In Pittsburgh, Community is the Key to Advancing Racial Equity

From the 1930s through the 1960s, Pittsburgh’s Hill District was one of America’s elite African-American neighborhoods. Affectionately known as “Little Harlem,” it was home to a vibrant jazz scene, and was one of the few integrated areas in the city. By the 1950s, however, urban renewal – in which the federal government empowered local governments and private developers to redevelop commercial districts, displacing a disproportionate number of people of color and their businesses – hit the city. In Pittsburgh, this included forcibly removing over 8,000 residents and 400 business from the Lower Hill District into already segregated neighborhoods.

Today, Pittsburgh remains one of the most segregated cities in the United States. “When the city ignored advice not to demolish homes and businesses in the Lower Hill District, it raised new questions about the government's power to alter a neighborhood's social, racial, and economic fabric,” Dan Fitzpatrick explained in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. But what if they used their power differently? If local government could take wide sweeping actions to create today’s inequality crisis, then government can certainly take bold actions – in partnership with local leaders – to reverse this tide.

That’s exactly what the Pittsburgh City Council has recently set into motion. In a unanimous vote, the council passed a legislative package to increase equity across the city. Introduced by Councilmembers R. Daniel Lavelle and Rev. Ricky Burgess, supported by the Mayor’s office, and influenced by All-In Pittsburgh – a coalition of over 40 organizations dedicated to advancing racial equity and equitable development in the region. Specifically, the legislation:

  • Declares Pittsburgh an “all-In” city, demonstrating its commitment to breaking down barriers to advance racial economic inclusion and equitable growth.
  • Adds equity reporting requirements of all city department directors.
  • Creates an equity and inclusion implementation team to implement, monitor, and enforce equity and diversity goals in all city departments.

There are many existing models Pittsburgh will be able to rely on when working to foster equitable development and embed equity across city government. In 2005, Seattle became the first city in the United States to start a citywide initiative to eliminate racial inequities and structural racism. Now all city employees are trained on equity and inclusion, and all city departments use a racial equity analysis tool to consider how their work benefits or burdens various communities, and how they may contribute to racial disparities. This has led to hundreds of changes in city operations. Similar initiatives are at work across the country, in communities from Oakland, California to Fairfax, Virginia.

What makes the work in Pittsburgh particularly exciting is the commitment to working with community throughout the process. Councilman Burgess said the city will work with the All-In Pittsburgh coalition to challenge corporations, institutions, and nonprofits to set the same goals created through the legislation. As outlined in The Path to an All-In Pittsburgh, to ensure the sustainability and success of this work, local leaders must invest in multiracial, cross-sector collective action, with an emphasis in supporting grassroots and resident leadership.

Community-based leaders actively participate in the coalition, including representatives from Beltzhoover Consensus Group, Hazlewood Initiative, Hill District Consensus Group, Homewood Children's Village, Kelly Strayhorn Theater, and the Kingsley Association. Together, these organizations can play a vital role in building community cohesion, articulating a vision for the community’s future, negotiating with developers, and partnering to implement investment without displacement strategies. This will require the sustained support of philanthropic leaders investing in the institutional structures and networks that can take collective action.

There is perhaps no greater asset to coalition building towards equitable development than local residents. Resident leadership and organizing is foundational to ensuring that as a city continues to grow and change, those most at risk of being displaced know their rights and have a voice in how their neighborhoods change. Local government and private sector leaders should provide clear, widespread information about specific development proposals in neighborhoods, so residents are informed and empowered to weigh in on plans that impact them. This also requires investment in tenant advocacy and organizing to prevent displacement, engage in neighborhood planning, and ensure healthy housing.

As Pittsburgh commits to truly going “all-in,” they will need to continue to invest in community power, voice, and capacity. Building structures for collective action and developing policy leadership from within Pittsburgh’s communities of color is critical to carrying this agenda forward. Pittsburgh’s leadership has taken important steps towards ushering in an era of equity. Positioning residents and community’s leaders at the center of this work will show that the city is truly heeding the lessons from the past.

Welcome to the Bay Area Equity Atlas!

Our team at the San Francisco Foundation, PolicyLink, and the USC Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE) is thrilled to share the Bay Area Equity Atlas with you!

The Bay Area Equity Atlas is a comprehensive data resource to track the state of equity across the region and inform solutions for inclusive prosperity.

We built the Atlas for everyone working to create a more equitable, just, and resilient Bay Area. Racialized inequality — along with a housing and displacement crisis — is placing our region’s future at risk. The only path to inclusive prosperity is to advance equity solutions at scale.

