A Five Point System for Assessing a Community

Table of Content

A community is defined by its boundaries and infrastructure, as well as the shared interests, locale, and perspectives of its members. This could encompass a city, neighborhood, village, or workplace. In order to thrive within such an environment, individuals must function as a cohesive unit and be sensitive to the multiple and overlapping interests with which they must work.

In his book titled The Community in America” (1963), author Roland Warren devised a five-point system for assessing a community:

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  1. Production, distribution, and consumption are the economic aspects of the community as a whole entity.
  2. Socialization includes knowledge, future planning, and acceptable or unacceptable behavior within the community.
  3. Social control involves rules for individuals, corporate entities, and government agencies to abide by; it is also referred to as boundary maintenance.”
  4. Social participation is essential for the community to be viable.
  5. Mutual support is necessary to promote team effort in all areas. According to Warren, “some would say that this is the primary reason for the community (except for mutual support, why not live as a hermit?).”

Understanding the community through this five-point system is paramount. However, it is also important to recognize the relationship among the functions. There are two patterns of integration: the horizontal pattern and the vertical pattern. The horizontal pattern includes people, organizations, and institutions that focus on one or another of these functions with common interests. The vertical pattern takes those in the horizontal pattern that fit into a larger arrangement of external relations.

To simplify this framework, Mr. Warren states that the horizontal pattern strengthens the common focus; the vertical pattern strengthens the ability to spread one’s interests more broadly into the community” (Filipovitch, 2004).

This research paper will conduct a community assessment of Gretna, Louisiana using Roland Warren’s five-point system. The assessment will depict the typical community environment, economy, and functioning patterns. However, before delving into the nuts and bolts” of Gretna, let us contemplate its history.

Gretna, Louisiana is located across the Mississippi River from New Orleans in McDonoghville. The land area of Gretna is 3.5 square miles with a water area of 0.36 square miles.

In 1790, the Spanish governor gave the land to Ursuline nuns who later sold it several times until Nicolas Noel Destrehen surveyed it in 1836 and named the village Mechanikham. The village had a railroad, foundry, ferry landing, church and small residential lots.

In 1838, St. Mary’s Market Steam Ferry Company developed a village below Mechanikham and called it Gretna which soon merged with Mechanikham. Most of the land was used for vegetable and dairy farms while shipbuilding industry on the river helped Gretna prosper rapidly.

By 1945, Gretna was thriving with hundreds of houses, steam mills, hotels, lumber companies, factories and more. It had been the Jefferson Parish seat since 1884 and became a city on August 20, 1913. John Ehret was its first mayor (Swanson, 1975).

Gretna, LA Community Assessment – Five-Point System:

Production, distribution, and consumption are the pillars of Gretna’s economy. Despite the shaky state of our nation’s economy, Gretna has maintained stability since its inception as a city. The statistics presented here are based on Gretna’s most recent census completed in 2000.

The top five industries in Gretna were retail trade with 936 stores, accounting for 13.6% of their annual revenue (compared to ll.9% for Louisiana); manufacturing with 554 businesses, representing 8.1% of Gretna’s economy versus 10.1% statewide; professional, scientific and technical services with 312 establishments making up 4.5% of Gretna’s economy (and matching LA at 4.6%); wholesale trade with 232 businesses contributing to 3.4% of Gretna’s economy compared to 3.% for Louisiana; and finally information services with 159 businesses comprising 2.3% of the city’s economic activity while Louisiana had only 2%. (source: allbusiness.com,2008).

In 2000, the average income for an individual was $15,735. Currently, it stands at $28,065 with LA’s average being $32,526. The average family income is $31,881 with LA being at $39,774. The standard cost of a home in Gretna (2008) is $164,000 compared to the state average of $136,600. Gretna’s unemployment rate is 4.8%, which is a job increase of 3% from 2007 (epodunk.com n.d.). The Economic Development Office of the Mayor oversees economic development in Gretna and works closely with the private sector to promote successful locations.

Socialization. The population of Gretna was 17,423 according to the 2000 census. However, in 2007, the estimated population decreased by 6.39% to 16,301. This decline is partly due to a high death rate of nine per thousand people for the parish rate compared to the statewide rate of nine per thousand as well. Between 1999-2001 there were a total of 12,259 deaths with cancer accounting for approximately one-fourth (3,057) of them.

According to the census data from both years, males and females were equally represented at exactly half (50%) each in Gretna’s total population. Additionally, the average age was found to be higher than Louisiana’s average at 36.99 compared to LA’s average age of just over thirty-five years old (35.25). Families make up a significant portion (61.6%) of Gretna’s population according to census data provided by trulia.com.

