Defining a Successful Community

The Charter Communities Prize Design is inspired by Pharrell Williams’ vision of a community where residents no longer feel “trapped” in a cycle of poverty but are supported in such a way to facilitate economic mobility and a chance to thrive.

At XPRIZE we always start a prize design by focusing on “first principles.” This means identifying and defining the fundamental aspects of the topic we are researching. To start, we are hoping for help in answering the following questions:

    What is a community? And how would you define a “successful” community? What benefits do residents of these “successful” communities experience?
  • What are some examples of communities that follow those models, and what are their outcomes for residents?

Please share your thoughts below!

Feel free to share any experiences, links, case studies, or ideas and comments you may have!

Personally am excited to delve into and digest learnings from the US Dept of Education’s Promise Neighborhoods initiative Promise Neighborhoods | Urban Institute

Is anyone in our community familiar with this program, and would be able to share additional thoughts/lessons learned/relevant stakeholders for this?

Looks like a fascinating project. As to the definitions, let me propose some rough ideas:

A community isn’t just people in the same zip code. It’s a group whose members know one another and view one another as “us.” Right now in American society we see a great hunger for community, at all income levels.

The benefits are social trust and all that implies: safety, mutual assistance, and models for good behavior.

It’s hard to think of many contemporary examples in America. Some small towns still maintain a level of community, but otherwise people seem to seek out community through online communities, fandoms, and ideology.

I’m reminded of Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities, which is how he defines a “nation.” So a community can be a group of individuals who never met each other, yet they believe that they share certain values and traits. I think at the core of the meaning of community is the sense of belonging or sharing something in common, which could be a geographic location. But in an increasingly interconnected world, it’s arguably less the geography than other traits.

But what makes any community “successful”? Is it the strength of the bonds? Specific collective outcomes? Or outcomes that benefit individuals, or a large number of them?

With anecdotal exceptions, the American conception of community “succeeds” when people live near people “like them.” We have a fraught history that has structured exclusion since the beginning (red lining, blockbusting, etc.), deepening fallacies of perception of those “different” from them - specifically as it relates to race.

Any solutions to build community have to cognizant of this historical structured exclusion. The one group I know of doing this work in earnest is the National Initiative on Mixed Income Communities. National Initiative on Mixed-Income Communities | Case Western Reserve University

Please see

Since people do exclude others for all kinds of reasons – and it may well be that such exclusion is an inevitable part of community-forming – the built environment has to overcome that.

In other words, a built community has to say “US” so strongly that residents will just sort of naturally accept other residents as “US” simply because they live there.

Across many cultures the physical environment of houses or buildings grouped around a courtyard or piazza has been the focus of communities. If you’re on OUR square, then you’re US.

What is a community? And how would you define a “successful” community?

For me a community consists of member, being with families, couples or individuals that reside in an area within close proximity to one another. These members may not have the same aspirations or belief systems but each of the members has in their own mind an ideal of what they want from life. For me a community that is successful would be one that can attend to both the physical, financial and emotional needs of all its members. For example; a successful community would be one that is encouraging house ownership through bringing the cost of a house down and offering members of that community an opportunity to get their own home. The members would then be encouraged through well thought out and designed residential housing estates and buildings to get together and celebrate and connect to one another regularly. It is important to tackle affordability, because this will have a flow on effect to many members financially and emotionally. Everyone deserves to be able to have their own home. It should actually be a human right. Houses should add to our well being and that of the planet instead of causing so much devision and heartache.

What benefits do residents of these “successful” communities experience? They should experience the ability to get into there OWN home. They should be able to be working towards financial independence. Even if the home is small, at least it can be a place that they can call their own without being stuck renting for the rest of their life. The residents should feel a sense of oneness with fellow members as they move towards financial independence and security. The communities should be designed to encourage integration both physically and through technical online media.

What are some examples of communities that follow those models, and what are their outcomes for residents?

I think the model needs to be re-thought. Housing is not keeping pace with technology. We must create a Prize that can entice some of the smartest minds to begin to thunk beyond normal thinking in order to even scratch this massive problem. If this X Prize cannot tackle ultimately the world housing shortage then Im not sure if it can inspire that change needed.

A community is a place where one can prosper.

Prosperity hinges on the global grand challenges, that is you cannot have a successful community unless you have; energy (electricity), food, shelter, water, are disaster-resilient, have proper governance structures, health, learning and security.

A community is a fractal of the municipality, which itself is a fractal of the state…then nation and so on and so forth.

The example we have is a bit of an unmoved mover/prime mover.

Thank you everyone for the input so far!