Data that is disaggregated by race, nativity, geography, and more is critical to charting a more equitable future. Data can elevate the debate about equity and catalyze the bolder solutions needed to make equity our regional reality. Data can also help strengthen the voice and power of the communities most impacted by inequities. As Ellen Wu, executive director of Urban Habitat and a member of our Equity Campaign Leaders Advisory Committee explains: “Data is critical to democratizing power and running effective advocacy campaigns.”

At the click of a button, you can access 21 powerful equity indicators across the San Francisco Foundation’s People, Place, and Power equity framework. Data is available for 272 geographies, including the region as a whole, its nine counties, 40 sub-county areas, and 220 places including cities and Census Designated Places.

The Bay Area Equity Atlas is a tool for social change. It equips community leaders and policymakers with facts and analyses to:

  • Assess how well Bay Area communities are doing on key measures of social and economic inclusion, neighborhood opportunity, and political voice and power
  • Spark and inform new conversations about why—and how much—equity matters to the cultural and economic vitality of the Bay Area as a whole and each of its communities
  • Inform policies, plans, strategies, business models, and investments for inclusive prosperity

Our aim is to democratize data and make it easy for you to understand, discuss, and use. Explore the Bay Area Equity Atlas to find:

  • Contextual information for each indicator explaining why it matters for building an equitable region, key trends in the region, major drivers of inequities, and policy solutions
  • Charts, graphs, and maps to share with your colleagues and add to your presentations, fact sheets, reports, and funding proposals
  • Stories about residents’ experiences of equity challenges as well as solutions
  • Analyses of equity trends and issues across the region
  • Examples of how local leaders are using Bay Area Equity Atlas data to advance equity solutions
  • And much more!

The atlas is a living resource. We invite you to share your feedback and tell us what you’d like to see on the site. Please sign up to Get Atlas Updates (bottom right corner) to learn about new features and analyses, and how people are using our data. And follow us on social media at #BayAreaEquityAtlas.

We hope you enjoy exploring! Here are two additional resources to help you get started:

- The Bay Area Equity Atlas team (Sarah, Jamila, Michelle, Rosa, Jessica, Justin, and Arpita)

UPCOMING WEBINAR: Introducing the Bay Area Equity Atlas

Data matters for building an equitable Bay Area. From informing the public debate to driving policy solutions, data broken down by race and geography is a key ingredient in advancing equity. Yet, even in the tech capital of the world, such data remains far too difficult to access and use.

Enter the Bay Area Equity Atlas – a new data tool launching on June 5, 2019. Produced by a partnership between the San Francisco Foundation, PolicyLink, and the USC Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE), the Bay Area Equity Atlas equips community leaders with 21 powerful equity metrics and policy solutions for inclusive prosperity.

Join us for the launch webinar, Thursday, June 6, (12-1  pm PT/ 3-4 pm ET), to take a tour of the Atlas and be the first to learn about our analysis of the diversity of elected officials in the region, based on a unique dataset assembled by the Atlas team.

Speakers include:


Economic Inclusion in Southern Cities Biannual Convening Recap

Equity is the superior growth model. Research confirms that supporting residents and workers of color in reaching their full potential is more than just a moral imperative. Indeed, it is an economic imperative as well. Economists tell us that inequality hinders growth and greater inclusion accelerates it. As the diversity of this country continues to grow, and we move closer towards becoming a majority people of color nation in 2044, embracing these principles will only become increasingly important. It was to this end, and as part of their unwavering commitment to promoting racial equity, that the Annie E. Casey Foundation first launched the Advancing Economic Inclusion in Southern Cities (EISC) learning community back in 2015.  

EISC consists of municipal officials and staff, local philanthropists, and business and community partners from seven major cities in the South:  Asheville, Atlanta, Charlotte, Memphis, Nashville, New Orleans, and Richmond. On April 2-4, 2019, EISC representatives gathered at the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond branch in Charlotte to discuss challenges and solutions for advancing increased participation of business enterprises owned and operated by women and people of color. In addition to Casey, the Federal Reserve banks of Atlanta, St. Louis, and Richmond have been partners in this project and hosted virtually all of the cohort meetings thus far. 

The convening began with a rousing video of acclaimed poet Danez Smith speaking passionately about the impact that racial inequities have had and continue to have on young people of color in cities across the country. This poem served as powerful motivation for the three-day convening and helped to ground participants in the urgent need for change present in the communities they seek to serve. The poem also underscored the importance of moving beyond representative diversity towards tangible investment in underserved communities, full inclusion of residents and workers in decision-making processes, and the removal of systemic barriers that continue to hold back low-income people of color. 

