Equity and Urban Planning – Weave equity into process and content

November 9, 2015 2 Comments

This is the first of a four part series, sharing some of the lessons IISC and Horsley Witten Group learned in our efforts to support RhodeMap RI in weaving social equity into its regional planning process, and particularly our facilitation of the project’s Social Equity Advisory Committee.

Lesson 1: Weave equity into the planning process AND the content of the resulting plans.

As you heard from the participants in the video above, if you really want a plan for housing, economic development, land use (or anything else, really!) that results in more equitable outcomes, the process needs to reflect a commitment to equity, and the plans need to include elements that explicitly aim for greater equity. Before we go any further, a working definition: By “equity,” we mean a situation where all groups have access to the resources and opportunities necessary to improve the quality of their lives (that’s the process part!) and differences in life outcomes cannot be predicted on the basis of race, class, or other dimensions of identity (that’s the outcomes part!). It’s pretty hard to imagine achieving greater equity in both senses without being intentional about how the process is designed and the ideas that are included in the plans.

Equity: Process + Outcomes

We worked with the Horsley Witten Group to facilitate the work of RhodeMap RI’s Social Equity Advisory Committee (SEAC), which focused specifically on social equity. SEAC was charged with offering input and feedback into planning activities and contributing to the housing and economic development plans. SEAC developed a set of Guiding Principles to guide the planning process and implementation of the resulting plans. These principles have relevance well beyond RI.

Principles related to the planning process included:

  • Do not shy away from frank discussions. Get comfortable with words we don’t like to use, such as segregation and racism. Be explicit about the role that race and ethnicity play in the distribution of benefits and burdens in Rhode Island.
  • Listen to the voices of those who have historically been excluded from planning decisions and create opportunities for lasting involvement in planning decisions by members of communities of color.
  • Engage and involve community residents during implementation.
  • Make sure meetings and materials are accessible.

Principles related to the content of the housing and economic development plans included:

  • State clearly that the goal of all of these plans is to eliminate disparities along race, class, gender, and other dimensions of diversity. Prioritize efforts to improve the housing and economic conditions of those who are struggling the most.
  • Make sure that [economic and housing] development is focused on the needs of people.
  • Use public funds for public good, particularly marginalized populations in the community, not private profits.
  • Be clear, specific and direct so that outcomes can be measurable and there can be accountability for outcomes. Mandate accountability in the implementation plans.
  • Make sure that plans for housing, economic development and transportation are integrated because the issues are connected.

While not a perfect process, participants from communities, government, and organizations credit SEAC with making strong contributions to the plans, as well as providing important feedback about the process. You can check out the economic development plan yourself and look for evidence of SEAC’s thinking woven throughout. Stay tuned. In upcoming posts, we will explore three other lessons learned:

This series builds on a workshop designed by Nate Kelly of the Horsley Witten Group and Cynthia Silva Parker of IISC.



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