Community Economic Development) are strongly recommended for this career path.

Other electives include UP 445 (Economic Development Policy), UP 407 (State and Local Government Finance), ACE 255 (Economics of Rural Poverty and Development), ACE 476 (Family Economics), BADM 445 (Small Business Consulting), and FIN 445 (Real Estate Investment).

Also see electives in Local & Regional Economic Development and courses under the Poverty and Social Welfare category below.

Affordable housing development

CDCs involved in housing development and management, tax credit syndicators such as Enterprise Social Investment Corporation or the National Equity Fund/LISC, a state housing finance agency disbursing low income housing tax credits, or as a consultant to developers and architects, asset management companies, law firms or others involved in affordable markets.

UP 494 (Affordable Housing Development Finance) is strongly recommended for this career path. Note that FIN 445 (Real Estate Investment) is a prerequisite for the Affordable Housing Development Finance course.

Possible electives include UP 420 (Planning for Historic Preservation), ARCH 576 (Architectural Seminar with Dearborn), FIN 444 (Urban Real Estate Valuation), LA 335 (Community Design and Open Space Studio with Lawson), LAW 623 (Real Estate Transactions), and LAW 624 (Real Estate Finance)

Also courses under the Local & Regional Economic Development concentration and under the category Design, Place and Space below.

Other Faculty on Campus

There are many other faculty on campus teaching and conducting research on topics relevant to Community Development for Social Justice. They include, among others, Assata Zerai, Lynn Dearborn, Antonia Darder, Thomas Schwandt, David Wilson, Ann Reisner, Augusto Espiritu, Dianne Harris, Rebecca Ginsburg, Ann Bishop, Bruce Wicks, Zsuzsa Gille, and Jan Nederveen-Pieterse.

Other CDSJ-Related Courses in the University

There are a wide variety of courses across campus on topics related to community development for social justice. For example, the Department of Human and Community Development's Community Studies and Outreach (CSO) Ph.D. Concentration in ACES offers many courses of close relevance to CDSJ students. The Graduate School of Library and Information Science (GSLIS) has recently developed a Community Informatics Corps (CIC) for its master's degree program. Community informatics is the field of study and practice devoted to understanding how information processes and technologies are used to help communities achieve their goals. The following table organizes various courses into major substantive categories that may be of interest to planning master's and PhD students.

Community Development, Group Processes and Collective Action
Students with professional interests in CDSJ should have both a conceptual understanding about planning processes, conflict and collective action as well as some hands-on practical experience in facilitation, conflict resolution and community organizing and project-based work.

AGCM 430
AGED 360
CI 422
EOL 490
HCD 517
HCD 533
HCD 595
HDFS 426
LAW 685
LIR 542
LIR 543
LIR 567
Comm in Env Social Movements
Integrating Leadership
Families, Communities, Schools
Mediation Practices and Research
Community Studies Theory
Community in American Society
Community Dev Topics & Theories
Family Conflict Management
Dispute Resolution
Collective Bargaining
Workplace Dispute Resolution
Negotiation in HR Decisions
NRES 540
PS 507
PS 410
PS 451
PSYC 550
RSOC 443
SOC 470
SOC 467
SOCW 522
SPCM 424
SPCM 536
THEA 418
Community Informatics Corps
Public Involvement in Res Mgmt
Collect Action & Interest Grps
Neighborhoods and Politics
Citizens & Democratic Process
Comm Psych and Soc Syst Change
Social Change in Dev Areas
Social Movements
Power and Empowerment
SW Practice in Communities
Campaign Messages & Strategies
Seminar Group Discussion
Social Issues Theater
Design, Place and Space
Students interested in the intersection of design, race and culture should consider these courses as well as DURP's concentration in Community Design.
ARCH 424
ARCH 576
CHLH 407
GEOG 483
GEOG 494      
Gender and Race in Architecture
Cultural Context of Design
Disability, Culture & Society
Urban Geography
Seminar in Social Geography
HCD 532
LA 470
LA 562
LA 587
RST 457
SOC 521
Topics Comm & Rural Studies
Social/Cultural Design Issues
Social Construction of Space
Urban Public Spaces
Tourism Development
Sociology of Race and Racism
Globalization and Development
Students who are interested in the CDSJ concentration with an international focus can benefit from a range of resources on campus, including area and cultural programs, global studies centers, as well as a wide range of course offerings that concern global and development issues. A few are listed below, but there are many more.
ANTH 466
ANTH 484
ANTH 502
CHLH 510
EPS 530
GEOG 410
HIST 472
LAW 657
LAW 798
Class, Culture and Society
Asian Diasporas
Ethnicity and Nationalism
Public Health Dev
Education and Globalization
Geography of Dev and Underdev
Immigrant America
International Human Rights Law
LIR 555
LLS 435
NRES 439
PS 457
PS 583
SOC 462
SOC 560
SOC 561
SOC 562
Labor in Less Developed Count
Commodifying Difference
Env and Sustainable Dev
Governing Globalization
International Organizations
Global Racial Stratification
Globalization Dynamics Debates
Development Theories
Seminar in Transnational Studies
Poverty and Social Welfare
ACE 255 Economics of Rural Poverty & Dev ACE 476
LAW 792
Family Economics
Poverty Law
Public Finance and Economic Development
BADM 445
FIN 444
FIN 445
LAW 622
Small Business Consulting
Urban Real Estate Valuation
Real Estate Investment
Land Use Planning
LAW 623
LAW 624
LAW 625
LAW 794
Real Estate Transactions
Real Estate Finance
State and Local Government
Real Estate Development
Research Methods/Alternative Methodologies
Students interested in qualitative research, particularly around issues related to community, equality and justice, should consider these electives. CDSJ doctoral students should also consider these courses to prepare for qualifying exams and the dissertation proposal.
AFRO 490
ANTH 410
ANTH 464
EPS 516
EPSY 470
EPSY 577
Africana Theories
Research Design in Anth
Ethnography of Local Cultures
Writing Ethnography
Social Theories and Education
Intro to Evaluation Theory
Foundations Qual Methodology
EPSY 578
EPSY 590
GWS 570
HCD 591
HCD 592
PSYC 336
SOC 583
Qualitative Inquiry Methods
Program Eval/Soc Research Methods
Feminist Research Soc Science
Qualitative Methods
GRID Research Methods
Topics in Clin/Comm Psyc
Qualitative Research Methods>

Lectures, Seminars & Workshops on Campus


Programs & Centers

Off-Campus Resources

  • The Community Development Society provides leadership to professionals and citizens across the spectrum of community development. Members have multiple opportunities to learn what's new in the profession, to exchange ideas, to obtain the most current research and reference information available and to share professional expertise.

  • The mission of COMM-ORG is to link academics and activists, and theory and practice, toward the goal of improving community organizing and its related crafts. The project is supported by the University of Wisconsin Department Of Rural Sociology and the University of Wisconsin Extension Center for Community and Economic Development.

  • KnowledgePlex® offers best practices, discussions, research and more for professionals working on affordable housing and community development.

  • The National Congress for Community Economic Development is the trade association for community development corporations (CDCs) and the community economic development (CED) industry.

  • Planners Network is an association of professionals, activists, academics, and students involved in physical, social, economic, and environmental planning in urban and rural areas, who promote fundamental change in our political and economic systems.