Over the course of the three-day meeting, participants were joined by committed advocates, activists, academics, and municipal leaders to help them develop viable strategies for advancing equity and inclusion. For example, on the second day Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland and Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles each spoke about inclusion efforts underway in their respective cities. For example, the city of Charlotte commissioned a disparity study to document the underrepresentation of people-of-color-owned business enterprises among those receiving contracts for city procurement opportunities.  Similarly, Memphis is also using the city’s purchasing power to help grow and expand small, and people-of-color owned businesses.

Other noteworthy strategies for advancing racial equity and economic inclusion include:

  1. Local and targeted hiring – require or incentivize businesses that receive public resources, such as government contracts or tax breaks, to hire workers living in a particular geographic area or from specific populations within the community.
  2. Anchor institution procurement – leverage the tremendous purchasing power of universities, hospitals, community colleges, and large private sector employers to help not only grow new businesses through contracting, but also fill open employment opportunities at these institutions. The Chicago Anchors for a Strong Economy (CASE) is a noteworthy example of this strategy in action. 
  3. Tailor workforce strategies – career training and education opportunities should be targeted for industries slated for growth, or those that have historically had barriers to entry for low-income people of color similar to the EARN Maryland program.
  4. Asset-building strategies – take an intergenerational approach to ensure that economic inclusion strategies will address the racial wealth gap through efforts such as individual development accounts for low-income families, or city-wide efforts such as the Richmond Office of Community Wealth Building or Atlanta Wealth Building Initiative.

To learn more about economic inclusion in general and the challenges and opportunities facing Black-owned business enterprises in particular, please check out the latest report from the Association for Enterprise Opportunity (AEO), The Tapestry of Black Business Ownership in America: Untapped Opportunities for Success.

Equity, Artificial Intelligence, and Transportation

From autonomous vehicles and bio-transit tickets, to airport face scanning and smart highways and cities, artificial intelligence (AI) is making its way into the transportation sector, one innovation at a time. As exciting as these technologies are, the big challenge will be to ensure that rapid innovation does not perpetuate existing inequality. Instead, artificial intelligence should be applied to providing benefits to the communities that too often have carried the negative burden of our traditional transportation infrastructure and systems without enjoying the benefits they provide.

With the growth in popularity of ubiquitous apps and services like Uber, Lyft, Amazon, Postmates, and DoorDash, companies are looking for ways to grow their client base and outdo their competition. In today’s era of convenience and efficiency, this means being faster and more automated. As companies focus on expansion and increasing their profit, we must ensure that their growth does not cause new harm to our most vulnerable communities. This means considering how artificial intelligence and automation affect the transportation systems low-income people and people of color depend on. Will new technology increase the mobility and connection of disinvested people and places or will it undermine the buses, trains, carpools, and shuttle services people depend on? Will it improve access to high quality jobs that pay fair living wages and treat workers with dignity and respect or will it leave new generations of people behind? Will it support a more inclusive society or deploy new surveillance tools and predictive policing that perpetuate algorithmic bias and propagate the wrongful criminalization of people of color? 

Despite these challenges, there are clear opportunities for artificial intelligence technology to help solve the transportation issues that have negatively impacted low-income communities and communities of color for generations:

As we think about the potential impact of AI on transportation and transit systems, it’s helpful to look to the principles set forth by the Transportation Equity Caucus, a coalition chaired by PolicyLink and composed of more than 125 national, state, and local organizations working to embed racial equity into federal transportation policy. The principles and their AI implications are:

1. Create affordable transportation options for all people. We must ensure that the cost of using autonomous vehicles (AVs) and AI technologies for daily travel is accessible for people of all income levels, particularly if they are to be an extension of the public transit system.

2. Ensure fair access to quality jobs, workforce development, and contracting opportunities in the transportation industry. As AVs other AI technologies are deployed in our cities, we must ensure that the jobs and contracts associated with their growth are high quality and are accessible to workers and firms who have historically been shut out, namely people of color and people with disabilities.

3. Promote, healthy, safe, and inclusive communities. Just like there are food deserts, there are transportation innovation deserts. Too many communities of color already lack access to quality transit services, safe pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, and well-maintained roads. These same communities are the last ones to have access to on demand rides, bikes, and scooters. As AVs and AI technologies are deployed it is important to think about the spatial distributions of affordable transportation options and the impact they will have on the transportation services that communities of color already depend on.

