Rebuilding America through Equitable Development

The objectives of urban redevelopment and meeting the needs of underserved communities are not mutually exclusive goals, says Carlton Eley.

I believe the best is yet to come for America's urban renaissance through the application of equitable development. In simple terms, equitable development is a placed-based approach for encouraging environmental justice.

As central cities have become chic places to live again, citizens and policy-makers are looking to innovative approaches for planning and development that strive to achieve a sustainable or efficient urban form through policies and practices that serve the economy, community, and the environment. This is a triple bottom-line approach to sustainability. While this approach has been effective in expanding economic development opportunities, fostering community livability, and preserving the natural environment, its limitation or deficiency lies in the treatment of social equity as a peripheral issue. [1]

Planners and public servants have a duty to raise awareness about approaches that improve the quality of life for all Americans. The International City/County Management Association offers a valid thesis to embrace that suggests planning at its best takes into account the social implications of land use and economic development decisions. Accounting for social equity during the planning and development process can improve management of the built environment by introducing innovative ideas/solutions; garnering broader public support for proposed projects which can translate into cost savings for developers; and encouraging outcomes that are beneficial for a wider range of stakeholders.

Facilitators discuss options during a technical assistance workshop
convened by the Planning and the Black Community Division
of the American Planning Association in Gary, Indiana.

Fortunately, groups like PolicyLink, the Planning and the Black Community Division of the American Planning Association, the National Organization of Minority Architects, and many others are demonstrating through research and action that the objectives of urban redevelopment and meeting the needs of underserved communities are not mutually exclusive. Both objectives can be addressed, and when they are the outcome is equitable development.

As an approach, equitable development encourages fairness in planning and development practice to ensure everyone has a safe and healthy environment in which to live, work, and play. Equitable development isn't a theoretical approach. There are clear examples that demonstrate the application and potential of this approach for rebuilding America's neighborhoods. They include and are not limited to: the 18th and Vine Jazz District in Kansas City, Missouri; the Fruitvale Transit Village in Oakland, California; as well as the ReGenesis Project in the Arkwright and Forest Park communities of Spartanburg, South Carolina.

The 18th and Vine Jazz District was created in 1989 with the vision of
balancing economic development and cultural development in Kansas City, Missouri.

These projects reveal that equitable development is smart. The endeavors demonstrate how leaders, citizens, stakeholders, and industry standard-setters are pushing the envelope and surpassing the triple bottom-line paradigm. In addition to improving the environment, community, and the economy, these programs encourage "community sustainability" by considering a "fourth bottom-line" to further or advance the goals of social equity.

While the outcomes from the previous projects are promising, it is important to frame clearly and decisively the value added of equitable development as an approach. First, and perhaps most important for the private sector, equitable development is profitable. Chicago based ShoreBank has amassed two billion dollars in assets by investing in people and their communities to create economic equity and a healthy environment. Founded in 1973, during a period when banks routinely denied loans through redlining, the founders seized an opportunity to meet the financial needs for an untapped segment of the market. ShoreBank reasoned that creating roadblocks for accessing capital was not an astute strategy for combating urban disinvestment and blight. Considering the legacy of disinvesting in America's cities over forty years, experts would conclude the founders of ShoreBank were right for going against the grain.

Second, social responsibility versus economic imperative is a false choice as both objectives can be addressed. According to the Center for American Progress, 37 million Americans live below the official poverty line. At the micro-level, persistent poverty translates into lost potential for children or lower productivity and earnings for adults. At the macro-level, persistent poverty can impair the nation's ability to remain competitive in a world of increasing global competition. Because having approximately 12% of the nation's population living below the poverty level can impose enormous costs on society, it is all the more critical for current planning policies and development practices to encourage a rising tide that lifts all boats by sharing the benefits of development through inclusive community planning. [2]

Since 1993, Universal Companies has been in the business of helping people
in South Central Philadelphia through a comprehensive approach to community development.

Third, nothing endures but change. According to Jim Collins, author of Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't, "great companies adapt and endure." Companies that stay ahead of the trends are the ones that are resilient and have staying power.

In retrospect, perhaps 2009 wouldn't have been a rocky year for many American auto companies if some took the lead fifteen years earlier by focusing on automotive hybrids rather than being complacent with an auto industry that was built up on fuel-inefficient vehicles. Like the debate over automotive hybrids, there have been times when equitable development was treated as a peripheral issue. Fortunately, this topic has not "slipped quietly into the night," and the annals of planning history in the United States reveal it is here to stay. After all, the reoccurring theme for planning practice within the past forty years has been how to deal with the social aspects of physical planning as evidenced by: Advocacy Planning (1965); Equity Planning (1969); Equity Development (1983); Fair Growth (2000); and Equitable Development (2000). In short, don't be a dinosaur. Dinosaurs no longer roam the earth because they couldn't adapt.

