The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods

The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods

by John McKnight, Peter Block


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We need our neighbors and community to stay healthy, produce jobs, raise our children, and care for those on the margin. Institutions and professional services have reached their limit of their ability to help us.

The consumer society tells us that we are insufficient and that we must purchase what we need from specialists and systems outside the community. We have become consumers and clients, not citizens and neighbors. John McKnight and Peter Block show that we have the capacity to find real and sustainable satisfaction right in our neighborhood and community.

This book reports on voluntary, self-organizing structures that focus on gifts and value hospitality, the welcoming of strangers. It shows how to reweave our social fabric, especially in our neighborhoods. In this way we collectively have enough to create a future that works for all.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781609940812
Publisher: Berrett-Koehler Publishers
Publication date: 03/05/2012
Pages: 192
Sales rank: 629,310
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.52(d)

About the Author

John McKnight is emeritus professor of education and social policy and codirector of the Asset-Based Community Development Institute at Northwestern University. He is the coauthor of Building Communities from the Inside Out and the author of The Careless Society. He has been a community organizer and serves on the boards of several national organi-zations that support neighborhood development.
Peter Block is a partner in Designed Learning, a training company that offers workshops designed by Block to build the skills outlined in his books. He is the author of Flawless Consulting, Stewardship, The Answer to How Is Yes, and Community. He is the recipient of numerous awards, most recently the Organization Development Network’s 2008 Lifetime Achievement Award.

Read an Excerpt


THERE IS A GROWING movement of people with a different vision for their local communities. They know that real satisfaction and the good life cannot be provided by corporations, institutions, or systems. No number of great executives, central offices, technical innovations, or long-range plans can produce what a community can produce. People are discovering that satisfying possibilities for their lives are in the neighborhood, not in the marketplace.

In many nations, local people have come together to pursue a common calling. They are groups of local people who have the courage to discover their own way—to create a culture made by their own vision. It is a handmade, homemade vision. And wherever we look, it is a culture that starts the same way, with an awakening:

First, we see the abundance that we have—individually, as neighbors, and in this place of ours.

Second, we know that the power of what we have grows from creating new connections and relationships among and between what we have.

Third, we know that these connections are no accident. They happen when we individually or collectively act to make the connections—they don’t just happen by themselves.

We also know that these three steps, which awaken us to our abundance, not our scarcities, can often be undermined by great corporate, governmental, professional, and academic institutions. By their nature as systems, they say to us, “You are inadequate, incompetent, problematic, or broken. We will fix you. Go back to sleep.”

It is our calling as citizens to ignore the voices that create dependency, for we are called to find our own way—not to follow their way.

Most all of us live in a democracy, a politics that gives us the freedom to create our vision and the power to make that vision come true. We strive to be citizens—people with the vision and the power to create our own way, a culture of community capacity, connection, and care.

Unfortunately, many leaders and even some neighbors think the idea of a strong local community is something that’s sort of “nice,” a luxury if you have the spare time, but not really important, vital, or necessary. However, we know from our work in communities around the globe that strong communities are vital, productive, and important. And above all, they are necessary because of the inherent limits of all institutions.

No matter how hard they try, our very best institutions cannot do many things that only we can do. And the things that only we can do as a family and a neighborhood are vital to a decent, good, satisfied life.

The Elements of Satisfaction

People in the movement know what only we have the power to do as local neighbors and citizens. All the elements of satisfaction grow out of an abundant community:

image Our neighborhoods are the primary source of our Health. How long we live and how often we are sick are determined by our personal behaviors, our social relationships, our physical environment, and our income. We are the people who can change these things, individually and with our neighbors. Medical systems and doctors cannot. This is why scientists agree that medical care accounts for a small proportion of what allows us to be healthy. Indeed, most informed medical leaders advocate for community health initiatives because they recognize that medical systems have reached the limits of their health-giving power.

image Whether we are Safe and Secure in our neighborhood is largely within our domain. Many studies show that there are two major determinants of our local safety.1 One is how many neighbors we know by name. The other is how often we are present and associated in public— outside our houses. Police activity is a minor protection compared with these two community actions. This is why most informed police leaders advocate for block watch and community policing. They know their limits and call on citizens to become connected.

image The future of our earth—the Environment—is a major local responsibility. The “energy problem” is our local domain because how we transport ourselves, how we heat and light our homes, and how much waste we create are major factors in saving our earth. That is why this movement is a major force in calling us and our neighbors to be citizens of the earth and not just consumers of the natural wealth.

image In our neighborhoods and villages, we have the power to build a resilient Economy— one less dependent on the megasystems of finance and production that have proved to be so unreliable. Most enterprise begins locally, in garages, basements, and dining rooms. The first dollars in any new business come from family and friends, not banks or venture capitalists. As families and neighbors, we have the local power to nurture and support these businesses so that they have a viable market. And we have the local power to preserve our own savings so that we are not captives of financial institutions.