4. Invest equitably and focus on results. As AI has moved into many parts of society, concerns have been raised about the lack of racial and ethnic diversity in the tech sector. Specifically, people have pointed to several incidents related to image recognition systems where unconscious racial bias showed up in tech projects. In the transportation space there is early evidence that bias is embedded in computer algorithms that should drive automated vehicle technology. Research has found that autonomous vehicles are less able to detect people with darker skin color, compared to people with lighter skin color. Facial recognition and predictive policing technology deployed through our transportation infrastructure can also perpetuate discrimination and increase police surveillance in communities that are already subject to disproportionate policing. To address this, we must be thoughtful in considering both the functionality of technology and its application and impact. We must ensure that people of color, people with disabilities, and other vulnerable populations are co-designers of the deployment of AI in our communities and cities.

The AI train is already running at full steam and there is no sign of a slow down. We can either watch it pass us by or get on and help program its direction. It is time for community leaders, advocates, and policymakers to chart a new course that will deliver real transportation equity to the millions of Americans who have been harmed and neglected by our past infrastructure investments, policies, and practices.

Safe and Affordable Water is a Critical National Imperative

With mounting and devastating water challenges in America, we can leverage Infrastructure Week to turn urgent attention to ensuring both the human right to clean water and to focusing on the climate mitigations to address the droughts, floods, and sea-level rise that threaten our water futures.

For an increasing number of communities in the United States, their water is unsafe and having negative impacts on health. Nearly 77 million U.S. residents are served by drinking water systems with one or more Safe Drinking Water Act violations. Race and income are central factors in both urban and rural water vulnerabilities, and many studies have found links between poor water quality and low-income communities of color. Over the last few years, lead has been documented in school water in 26 states. Today, the U.S. ranks 36th in the world in terms of access to water and sanitation.

The crisis of water affordability is mounting. The lowest 20 percent of income earners pay 20 percent of their monthly income for water. If rate hikes continue at their pace of the last decade, more than one-third of all U.S. households, 35.6 percent, will be unable to afford running water in the next five years. Estimates of the cost to replace aging infrastructure in the United States alone project over $1 trillion dollars needed in the next 25 years to replace systems built circa World War II, which could triple the cost of household water if current rate payers are required to shoulder the bills. An estimated 15 million people in the United States experienced a water shutoff in 2016 with the highest shutoff rates in lower-income cities with higher rates of poverty. The decline of federal investment has removed a valuable funding source to support maintenance and replacement of safe drinking and wastewater systems. Cities, states, and water customers are increasingly shouldering the bulk of costly maintenance and repair responsibilities to protect the health, quality, and accessibility of their water.

Climate-related flooding, sea level rise, and waste water exposures are steeply increasing—threatening both drinking water and wastewater systems. An increase in the number of extreme weather events can overwhelm water systems and impact those residing in vulnerable neighborhoods—including sewage backups, sewage overflows into water sources, and the flooding of homes, businesses, and neighborhoods with toxic runoff. The capacity for lower-income communities to recover is severely compromised. Almost five million people and 2.6 million homes are within zones vulnerable to sea level rise predicted to be inundated by the end of the century. Studies estimate that adaptations to water systems to deal with climate change will warrant investment in the United States of more than $36 billion by 2050.

The critical imperative to increase water infrastructure investment offers an opportunity to align major economic opportunities with the demographic shifts underway. With chronic labor shortages and an aging workforce in the water sector, new investment creates an opportunity to tackle the legacy of racial and gender discrimination in the water infrastructure and construction industries and the need for good employment for young workers. While opportunities remain underdeveloped, demonstrated success in local hire measures, local procurement policies, and supply-side training and support all offer pathways to both increase the equitable outcomes across communities and address the climate resilience of diverse environments.

Policy Priorities for Water Equity and Climate Resilience

As Congress and the President discuss a potential new infrastructure bill, and as architects of the Green New Deal flesh out policy proposals, they should ensure they address the water threats to communities of color, Indigenous communities, and low-income communities to deliver improved water equity and climate resilience.