As a society, we are pushing the envelope on sustainability. However, an honest assessment of how sustainable our actions are requires acknowledging that sustainability isn't a linear concept. It is a systems concept. As a systems concept, success hinges on relationships. As a result, planning practitioners, urban scholars, and policy analysts should critically assess the equitable implications of land use and economic development decisions because physical planning is not professionally or institutionally separate from the social realm. To do any less is a compromise that will require future generations to assume responsibility for work that the current generation chose not to resolve. Further, to consciously bequeath a problem to another generation is not sustainable, instead it represents acquiesce to business as usual.

The Unity Council assisted residents in the Fruitvale District of Oakland
to prepare innovative solutions for community improvement through
meaningful public involvement. The Fruitvale Transit Village
is one of the outcomes.

In closing, there is much to celebrate in creating urban centers that are healthy, vibrant, and resilient. However, our nation shouldn't settle for a triple bottom-line when we can and must do better. Moreover, in a nation where anything is possible, we should refuse to accept that we have the tenacity, fortitude, and genius to put a man on the moon while incapable of encouraging community parity. Treating social equity as inconsequential during the planning and development process perpetuates the problems of disparity and hinders outcomes that are fully sustainable.

Through equitable development, we can untangle the web of urban development through collaborative problem solving. The approach expands choice and opportunity for all persons thus encouraging communities where every citizen can reach his/her full potential and thus strengthen the competiveness of our nation as a whole. Finally, rebuilding America through equitable development will ensure all citizens have access to safe and healthy environments in which to live, work, and play.

Carlton Eley is an environmentalist, urban planner, and lecturer. Carlton is a member of the Planning and the Black Community Division of the American Planning Association, and he serves on the advisory board for the Washington, D.C. Chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects.


1 For this article, social equity refers to encouraging community parity and sustainable settlements through access to health, education, employment, resources, and services for underserved populations and vulnerable groups, especially populations that bore the disproportionate burdens from urban disinvestment and urban flight.

2 Advancing equity is one of the ten "sustainable development principles" prepared by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.



My big "yes, but":

My big "yes, but":

Yes, but what about land values?

The lowest price urban land is always to be found in metros where cheap fringe land is available to be built on without massive inflation in its value for non-urban uses; and further, where uses of land are mixed and multiple nodes and edge cities have highly democratized the "convenient location" premium effect on land prices (Ricardian rent).

I am coming to the conclusion in my research, that recent planning trends towards monocentric models and strict growth boundaries, have resulted in one of the most anti-democratic transfers of wealth in economic history. The main beneficiaries of land price gains under these conditions are the owners of the centrally located land that is ALREADY the most valuable (CBD especially). These gains are so substantial that they COULD potentially account for MOST of the "concentration" of wealth that has occurred over the last decade.

The shifts in land values have effects far worse in their severity for first home buyers and lower income earners, than any benefit that these people can be said to have gained through the policies that led to the shifts in land values. Examples abound, of lots occupied at one time by lower income earners in relatively convenient locations, that were worth less than $100,000 in the late 1990's, and are "worth" 7 figures today. There are simply NO such cases in jurisdictions described in my first full paragraph.

Colin Clark writing back in the 1970's, made a comment somewhat to the effect that one man's "blight" was another man's affordable accomodation in relatively convenient locations. I would also assert that the single most important thing necessary for such areas is law and order - policemen and crime busting - not bulldozers and new condos that the one-time residents have no hope of affording.

The evidence continues to flood in

I am reading more and more from analysts like Peter Gordon, William Wheaton, and Randall Crane, that support my current concerns.

That is, that monocentrically biased planning and urban growth boundaries have "land value" effects that actually reduce the option of "location efficient" decisions by households, especially the lowest income earners. It also leads to concentration of wealth in the hands of the owners of efficiently located properties via capital gains, especially the most expensive CBD properties. And it also reduces naturally occurring economic efficiencies from efficient location decisions that households COULD make BEFORE land prices were inflated. The economic growth, wealth creation effect of demand-enabling mobility, that is also reduced.

NOW we have THIS paper:

http://www.dukakisc storage/TRNEquit yFull.pdf

The escalation of land values around Transit stops is captured by better-off property owners, and lower income earners are priced out of the market en mass. Well, spare me days. I couldn't agree more with the findings, or disagree more with the recommended "solutions".

Correct URL

Wodehouse -- I'm confused by

Wodehouse -- I'm confused by the context of your argument. Where, in the above article, is there support for adherence to a monocentric city model?

Also, where is there support for urban growth boundaries in this article?

I'm not trying to challenge you. I'm honestly wondering what I'm missing in my reading of this article.


I think I understand what you are saying, but can't this problem be combated with a simple moderately price dwelling unit program, mandating a certain percentage of housing built in the central district or in accessible range of the central district be moderately priced?

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