Equitable Development as a Tool to Advance Racial Equity

What are current trends and how do they inform our strategies?

What are current trends and how do they inform our strategies?

U.S. cities are undergoing a major demographic transformation in which the racial and ethnic groups that are most economically and socially excluded are driving cities’ population growth. Census data shows a cyclical pattern of white flight phenomenon and reinvestment in urban communities that has led to a diaspora of communities of color with weakened infrastructure spread throughout metropolitan regions despite those regions having a majority of people of color.4 Many metropolitan areas are also experiencing the growth of immigrant and first-generation populations in new distribution patterns across their regions, highlighting the important of building a more sophisticated physical and social infrastructure. Greater racial and social inclusion is required for these areas to maintain their economic competitiveness and still be environmentally sustainable. Cities must embrace their changing demographics and renewed desirability and make the investments needed to allow current residents and the next generation to reach its full potential. This is true for suburban neighborhoods as well, where demographic trends indicate a suburbanization of poverty5 and increase in concentrated poverty. Regional solutions are needed to serve the needs and aspirations of a multi-cultural society that is becoming more diverse.

Publicly supported and market driven gentrification of urban neighborhoods home to communities of color are again reshaping the geography of opportunity. The pattern of development revitalizing some neighborhoods is higher density with a mix of uses within walking distance or accessed by transit, thus reducing the need for automobiles. It is an efficient market-based model of development to accommodate future residential and employment growth and lower greenhouse gas emissions. This trend is supported by most major U.S. cities public policies and driven by private market actors which price new housing and commercial space at the highest levels market demand will pay. This type of growth in neighborhoods with weakened social and financial ecosystems is especially more likely to produce racialized outcomes like the displacement of communities of color. Revitalization in one area can then trigger a wave of new development in surrounding previously underinvested areas occupied by communities unprepared to adapt, much less benefit. 

The public sector can ensure the benefits and burdens of growth are equitably distributed. Community-led planning and development efforts are essential for development patterns that work for communities of color. Providing the resources that enables residents to organize themselves across race, culture, and class for collective benefit is an emerging but essential arena of pubic sector finance. Supportive public policy and proactive public investments in underinvested neighborhoods can create community stability and economic mobility opportunities before the market is catalyzed. Public investments can meet the needs of these neighborhoods when the market will not and position them to directly benefit from future growth.

  • 4. PERE and PolicyLink, 2016 National Equity Atlas
  • 5. Brookings Institute, “Confronting Suburban Poverty”