  • Guarantee universal access to safe and affordable water. Ensure water infrastructure investments are equitable and prioritize vulnerable communities for safe and affordable drinking water, sanitation, and storm water management. Philadelphia has an exemplary ‘tiered-assistance’ program for affordability and universal access.
  • Ensure vulnerable communities—low-income communities and communities of color, and those proximate to climate threatened waters—engage in water planning, governance, and implementation of resilience measures. Cleveland’s Climate Action Plan embedded equity provisions into its plan and targeted vulnerable communities in its water provisions.  
  • Address historic economic disparities and dislocations by increasing educational, job, and business opportunities for low-income people and people of color in designing, building, operating, and maintaining communities’ next generation of green and sustainable water infrastructure. The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission has structured targeted local hiring and inclusive procurement;  and the Emerald Cities Collaborative runs training for businesses of color to successfully compete in water infrastructure build out contracts to address economic inclusion of communities left behind in the current economy. The EPA Brownfields Environmental Workforce Development and Job Training Grants and the Environmental Health Sciences Environmental Career Worker Training Program both provide effective opportunities for disadvantaged workers and opportunity youth to enter the water and green infrastructure careers.  
  • And finally, honor the cultural and spiritual access to water that communities depend upon in public lands policy and protections.

Making Progress Towards Park Equity

“Successful parks are markers of healthy communities: children play; families spend time together; people of all ages exercise and relax; and the environment adds to the beauty, security, and economic value of the neighborhood. On the other hand, neglected, dangerous, poorly maintained, or badly designed parks and recreation facilities have the opposite effect: families and young children stay away, illicit activities proliferate, and the property becomes a threatening or discouraging eyesore. To remain community assets, parks and recreation facilities need adequate budgets, good management, and a strong connection with residents.”

Since PolicyLink wrote those words in 2006, parks equity has become more widely understood as a core component of good city-building policies and practices. During 2019 Infrastructure Week, we should celebrate that awareness but double down on our commitment to achieve more tangible results. The case for community parks and trails as drivers of economic growth and rising property values has been repeatedly and effectively made and signature projects such as the Atlanta Beltline and the New York High Line have shown how places can be revitalized through the smart activation of green space. But with the growth bonuses from parks have come sharp questions about who gets to live near them and enjoy their benefits, as gentrification and displacement concerns have become more urgent in many cities. The essential role of parks in creating conditions that advance health and well-being has similarly been well documented.  Children, youth, and adults of all ages need easy access to places to exercise, play, gather as a community and seek respite from the stress of daily life. Here too, though the equity challenges remain, as parks not favored by wealthy donors are often chronically underfunded, which undercuts operations and maintenance as well as acquisitions.

Progress towards parks equity can be found in the arena of public policies, as local governments have explored new models for financing, from new twists on familiar taxes, bonds and fees, to new guidance for conservancies and public-private partnerships, to more innovative methods for capturing the value of adjacent development or establishing land trusts. Each of these mechanisms can be assessed with respect to who bears the financial burden, who benefits, and who makes the decisions. Cities should adopt the more equitable paths to new funding and allocation of resources, and states and the federal government should encourage and incentivize the right choices with their bond and grant program. [The Urban Institute is exploring strategies for investing in equitable parks for City Parks Alliance, and a report will be released later in 2019].

The most exciting frontier for parks equity might be at the level of individual projects where local organizations have built or revitalized parks in low-income communities by incorporating arts and cultural strategies into their approach. For example, Zuni Pueblo, New Mexico, is a place of powerful cultural and spiritual resilience. The Zuni nation has survived hundreds of years of systematic oppression and disempowerment while maintaining cultural and linguistic integrity. In the past few years, the Zuni Youth Enrichment Project (ZYEP) has worked with partners to offer youth programs that emphasize the importance of Zuni language acquisition, traditional agriculture practices, Pueblo art forms, traditional songs and dances, culturally significant sites, oral storytelling, and connection to the elders. These culturally enriching activities are designed to promote physical activity, improve nutrition, and provide a safe space where Zuni youth can connect to positive role models. Recently, ZYEP used philanthropic resources from ArtPlace America to build a new park and community center. They were advised by a committee of six Zuni artists who were partners through every phase of the park’s development. The artists acted as mediators, organizers (introducing staff to new community partners), designers who worked with the architects, and even builders who constructed parts of the park. Because of the artists’ cultural and creative lens, the park has wrapped the resilience of Zuni cultural traditions around present and future Zuni generations.

