Across the country, planners and community activists are touting the new concept of “equitable development” as a just way to revitalize disinvested communities. Done well, this approach brings together practitioners and residents to develop and carry out initiatives that can help transform low-income and minority neighborhoods into places that provide economic opportunities, affordable living, and cultural expression for all residents, even in the face of gentrification.
However, achieving these goals is a complicated endeavor, notes our Senior Research Fellow Alexander von Hoffman in a new report, The Ingredients of Equitable Development Planning: A Cross-case Analysis of Equitable Development Planning and CDFIs. The report draws on lessons that emerge from recent equitable development campaigns in Washington, DC, Detroit, and Phoenix. Each involved nonprofit community development financial institutions (CDFIs) that received awards from JPMorgan Chase & Co. as part of its Partnerships for Raising Opportunity in Neighborhoods (PRO Neighborhoods) program, which our Center has been studying and evaluating for several years.
Equitable development efforts, this research shows, have absorbed the techniques of several important past movements for addressing key urban challenges, including equity planning, place-based and comprehensive community development, people-based asset building, smart growth and sustainable schools of regional planning, and the collective impact collaborative model of social action. Applying the panoply of such techniques requires extraordinary commitment, persistence, flexibility, and organizational sophistication.
The efforts that have made the most progress toward equitable development, the report notes, offer several key lessons:
- The form that equitable development takes must reflect the prevailing social and economic conditions in each locale. However, regardless of the specific form, equitable development requires accurate and relevant data from beginning to end because “what gets measured gets done!”
- To tackle complex and deep-seated problems, equitable development planners must create an agenda with different levels of goals based on observing the community, engaging with its members, and learning their wishes and needs.
- To secure funding, leaders of equitable development initiatives, can take the “incremental approach” of gradually building support and acquiring backers or the “civic consortium approach” of partnering within an existing network of funders and agencies in a large-scale campaign.
- The diverse nature of equitable development requires that different types of organizations collaborate with one another to achieve complementary goals. Organizations that have worked together in the past are more likely to form effective collaborations, but one organization with the capacity to do so should lead and coordinate the effort.
As the report indicates, successful equitable development efforts entail a collaboration of organizations and government agencies that coordinate with each other to work effectively toward a wide range of community-driven goals. Given the newness of the equitable development movement, it will be critical for its practitioners to use data to assess the accomplishments and shortcomings of their projects and programs. For now, despite the daunting challenges faced by their leaders, current equitable development projects reveal an exciting potential for shaping living environments that benefit people of all backgrounds and conditions.