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What is a Community?

UEPDrawing from their areas of expertise, three professors at Tufts' Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning address this question.


Though they are frequently defined by the roads and landmarks charted on maps, communities are really defined by the people who live and work in them. And as the community inevitably evolves—susceptible to variations in attitudes, economics, politics and other influences—that definition shifts. How can one best make sense of this ever-changing entity?

We spoke with three professors in Tufts' Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning who approach the notion of community from three different, yet overlapping, perspectives—environmental justice, housing policy and economic development. Julian Agyeman, Rachel Bratt and James Jennings have decades of experience studying their respective fields, but their work seems to intersect at one point: that the community, as a unit of society, must be empowered and enabled to thrive. Learn more about their perspectives and research.

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Julian Agyeman
"One of the issues about gaining equity is building power in communities to be able to effect change."

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Rachel Bratt
"Why do I have to keep arguing that housing should be fundamentally available to everyone, regardless of income?"

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James Jennings
"Neighborhood is a sense of togetherness, a sense of community. Sometimes it's difficult to define that."


Profiles written by Georgiana Cohen

Photos by Alonso Nichols for Tufts University

This story originally ran on Feb. 19, 2006.