In Philadelphia, the Fairmount Park Conservancy believes that parks have the potential to serve as the city’s great connector and equalizer, and as catalysts for positive change. As a champion for the city’s public parks and recreation system, the organization’s mission and work has evolved beyond fundraising to becoming a collaborative leader and partner, focusing more strategically on planning, project management, program development, and community engagement. FPC used support from ArtPlace to utilize the arts to strengthen the organization’s mission and values. By forging new partnerships with artists and cultural producers, they worked with residents of the Strawberry Mansion area to illustrate their neighborhood history and opened up a previously unfamiliar historic house as a welcoming center for community performances and exhibits. The Conservancy became better equipped to tap into critical community voices to ensure that current and future planning and decision-making processes for new park investments are truly collaborative.

These stories from Zuni and Philadelphia are featured in the December 2018 issue of Parks and Recreation, the National Recreation and Park Association magazine.

Green Infrastructure Investment Without Displacement: Upcoming Webinar

Green infrastructure projects have the potential to bring needed benefits to low-income communities – greener and healthier environments, better infrastructure to withstand extreme climate events, local jobs in the growing sustainability sector, and more. But too often, low-income people and people of color living in these places face increased displacement pressure once these investments come to their communities. Green gentrification can seem like an inevitable outcome of investing in urban forests, parks, bioswales, and clean rivers in places that have faced decades of disinvestment and racist policies and practices. But it doesn’t have to be, if policymakers and green infrastructure practitioners proactively take steps to prevent displacement.

Join us tomorrow for a webinar by the Urban Waters Learning Network on addressing gentrification and displacement in green infrastructure projects. PolicyLink Senior Associate Chris Schildt will present on the drivers of displacement and what advocates for green infrastructure can do to promote investment without displacement.

Understanding Gentrification and Displacement: The Path to Equitable Development
Wednesday, May 15
9:00am – 10:30am PT / 12noon – 1:30pm ET

The first in a series hosted by the Urban Waters Learning Network, this webinar aims to frame the topics of gentrification and displacement as well as provide an example of the types of multi-sector partnerships that urban waters practitioners can create to ease displacement pressures. Presenters Paulina Lopez and Robin Schwartz from the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition/TAG (Seattle, WA) will kick things off by sharing why this is an issue of concern that they are paying increasing attention to as a river-focused organization. Chris Schildt from PolicyLink will then address the following questions:

  • What are the drivers behind displacement?
  • What do gentrification and displacement look like? How are they different? How are they related?
  • Are gentrification and displacement of people always the outcome of significant development in disinvested neighborhoods?
  • What are some policies and/or practices that can be enabled to ease displacement pressures?

Exploring these topics further, Tony Defalco from Verde will share information about a multi-sector partnership called Living Cully. In the Cully neighborhood of Portland, Living Cully partners strive to balance environmental investments, equitable development and anti-displacement goals.

This webinar is part of a series hosted by the Urban Waters Learning Network (UWLN), a partnership between Groundwork USA & River Network funded by the US EPA Office of Water. This year, UWLN is digging deeper into a topic that has long been a concern of its members: the gentrification and displacement of people taking place in our urban communities, oftentimes following efforts to revitalize and reinvest in the places we call home. UWLN will be addressing this topic in the coming months through this webinar series, blog posts, impact stories, and other resources.


Learn more and register today!

National Infrastructure Week – Five Recommendations to Create Equitable Infrastructure Investments

At PolicyLink, we know that smart, targeted, equitable investments in infrastructure can have a transformative impact on low-income communities and communities of color. That’s why we are excited to join infrastructure advocates throughout the nation, for National Infrastructure Week—a time to collectively garner more public awareness and advocacy to support increased investments in infrastructure.

This week we will be posting a new blog each weekday exploring infrastructure equity. We encourage you to share our blog posts with your network and follow the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #Build4Equity and  #BuildForTomorrow -- the official infrastruture week hashtag.

Five Recommendations to Create Equitable Infrastructure Investments

Infrastructure can provide transformative benefits to communities, but the story of infrastructure in the United States has often been devastating for Indigenous people, people of color, and low-income communities. From the transcontinental railroads that destroyed native lives and accelerated European occupation, to the demolition of entire communities in the mid-20th century spurred by urban renewal and freeway expansion, to the ongoing pattern of locating pollution generating infrastructure and industry in neighborhoods that are home to low-income people and people of color, to the persistent lack of investment that has left millions of people in urban and rural communities without safe drinking water, sidewalks, parks, or other critical infrastructure—for too many people, infrastructure has been an oppressive force. A way to consolidate wealth and power for some while reinforcing racial and economic exclusion.