We also are the most reliable sources of jobs, for in many nations, word of mouth among friends and neighbors is still the most important access to employment. The future of our economic security is now clearly a responsibility and growing necessity for local people.

image We are coming to see that we have a profound local responsibility for the Food we eat. We are allied with the local food movement, supporting local producers and markets. In this way, we do our part to solve the energy problem caused by transportation of food from continents away. We do our part to solve our economic problems by circulating our dollars locally. And we improve our health by eating food free of poisons, petroleum, and processing. This means that real health care reform is in our hands, not just in the hands of legislators and industries.

image We are local people who must raise our Children. We all say that it takes a village to raise a child. And yet, in modernized societies, this is rarely true. Instead, we pay systems to raise our children— teachers, counselors, coaches, youth workers, nutritionists, doctors, and McDonald’s.

We are often reduced as families to being responsible for paying others to teach, watch, and know our children, and to transport them to their paid child raisers. Our villages have often become useless— our neighbors responsible for neither their children nor ours. As a result, everywhere we talk about the local “youth problem.” There is no “youth problem.” There is a neighborhood problem: adults who have forgone their responsibility and capacity to join their neighbors in sharing the wealth of children. It is our greatest challenge and our most hopeful possibility.

image Locally, we are the site of Care. Our institutions can offer only service—not care—for care is the freely given commitment from the heart of one to another; it cannot be purchased. As neighbors, we care for each other. We care for our children. We care for our elders. We care for those most vulnerable among us. It is this care that is the basic power of a community of citizens. Care cannot be provided, managed, or purchased from systems.

Health, safety, environment, economy, food, children, and care are the seven responsibilities of an abundant community and its citizens. They are the necessities that only we can fulfill. And when we fail, no institution or government can succeed. Because we are the veritable foundation of the society.

The Universal Properties

At the heart of our movement are three universal properties. A community becomes powerful and competent when it awakens these properties. They become the source of power in families and neighborhoods. Here are the three basics of our calling:

The Giving of Gifts—The gifts of the people in our neighborhood are boundless. Our movement calls forth those gifts.

The Presence of Association—In association we join our gifts together, and they become amplified, magnified, productive, and celebrated.

The Compassion of Hospitality—We welcome strangers because we value their gifts and need to share our own. Our doors are open. There are no strangers here, just friends we haven’t met.

These are the properties of a community of abundance. There is no limit to our gifts, our associations, and our hospitality.

This can all be considered a calling. We are the people who know what we need. What we need surrounds us. What we need is each other. And when we act together, we will create competence in our community and satisfaction in our lives.

We are called to nothing less. And it is not so wild a dream. It requires only that we create with our hands and in our homes what we once thought we could purchase.


We want to define three terms we use interchangeably, even though they have different specific meanings; these are the terms association, neighborhood, and community. Here is how we mean them:

Association is three or more people who come together by choice and mostly without pay because of a common interest. The common interest may be simply to be together, or it may be to change the world.

A neighborhood is the place where you live and sleep. It could be your block or the square mile surrounding where you live. It may or may not have a name.

The word community is more difficult, but we use it as a general term to describe what occurs outside systems and institutions. It also refers to an aggregation of people or neighborhoods that have something in common. It is both a place and an experience of connectedness. When we use the term community competence, we mean the capacity of the place where we live to be useful to us, to support us in creating those things that can only be produced in the surroundings of a connected community. When we talk of a community way, it is all of the above: people outside institutions, connected by choice and usually affection, who together decide what they want to participate in creating.

Table of Contents

The Elements of Satisfaction
The Universal Properties

Part One: The Shift from Citizen to Consumer

Chapter 1: The Limits of Consumption
Chapter 2: What Did We Lose and Where Did It Go?
Chapter 3: The Effects of Living in a Consumer World

Part Two: Choosing a Satisfied Life

Chapter 4: The Abundant Community
Chapter 5: Community Abundance in Action

Part Three: Creating Abundance

Chapter 6: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods
Chapter 7: The Power of Connectors
About the Authors

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