How Do We Realize Equity in Redevelopment?

How Do We Realize Equity in Redevelopment?

Leo Vazquez from the National Consortium on Creative Placemaking

The moral reason for equity should be enough, but there are good economic reasons too. So how do we realize equity through redevelopment?

At the New Jersey Redevelopment Forum, during a breakout session, panelists discussed how their work is promoting equitable redevelopment, providing support for the economic case. They then engaged attendees in an open discussion on the considerations that must go into a redevelopment project if it is to be equitable.

Leo Vazquez, executive director of the National Consortium on Creative Placemaking, explained that buying power among minorities is growing quickly and outpacing that among whites. If developers and businesses are to capitalize on this, it means tailoring their projects for the growing liquidity and buying power of minorities.

It’s clear that people don’t respond well to traditional methods of community engagement, including meetings, said Vazquez. An effective way to engage marginalized communities specifically is through the arts, because it offers reassurance that voices are being heard and received. The arts is an important tool for reaching different communities, and planners can use it to facilitate community contribution by making opportunities to get together comfortable, welcoming, and convenient. Vazquez suggests incorporating community engagement as part of a larger event. For example, focus the gathering around an activity like art-making, and then ease into planning discussions. Art-making won’t generate data, but it allows people to feel connected and comfortable, at which point they can yield data.

Ruben Rodriguez, senior director of external communications at American Water, believes the City of Camden is well on the way to revitalization, and he highlighted the ways in which American Water is working to ensure the benefits of its move to the Camden waterfront will reach all residents. American Water spent $13 million on contractors, including local ones; invested $500,000 in Hopeworks, a local nonprofit offering career development training for at-risk youth; and invested $200,000 in local schools to create STEM labs. He explained how reaching and signing an agreement with host cities is one way businesses can demonstrate their commitment to the community. He also explained the various benefits American Water receives from such investments: Hopeworks, for example, has supplied talented graduates from its program as employees to the company.

Charles Brown, senior researcher at Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center and adjunct professor at Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University, said that in order to target people’s needs, it is critical to understand their unique differences as well as the underlying and historic issues around access to resources. He described the importance of “street-level” research before even generating research project ideas, saying that the true experts are often people not at conferences. He emphasized that investing in equity is the economic equivalent of hosting a superbowl, a $500 million outcome.

The session then moved on to a group exercise in which panelists and attendees brainstormed responses to a theoretical redevelopment project slated for the City of Camden. Recording responses on a large easel notepad, the group came up with the following equity considerations:

  • Understand that the concept of equity deals with access to opportunities and is not the same thing as equality.
  • Prioritize local employment and procurement opportunities.
  • Make considerations for all types of disabilities and communities, not just those most visible or easy to address.
  • Be transparent in decision-making processes, as there will always be winners and losers and finding compromise among competing interests will be important.
  • Understand the city’s history in regards to community support of or opposition to redevelopment. Greater conflict within a community is bad for developers, and as communities become more diverse, doing more “pre-work,” research, and preparation is necessary to overcome this.
  • Equip local officials with negotiation training, skills, and knowledge so they can not only understand a community’s needs and desires, but realize them too.

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