Today, we have an opportunity to change this. Our infrastructure is in serious need of attention. Growing populations, resource-intensive development patterns, new technology requirements of a rapidly changing economy, and several decades of underinvestment have combined to create a huge backlog of infrastructure projects all over the country—in urban, suburban, and rural areas. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, we have to spend an additional $500 billion a year between now and 2040 in order to close our infrastructure gap. This backlog combined with the clear evidence that our existing infrastructure is not serving the communities who will soon constitute the majority, and the growing impacts of climate change, creates an opportunity for us to step out of our past and radically reimagine how we plan for, build, and maintain our infrastructure systems.

Here are five recommendations that can set us in the right direction:

  • Serve underinvested communities without pushing out existing residents. Rectifying decades of disinvestment in communities of color and low-income neighborhoods is critical, but making these investments without protecting residents from displacement will only exacerbate harm. The benefits of infrastructure investments should be targeted to those with the greatest need and should be combined with strategies to ensure that residents can stay in their communities.
  • Improve the environmental health and quality of life for residents of disinvested places. Climate change demands transformation in every aspect of our lives. As we tackle the next generation of infrastructure that will allow us to both slowdown climate change and prepare for its impacts, we have an opportunity to substantially improve the health and quality of life for residents of disinvested places. From electrification of our goods movement infrastructure, to redesigning our neighborhoods for multi-modal mobility, our transition to clean energy can provide a host of co-benefits to communities.

  • Be equitably owned, financed, and funded. How infrastructure projects are owned, financed, and funded, affects whether they advance or impede equity. Ownership and financing should be structured to put greater power in low-income communities and communities of color and should ensure that project benefits actually make it to them.

  • Create good jobs and business opportunities for local residents. While infrastructure investments can facilitate a host of physical improvements in a community, they can also provide workforce development opportunities, jobs, and new business opportunities. Making sure that these economic benefits are accessible to a broad cross section of local residents, including individuals with barriers to employment, will ensure that our infrastructure investments contribute to a future of shared prosperity.

  • Include residents in decision-making at every step. Achieving equity requires shared decision-making that is rooted in transparency and a commitment to changing inequitable policies and practices. Bringing communities into all stages of infrastructure planning and implementation allows for community knowledge and priorities to shape decisions and ultimately leads to better projects and outcomes.

Over the next four days we will explore these recommendations further and will join our partners from around the country to reimagine infrastructure so that we can #Build4Equity and #BuildForTomorrow.

How companies can advance racial equity and create business growth

As businesses across the nation vie to increase revenue and market share, they are seeking not only to retain customers but also to continually expand into new markets. Much has been written about the demographic change engulfing the American market: by 2040, a majority of people in the U.S. will be of color; indeed, a majority of young people in the country are already of color. 

However, a majority of people of color in the United States suffer worse socio-economic outcomes in most aspects of their lives—health, education, career, access to financial services, or experiences with the criminal justice system—than their White counterparts. If status quo remains, and a majority of corporate stakeholders such as customers, employees, and suppliers continue to experience racial inequities, then businesses will suffer from a less productive workforce, missed market segments and fewer suppliers from which to choose.

With these realities in mind, in 2017, PolicyLink and FSG wrote a report called The Competitive Advantage of Racial Equity.  The research in the report highlights examples of companies that have gained competitive advantage by advancing racial equity. We found that by ignoring the nation’s changing demographics, companies may find their growth curtailed and their global competitiveness undermined. Our research led us to explore specific steps business leaders can take to future-proof their businesses by addressing these inequities. With support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, FSG and PolicyLink examined two industries where racial inequities are most severe—health care and financial services—to explore how companies in these sectors are advancing racial equity in ways that create business value.

Although these industries are vastly different, our research found 5 action-steps and 3 internal catalysts that are applicable to any industry and that must be adopted by business leaders who want to remain competitive. Here, we share examples from our research on the healthcare and financial services sectors in addition to highlighting opportunities for companies in other sectors. As the business world begins to adopt a racial equity point of view we are inspired by bold innovations that are emerging across sectors and markets.

