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Cascade: No. 58, Summer 2005

Regional Equity Can Benefit All

PolicyLink is a national nonprofit research, communications, capacity-building, and advocacy organization founded n 1999 to promote a new generation of policies to achieve economic and social equity. PolicyLink’s headquarters are in Oakland, CA, and it has an office in New York City.

In today’s economy, the region is the arena for opportunity or exclusion. Advocates for economic and social justice recognize that efforts to achieve quality education, decent housing, jobs, and services for residents of low-income communities and communities of color will succeed only by changing the way resources, investments, and opportunities are allocated. Achieving regional equity means that everyone can participate in and benefit from economic growth and activity throughout the metropolitan region.

In the 1990s, conversations about regionalism and smart growth were rarely with people of color and seldom involved discussions about race and equity. Over time, however, regionalism has been informed, inspired, and energized by the growing movement to achieve economic and social equity through a focus on regional development patterns, policies, and practices. This quest for regional equity builds on the vast experience and wisdom of other important social change movements. From the civil rights movement, regional equity advocates have adopted a racial perspective for analyzing development and growth patterns. Neighborhood revitalization and community development efforts have contributed the knowledge that “place matters.”

From the community building movement, regional equity seeks comprehensive approaches to addressing the needs of low-income communities that incorporate strategies to support people and the places where they live. The Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership, for example, completed an extensive research and data project on regional housing disparities to develop a set of policy recommendations for promoting mixed-income housing across the Atlanta metro region. In the Boston metropolitan area, Action for Regional Equity, a coalition of 19 Massachusetts organizations working on affordable housing, transportation investment, and environmental justice issues across the Boston region, is campaigning for a dedicated permanent revenue stream for affordable housing that meets specific equity criteria and building the capacity of local leaders to advocate for equitable transit investments.

Regional equity will not fulfill its potential unless it connects to people in their neighborhoods and daily lives. This is beginning to happen through the work of a growing number of national organizing networks such as the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), Pacific Institute for Community Organization, and the Gamaliel Foundation. These groups are building a power base in low-income communities to advocate policies that address the inequitable impact of regional development. New organizing tactics and alliances are emerging at the community and regional level, with special attention on organizing across racial and geographic lines.

Ultimately, regional equity addresses the growing trend in the United States that where you live has become a proxy for opportunity. Ensuring that quality housing is affordable and available throughout metropolitan areas is essential. Low-income families that reside in affordable housing close to good schools, employment centers, transportation systems, parks, grocery stores, civic institutions, and services are better positioned to succeed economically and socially. As jobs move away from cities, improved transportation options can connect low-income people to employment and other opportunities. The community benefits movement is promoting equitable infrastructure investments at the state level and demanding that public investments yield defined public benefits, including good jobs, affordable housing, and child care.

Regional equity will be achieved when every neighborhood in the region has the essentials for healthy, productive living and is connected to opportunities. This requires recognizing and meeting a basic standard of livability below which no community falls. Equity also requires guarantees that as neighborhoods are transformed, residents who remained during difficult times have the option to stay if they choose.

Progress has been made in recent years toward achieving regional equity, but much more needs to be done. Sustaining and expanding hard-won gains requires:

  • More resources from public, private, and philanthropic investors in transit systems that connect people to employment and reduce dependence on public benefits while increasing tax base contributions, fostering greater educational equity to strengthen regional economic vitality, and improving environmental conditions to support good health and reduce health-care expenditures.
  • New capacities to enable community-based organizations, advocates, and others to have the skills and knowledge to be effective advocates for change.
  • New collaborations across sectors, neighborhoods, and jurisdictions among smart growth and social justice advocates that include honest and frank conversations about race.
  • Leadership that supports and cultivates new, bold regional equity leadership in the community, philanthropic, and public and private sectors.

The goal of regional equity is simple: to create a society in which everyone can participate and prosper. Getting there will be challenging, but the journey will be well worth it.

For information, contact Milly Hawk Daniel, Associate Director of Communications of PolicyLink, at (212) 629-9570, ext. 212 or mdaniel@policylink.org; www.policylink.org.

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