Over the last 10 years there has been a growing
“rediscovery” of cities. It is now “cool” to live in urban centers.
Unfortunately, it’s resulting in wide-spread gentrification and
displacement. And without deliberate interventions by existing
community residents, organizations, and allies this rediscovery will
not benefit everyone. As cities re-develop, basic infrastructure
spending on roads, public transportation, parks, and schools go through
planning processes that should be open to public participation.
Unfortunately, all too often, the most impacted communities are unaware
of opportunities to participate.
One of Urban Habitat’s first attempts at tackling one these planning processes was the 2006 update to the Regional Transportation Plan (RTP). In the Bay Area, this plan is overseen by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), which is itself composed of elected officials from cities and counties across the region. In 2006, they allocated $120 billion over 25 years to support transportation projects throughout the nine-county Bay Area.
Despite the critical importance of public transportation to low-income people and communities of color, there have been few public interest groups involved in these decisions.
However, working with many other community organizations across the region, Urban Habitat has advocated for more money for transportation resources to under-served communities. As a result, the MTC agreed to fund the Lifeline Program, which provides dedicated funds for transit projects serving the region’s low-income communities. Over the last two years, we have won allocations of over $359 million for the next 25 years. This funding is a small first step when compared to the depth of need or to the huge amount the Bay Area invests in rail expansion to the suburbs. But it showed that engaged communities can win a greater share of resources if they are at the table.
Urban Habitat continues our fight to equalize
transportation investments. We’ve launched a two-year initiative for
the upcoming RTP to advocate that low-income communities and
communities of color receive an equitable share of transit funding and
investments. For the first time, transportation justice advocates are
targeting county-level transportation decision-making in an effort to
have those transportation projects and priorities reflect the needs of
transit dependent populations. So far, the Transportation Justice
Equity Platform has been endorsed by 15 organizations, and both MTC and
public officials have been receptive to the issue of equity principles.
Richmond General Plan
Since we began our involvement in planning via transportation justice work, we have now moved into land use planning. Each jurisdiction in California is required to update its General Plan (a comprehensive blueprint for land use and development) at regular intervals. Over the past 18 months, Urban Habitat and our partner organizations in the Richmond Equitable Development Initiative have been working to influence the General Plan update in Richmond, California. When we first considered engaging in a campaign around the General Plan we were skeptical.
We went into the process with many questions:
* Can this type of process result in concrete equitable development policies and implementation measures?
* Will local community groups sustain their engagement in this long-term “process heavy” effort, which seems counter-intuitive compared to traditional organizing campaigns that have obvious targets and short-term wins along the way?
* How will we build our capacity so that we can craft our own policies and implementation steps for inclusion into the final General Plan?
* Will the General Plan just sit on a shelf or will it guide future development for the city?
Fast forward to today and we are in the thick
of the campaign. We have been able to present concrete policies and
implementation efforts and mobilize the community to support them. We
are hopeful that many of our recommendations will be supported by the
city council. But the jury is still out on the big question: Will the
plan determine future city development policy?
Our goal is to build a coalition that will be in it for the long haul but it will be years before the verdict is actually in. Meantime, working on this over the past year and a half has given me renewed excitement about planning. One of the most important things I have found is that planning allows you to be proactive.
Organizations like Urban Habitat are too often
put in the position of being on the defensive and reacting to something
that we do not want. While this is often out of necessity, it is also
exhausting and can crush the spirit. Land use and community planning
processes allows us to articulate a vision, think wholistically about
our communities, move outside of our issue silos, and get to scale.
This work has the potential of being the next evolution of community benefits work, which previously has focused on individual developers—one developer at a time. Targeting planning processes takes us upstream where we can change the rules of the game at the front end before a developer even comes to town.
The articles in this issue reflect the
experiences of dozens of organizations across the country that are
similarly trying to engage their communities to channel public
resources toward the public good. While we may yet be short of the
status of a full-fledged movement, the move toward equitable
development as another tool in the progressive arsenal is well underway.
As always, we thank you for your support of our work and look forward to seeing you in person—whether at the planning commission or on the picket lines!
Download or view a pdf of this article (176 KB).
Who Owns Our Cities? | Vol. 15, No.
1 | Spring 2008 | Credits