Achieving Equity in a World of Social Disparity: #thegrid Discusses Urban Planning Challenges and Solutions to Achieving Social Equity and Inclusiveness
How do you achieve social equity and inclusiveness through urban planning? In order to answer this question, we must first define these terms. PolicyLink defines equity as such, “Just and fair inclusion. An equitable society is one in which all can participate and prosper. The goal of equity must be to create conditions that allow all to reach their full potential. In short, equity creates a path for change.”
In partnership with the New York-based Center for Social Inclusion, whose vision is to “translate America’s changing demographics into a new source of power and prosperity for a society where all people can participate in solutions that help us all thrive” we will discuss how social equity and inclusiveness is and should be addressed in urban planning. This is the topic of The Grid’s inaugural tweetchat, #thegrid.
Disparities exist and as planners and policy makers this is something we should strive to reduce. The conditions of our neighborhoods reflect years of decision making on the local, regional, state and federal level. “The built environment is social policy in concrete,” as Dr. Richard Jackson from the Department of Environmental Health Services likes to say.
How do we provide the same level of opportunity to all demographics?
Severe disparities in education exist between urban public schools and suburban private schools, putting certain youth at a disadvantage early on. The gender earnings gap is still significant and if you are without a car and do not live near transit, a 30-minute trip turns into a two hour commute. Although social media is making communication faster, there are still those without the same level of access, hindering their ability to receive information.
If access to new technology continues to be a matter of cost, are we then only increasing the socioeconomic gap by excluding those who cannot afford the latest smart phone?
Residents with access to public transportation, grocery stores, parks and good schools will almost certainly receive better education, be healthier and more active than those with limited access to such resources. But how do we create the necessary infrastructure in communities where they do not already exist? The answer is incentive and innovation.
For example, West Oakland is finally receiving its first grocery store in decades, People’s Community Market, which is desperately needed in a place that is home to over 50 liquor stores. To gain the funds for this project, a group of entrepreneurs, who founded the non-profit People’s Grocery, created a system where California residents could buy shares in the enterprise and become investors. Investors will receive a 3% compounded annual interest rate and 1% annual store credit.
The market will be located on the busiest corner of West Oakland, where it will emphasize community and offer educational workshops. The founders understood how to implement this type of project because they have been working in the neighborhood for the past decade offering small grocery services to its residents. They realized those services were too limited, so they came up with People’s Community Market. They realized Wall Street would not invest in this kind of small-scale project, in an impoverished area, which is why they went straight to local residents for their fundraising.
Their business model incentivizes investment and the project itself reflects the needs of the community. People will have a place where they cannot only purchase healthy food, but can gather, learn about nutrition and develop a stronger sense of neighborhood pride.
In order to plan for social equity and inclusiveness in a city, policies must come from a more central source, such as the Mayor’s Office or the local government, so that they can be applied to the entire city and not just certain regions. However, there must be a level of knowledge and cultural understanding from within these communities so the actual needs can be addressed. If these central-governing bodies can successfully reach out to these communities, the chance of creating action becomes great.
Through urban planning, development and policy, we can create cities that make social equity a reality. But our structures are so deeply grounded that changing their trajectory requires new leadership and ideas.
What innovative programs do you know of that promote social equity and inclusiveness in your city?
Join myself and Renee van Staveren from The Grid and Dennis Chin and Anthony Giancatarino from the Center for Social Inclusion on June 5, 2013 at 3PM EDT/ 2PM CDT/ 12PM PDT/ 8PM BST/ 10PM EEST for our inaugural #thegrid tweetchat. The discussion will last an hour. We’ll be exploring social equity and inclusiveness in urban planning and encourage you to join us. Simply login to Twitter and follow the #thegrid hashtag and include it in your tweets to join the discussion.
Credits: Images and data linked to sources.