@Cambias - are there any key examples where the plazas or community spaces have had the most impact? Or studies quantifying the impact, potentially?

@Jefferson - Any programs in particular you have liked that create that sense of ‘oneness’ in a community?

@bngejane - The SDGs and global grand challenges are great guidelines. Is there any in particular that have the most impact compared to others? Do any have more challenges than others, in your experience?

And thank you @prernakuhad and @sunshinem for those examples, we’re collecting a studying a lot of these as we work towards a focus, so those are really valuable!

@NickAzer - I like one called “Launch Housing” in Melbourne Victoria where the government is opening up some unused land and then smaller homes are being transported to them. My vision is much broader for my concept but this is a model that I think has great potential. It’s focused predominantly on homeless people but I believe it is a good start to a very difficult problem.

I have no idea if anyone has found a way to quantify the effect of a plaza or courtyard. But one sees them in Spain, Italy, southeast Asia, the Hakka of China, and probably a lot of communities I don’t know about. Not sure how one would go about even making the experiment.

@NickAzer here in RSA water & energy are viewed as basic services, then comes learning health & security in the order. Again here infrastructure is not too far behind compared to other 3rd world countries. There are huge challenges in food, learning & security.

We do have a handful of public recreation infrastructure, but I am yet to see a meaningful impact from such. I think we can maybe dig a lot deeper into understanding the various tribes in humans and hopefully, better questions will emerge.

“The harder part is the questions, once we have the right questions the answers will come” The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

@JessicaYoon What is a Charter Community?

Thank you @bngejane @Cambias @Jefferson @prernakuhad and @sunshinem for your comments here! We have now posted our two latest discussion threads: on innovation in housing and on how the built environment can help to uplift residents. Any input you might have on those threads would be great to see! And let us know if you have any general questions or ideas.

@bngejane Sorry for the delay in answering your question re: what is a Charter Community. The term “Charter Communities” was the name of the pitch for this prize design that was given at our annual Visioneering conference last year, and ended up winning the pitch competition (hence why we’re working on it now). So the short answer is that we don’t have an official definition yet! What we are moving toward is a concept of a holistically-planned, somewhat self-contained community (usually within a larger urban or suburban area) that has a strong internal governance structure tasked with ensuring the “empowerment” of its residents. Obviously we still have a lot to unpack there, but that’s where the expert community can help!

We have been investigating a few concepts like this that have sprung up independently in Florida:

The Dwellings in Tallahassee, already in operation:

The Village in Broward County, in the conceptual stages:


Thank you for your contribution thus far. I am curious about the challenges you encounter within your own projects; you mentioned in the introductions that one of the most difficult aspects of community building is fostering that sense of connection. Can you elaborate more on that? And to piggy-back on Q2 from above, what benefits do the residents of your communities experience when that connection is successful?

Hi @nmgraham One of the greatest challenges in making a successful affordable housing model in India is to do with occupancy. While on one hand there is a severe housing shortage across the country, millions of homes remain vacant because these homes are often purchased as investments and not for self use. Government made homes are particularly prone to low occupancy for the aforementioned reason and because design and construction quality are found lacking. However, even in privately built housing colonies occupancy tends to be low often leading to ghost towns.
Without sufficient occupancy the social infrastructure never develops. A sense of community that ought be alive in a colony/cluster of homes is missing because there simply aren’t enough people living there to give anyone a feeling of ‘safety in numbers’.


To add context to what @"DavidPoli " said, the term ‘Charter’ comes from the US system of public education. Originally public funds only went to publicly run schools, but over the last few decades voucher systems have popped up which allow parents to move funding for their children and give it to institutions that are not necessarily government run. These charter schools still have to abide by certain government regulations in order to obtain the funding, but they have more flexibility in how their institution is run. In our context, the term Charter came from the original pitch which compared public housing to public schools, and wanting to explore alternative or ‘charter’ options for low incoming government housing like the current education system.

From what I understand there may be room to change the name of this competition, but the emphasis of this project itself is closing the gaps and removing the traps that keep communities disenfranchised and from achieving economic stability/mobility. How this manifests is entirely up to what we can identify as achievable within the context of a competition, as things like systemic racism and classicism are not problems that will go away overnight by throwing money at it. However! Addressing/considering -isms are essential to achieving success in our prize design and competition.

connection in a community is about

  • A sense of shared ownership and corresponding accountability for using common resources of the community.
  • feeling of ‘safety in numbers’
  • collective bargaining power (against developer/local authorities/other neighbourhoods) due to common interests
    -neighbourhood friendships that mimic values of an extended family
  • a culture of trading favours/giving and taking that fosters mutual trust