The majority race in Gretna is white with a percentage representation of approximately fifty-six percent (56.3%). African Americans make up around thirty-five percent (35.5%) while Louisiana has a slightly higher percentage representation for whites at sixty-three point nine percent (63.9%) and slightly lower African American representation at thirty-two point five percent(32 .5%).

Gretna, along with Louisiana, took many years to become integrated and still has situations where racism is a controversial issue. One recent incident occurred three days after Hurricane Katrina hit. The Gretna police force blocked the Mississippi River bridge that connects their city and New Orleans, trapping thousands of mostly black residents in the flooded city. The decision was upheld by the City Council and was initiated after a mall was set on fire on August 31st. Critics claim it was racially motivated while officials sincerely deny the claim. Gretna was overwhelmed with evacuees from New Orleans, but Mayor Harris said, We took care of our folks. It’s something we had to do” (Rainey, 2005).

Social Control. Every community needs rules, and individuals or organizations are responsible for maintaining them. In 1877, Gretna established a large police force consisting of one chief and three patrolmen, which was governed by the rules of the New Orleans Police Department. However, in 1913, Gretna adopted their own rules for a Police Department and regulated employment. The total number of crimes in 2007 was 17,706; however, there was a decrease to 17,291 in 2008. Theft had the highest number of offenses with approximately 9,500 reported cases in 2007 and an increase to around 9,800 cases in 2008. Violent crimes were reported to be at a rate that is approximately1.04% higher than the state average of .07%.

The Jefferson Parish Correctional Facility in Gretna houses a total of 1262 inmates, with 1112 occupancies reported in 2008 (jpso.com.2009). The Fifth Circuit Court serves Gretna and was established by Act 32 of the Louisiana legislature in 1981, signed by Governor David Treen. This jurisdiction includes four parishes: Jefferson, St. Charles, St. James and St. John the Baptist. In the year 2000, the circuit court found a permanent home at Judge Lawrence A. Chehardy Courthouse and currently hears approximately 290 cases annually.

The Gretna Fire Department consisted of 18 paid and 138 volunteer firefighters in 2007. They responded to over 400 fire, rescue, public assistance, and mutual aid requests. According to gretnala.com.n.d., the David Crockett Steam Fire Company No.1 is the oldest continuously active volunteer fire department in the United States.

Social participation is crucial in all communities, and education plays a supreme role in achieving it. In Gretna, only 11% of residents over the age of 25 have a bachelor’s or advanced college degree. The town has 28 public schools for K-12 students and 43 private schools. Public schools in Gretna spend $5,240 per student, which is lower than the national average of $6,058 (2007), with an average teacher-student ratio of 1:16.

There are 37 churches of various denominations in Gretna. The dominant faith is Baptist, with 15 churches throughout the community. The Church of God has the next highest number of locations, with 5, followed by 4 nondenominational and 3 Catholic churches. Participation in all churches is consistent with Louisiana and the surrounding states. One of these churches, St. Joseph Church and Gardens, was established in l857 and has become a popular tourist attraction due to its unique architectural design and new Meditation Garden which draws hundreds of tourists each year.

Mutual support is essential for a community to thrive. As Roland Warren states, sharing the journey” is accomplished through all five functions. Education and churches encourage participation, as do Gretna’s social clubs, especially the German-American Cultural Center which has been around since the 1800s. The Historical Complex, annual Heritage Festival, and Mini-Military Museum are sources of pride for Gretna’s residents. In 2008, tourism brought in an annual income of $62,620,645. For a community to succeed in every aspect requires active participation from its people.

In conclusion, Gretna easily satisfies the five-point system devised by Roland Warren, making it a viable community. Upon assessing Gretna, we have observed that its economy has remained stable despite a slight decrease in population, which is consistent with the trend in Louisiana (-2.9% from 2000 census compared to 2007). Additionally, Gretna has remained primarily white in terms of its population. However, it is worth noting that the community has implemented changes following Hurricane Katrina.

The Jefferson Parish Department of Emergency Management (DEM) monitors the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather wire and radio to prepare for potential disasters. As soon as there is an increasing threat of severe weather conditions or other emergencies, the DEM goes into action mode and staffs the Emergency Operations Center (EOC). At this point, the EOC issues standby notices to shelters and organizations such as Red Cross. Because there is often a long lead time for weather-related disasters or emergencies, warnings are issued through news releases.

The Emergence Alert System will be utilized to interrupt cable television and radio broadcasts with additional instructions. A three-phase evacuation plan was created for southeast Louisiana, beginning 50 hours before the storm, followed by 40 hours, then 30 hours. An Emergency Re-Entry Plan” was also established to facilitate a phased return of evacuees (gretnala.com.n.d.).

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