When the term “development” is defined as the exploitation of land and natural resources for human needs, development is seen in two negative ways: as an unhealthy expansion of human influence on the natural world, and as an example of unfair market forces displacing people without regard to their fate. From this perspective, development is a reflection of capitalist impulses to make money alone - even at the expense of the natural world, the health of public lands, the shrinkage of wilderness, and the human rights of citizens.
On the positive side, some see land use development as a healthy and necessary expansion of infrastructure through a free flow of capital in order to accommodate and sustain welcome growth. From this perspective, development is a natural reflection of human creativity, initiative and hard work - all of which aim to improve the world and increase the quality of human life. It is our God-given right, say those with this view, to “be fruitful and multiply” on the earth - to create a healthy, enjoyable life for everyone.
In reference to people, the word “development” is usually taken to mean improving the quality of human life and opportunity (e.g., international development, human development). But here the term takes on even greater ambiguity. Some use it to refer to positive improvements to the human condition - in life expectancy, infant mortality, nutrition, education, alleviation of poverty, and so on. Others point to the many failures of so-called development agencies and organizations and the waste of money (sometimes taxpayer money) on useless solutions. Still others consider “development” a deceptive term for what actually amounts to pernicious control over indigenous and impoverished people who are “helped” out of their historical cultures.
Sometimes people switch sides in their thinking about whether, and how, and how much, development (of both types) ought to take place, and whether it is the responsibility of governments to manage and fund it.
Conflicts between commercial developers and citizens or activists have resulted in intense and grinding conflicts across the country. In some cases, they have also led to productive dialogue and deliberation.
QUESTIONS TO PLAY WITH:
- Think of an example of a positive development, with respect to land or people, something you saw happen or heard about. Now think of a negative aspect of that development. Can you come up with one? Now try doing the same thing, only in the opposite direction.
- If someone came to your house and said they were there to help you “develop,” what sort of help would you be grateful for? What sort of help would you resent, or even fight against?
- Do you welcome development in your town or city? Why or why not? Would some kinds of development be more welcome than others?
-When is development a good thing (or not)? Are there details and conditions that change your evaluation of a particular developmental project? Different intentions, nature of the work or design, ultimate outcome, etc.?
-In a case of conflict between a commercial developer and activists, what would be the ideal exploratory and deliberation process, in your opinion, in order to reach the best possible outcome?