Equitable Development as a Tool to Advance Racial Equity

Achieving Racial Equity

Achieving Racial Equity

Racial equity—when race can no longer be used to predict life outcomes, and life outcomes for all groups are improved. 

To achieve this vision requires the fair and just inclusion of all residents into a region’s economic, social, and political life—an essential component of planning for sustainable and thriving regions (PolicyLink). Prioritizing and working towards equity is work for the long haul and it begins with us—in our institutions—authentically listening to community, building an inclusive vision, and holding ourselves accountable for the strategies necessary to make that vision reality. 

Authentically listening and responding to community’s needs are new practices for government, challenging the status quo. It can also bring us into spaces, figurative and literal, in which we are confronted with the historical and current injustices experienced by communities and the role of government institutions in creating and maintaining racial inequities. This can cause discomfort, fear, and frustration for us as representatives of institutions. GARE encourages you to embrace this part of the work as a normal and expected part of authentic listening to community—for it is only through authentic listening that we build the trust necessary to arrive at community owned visions, needs, and solutions.

It also requires that government institutions make structural changes to address the history of inequality. In the fullest sense, this would include amending public policies to ensure that they promote equity; prioritizing investments to best support those who need it most; and retooling processes to best do this work, including communication feedback loops that hold us accountable to community priorities. We will only achieve equity through authentic listening and responsive institutional actions rooted in community feedback. 

What is Equitable Development?

Quality of life outcomes, such as affordable housing, quality education, living wage employment, healthy environments, and transportation are equitably experienced by the people currently living and working in a neighborhood, as well as for new people moving in. Public and private investments, programs, and policies in neighborhoods that meet the needs of residents, including communities of color, and reduce racial disparities, taking into account past history and current conditions.

When we achieve equitable development, we increase the capacity of people of color to strengthen their communities and determine their own future and that of their neighborhoods. We distribute the benefits and burdens of growth equitably among people of all races, ethnic backgrounds, incomes, and geographies/neighborhoods. We encourage multicultural communities where tenured and newcomer residents can thrive. And we provide meaningful choices for the most impacted people of color to live, work, and define their own culture throughout all neighborhoods.

To achieve this ideal, we need a systemic approach that can create those kinds of outcomes. This requires coordinated and comprehensive investments, policies, and protections to prevent displacement of vulnerable residents, businesses, and community organizations. That approach should address the two major obstacles to achieving equitable outcomes related to development: 1) involuntary economic and cultural displacement of communities of color and 2) inequitable access for communities of color to the key determinants of social, physical, and economic well-being needed. A clear policy framework is helpful for developing, implementing, and measuring effective strategies.1

Two foundational equity elements guide the framework presented here:

  1. Strong communities and people. People and communities with stability and resilience in the face of displacement pressures fare better. An intact community in which people are able to have high quality jobs and financial security; culturally appropriate goods, services, and support; and strong social networks that support the acceptance of a range of cultures has better outcomes.
  2. Great places with equitable access. A city where all neighborhoods are healthy, safe, and afford their resident access to the key determinants of well-being promotes inclusion.

Equitable development strategies presented in this brief aim to achieve the above policy goals and operationalize the definition of equitable development.

  • 1. City of Seattle Comprehensive Plan Race and Social Justice Resolution 31577, 2015