Building Community in the American Tradition

Introduction

Building Community in the American Tradition is an online manual and discussion guide that uses principles of the Preamble to the Constitution as a civic framework for building community on our blocks and in our neighborhoods. The Guide was developed in 1995 by the Institute for the Study of Civic Values in Philadelphia as part of the National Conversation on American Pluralism and Identity sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities

We have updated the guide and are making it available again in support of the thousands of spontaneous efforts now underway to bring us together again as a people. The response of Americans everywhere to the horrific events of September 11th, 2001, reminds us that for all our diversity, the principles set forth in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution still bind us together as a people.

The Institute first started using the Preamble to the Constitution as a civic framework for building community in 1993. At that time, we brought together leaders of various organizations in a neighborhood known as "Queen Village" to draft a "social contract" defining specific goals for physical revitalization, security, economic development, and education. This was a diverse group, representing homeowners, public housing residents, church activists, and local businesses. Whenever we invoked the Preamble, however, it reminded everyone that as Americans we are all part of "we the people," striving to "secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity" and to "promote the general welfare." The Queen Village Social Contract that emerged from this process begins, "We the residents of Queen Village," echoing the language of the Constitution itself.

The Institute has negotiated a number of neighborhood social contracts in Philadelphia since 1993, as part of what we now call the Social Contract Project.

We have even negotiated a social contract among community leaders in Hollywood, California working to develop a Hollywood Neighborhood Council. The Hollywood Social Contract sets goals for the future of Hollywood, within the framework of America's enduring civic principles. Here, too, we used the Preamble to the Constitution to help local residents recognize the values that they share.

In making the Internet edition of Building Community in the American Tradition available again the Institute hopes to encourage the explicit use of the Preamble to the Constitution in our efforts to build community throughout the United States. The introductory essay--"A Civic Framework for Community"--spells out the basic philosophy of the Guide, as well as how neighborhood leaders and organizers can use it. The five succeeding chapters pose questions aimed at helping neighborhood leaders and residents define common goals and strategies for change. The issues that we raise here are being debated throughout the United States. This alone suggests why the Preamble to the Constitution offers us a powerful framework to deal with them.
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