Integrate a Racial Equity Toolkit Into Your City's Processes
Cities are the main drivers of economic growth, justice, and personal liberty in the United States. However, many of the decisions our local government makes does not work to the benefit of the African American and Hispanic communities. In the not so distant past this was due to direct racial oppression baked into local ordinances. Now it’s more of a case of neglect.
City officials tend to be whiter than the populations they represent, as do voters and big money donors to political campaigns. As a result the needs and goals of minority communities tend to be overlooked regularly.
Video: Using Racial Equity Toolkit
Cities can implement processes that force city departments to take racial impact into consideration before making big decisions. Known as a “racial equity toolkit” that mandates that cities go through a series of steps during the project planning process and during annual budgets.
Imagine, for example, that you wanted to build a new development in a low income part of town that hasn’t seen investment i many years. Thanks to the low cost of land and proximity to downtown, which is newly bustling, a developer wants to build a condominium project tailored to young professionals.
Traditionally, the city would have some sort of zoning code that says what can be built at that location, and the neighborhood is invited to speak publically about the changes before a development review board or the city council.
The racial equity toolkit would be utilized as a mandatory step on this process. The steps are simple:
1.) Outline the policy goals you wish to achieve
2.) Outline all data on the project being done
3.) Review what community outreach has been done, outline any additional outreach to other communities that can be done.
4.) Review who will be burdened by the project? Who will be benefited? Are there unintended consequences? Does this hurt historically oppressed people?
5.) Write down a plan for implementation.
6.) Outline how the plan will be judged to ensure accountability and evaluate results.
The results of this process will be sent to the city commission for final review.
We already have public comment before any development or law goes into effect and anti-discrimination policies, there’s no point in having another layer of bureaucracy for each new law. Sure, racial equity is important, but we should have policies that support everyone, not target minorities for special privileges.
Governments often, without explicitly meaning to do so, implement policies that disproportionately harm or exclude racial minorities. Our cities have a tragic history of this, from redlining to school board zoning to starving investments to minority areas. This small additional to the process ensures that city staff carefully consider the impact their decisions have on minority communities.
Policy in Practice
How To Pass It
The use of a racial equity toolkit generally comes in a package of a racial equity initiative, that pushed many less high-profile tools for combatting racial injustice in city government. Seattle shows a good model for how this can be done. The city commission voted to implement a racial and social justice initiative, and after 6 months of interviews in Seattle’s communities of color they returned with the Racial Justice Toolkit. This can then be implemented by city commission, city manager, or the mayor by executive order, depending on what structure your city is.
What You Can Do
Reach out to local municipal staff and city or county officials to bring up the racial equity toolkit. Because this is an internal change of processes, getting champions internally is an important first step. Reach out to local african american justice or hispanic rights groups to bring up the options and see if they would be interested in advocating for it. Set up meeting with all you city or county council members to discuss it. This toolkit serves as a great political push for elected officials, as well as is beneficial to the local community, and works best as an initiative brought by an elected official.
- Racial Equity Toolkit – Local and Regional Governmental Alliance on Race and Equity
- Racial Equity Toolkit – Seattle
- Racial Equity and Social Justice Initiative – Madison, Wisconsin
- Racial Equity Impact Assessment – Race Forward
- Innovation and the City – NYU Wagner
- Seattle’s YIMBY movement brings intersectional urbanism to the fore – Architect’s Newspaper