Companies must offer products or services that effectively meet the distinctive needs of markets of color. To enable that, companies need to:  

  1. Authentically understand the needs of markets of color. Markets of color may not always have the same needs as majority-White markets. Yet, the data on needs or consumer behavior for people of color are not always readily available. Companies can conduct in-house research on these markets or seek help from unconventional sources outside the for-profit world. For example, Prudential Financial, a Fortune 500 company that provides financial products and services including retirement-related investments, commissioned research with UnidosUS, a non-profit that deeply understands and serves the Hispanic communities, and captured behavioral insights on the community’s usage of retirement services. This information served as critical input to Prudential’s business units that aim to expand its retirement service offerings.
  2. Get to the root cause. America’s history of slavery and ongoing structural racism has led to lower incomes, lower levels of wealth, and poorer health outcomes among people of color compared to their White counterparts. Recognizing and understanding this fact is essential to ensure that companies don’t mistakenly attribute inequities to individual behavior. It is also essential to spark business innovation and avoid unintended negative consequences. Let us take for example the impact of structural racism on access to transportation.  is significant evidence that America’s transportation system has historically bypassed communities of color. In our research, we found that Kaiser Permanente, an integrated health care provider, teamed up with a car-sharing service to bring members to their appointments when they could not afford the cost of transportation to their diabetes management appointments.

The same phenomenon of differential access to transportation could also affect companies in other industries. For example, in 2016, an analysis by Bloomberg found that in some of the largest cities where Amazon’s same day delivery service is available, it bypasses ZIP codes that are predominantly Black. Amazon uses many factors to determine which ZIP codes are ripe for its same day service, including the distance to the nearest fulfillment center, local demand in an area, as well as the ability of various carrier partners to deliver up to 9:00 pm every single day. The underlying algorithm, however, perhaps did not consider how communities of color historically lack equal access to transportation, and inadvertently, Amazon denied those ZIP codes same-day service. Since the publication of the Bloomberg report, Amazon made a decision to expand the coverage. Regardless, the unintended negative consequence of being race-blind is that it limits access for these communities, and potential profits for Amazon’s business, since these neighborhoods often lack access to groceries and other retail stores, which could be a potential source of revenue for the company.

  1. (Re)design products and services to meet discrete needs. People of color suffer from the effects of structural racism, starting with their level of wealth or access to healthy foods. Providing differentiated products and services to solve for these discrete needs can help to address these inequities and enable companies to enter new markets. ShopRite operator Brown’s Super Stores, found a profitable market expansion opportunity by establishing grocery stores to reach lower-income people of color in Philadelphia-area food deserts. The company offered customized food items and expanded its offerings to include complementary services that were lacking, such as health clinics. The company’s 7 stores generate strong profits on $250 million in revenues and serve 250,000 people.

Companies should work to reverse the effects of structural racism by strengthening the external business context – thus enabling their future growth. To do that, companies must undertake the following steps:

  1. Address public policy failures: While some federal policies improve conditions for people of color, others affect people of color negatively and constrain business growth. Prudential’s research with UnidosUS, described above, found that state regulations discourage small businesses from offering retirement savings plans to their employees, limiting those employees from participating in Prudential’s pension investment services. This disproportionately affects communities of color because a majority of employees of color work for small businesses. Prudential used its lobbying arm to work with coalitions that expanded retirement savings to employees of small businesses, thus opening up its access to an expanded pool of assets for management.
  2. (Re)build trust and shift norms: Due to historical and modern-day discrimination against Black and Latinx communities, many communities of color are less trusting of businesses – this is particularly true of banks and health care institutions. For banks, this can be costly, as it may limit the size of their total addressable market and for health care institutions, it may mean patients of color are less likely to seek treatment or participate it important R&D, further exacerbating inequities. Companies need to understand, acknowledge, and rebuild relationships and trust with communities of color in order to serve these communities. Racialized norms in society can also cause unintended consequences; shifting those norms requires intentionality. In 2016, the hashtag #AirBnBWhileBlack became popular when a study found that Black guests face higher rates of rejection than White guests.  Since then, a team representing executives from every Airbnb department conducted a comprehensive examination of how Airbnb has fought discrimination in the past, where these efforts fell short, and how they can be improved in the future. Beginning November 1, 2016, AirBnB made a decision that everyone who uses Airbnb around the world will be asked to affirmatively agree to uphold a commitment to treat fellow members equally regardless of race, gender identity, and national origin before they book a listing or share their space on the Airbnb platform – a small, but important step in shifting norms around racist behavior. 

Companies must also ensure that internal organizational conditions support this this work. Essential factors include:

  1. Strong diversity and inclusion practices: Most companies are spending increasing resources on diversity and inclusion today. CEOs have come together to publicly state their commitment to this work. Starbucks recently enlisted the advice and counsel of social scientists, researchers and other experts in designing the training curriculum for its employees. Yet, we see time and again, advertisements that are racist or culturally inappropriate or products and services that are discriminatory or exclusionary towards a gender or race. Perhaps if all core business units such as product development, marketing and sales teams have diverse employees who understand equity and cultural humility, and employees feel comfortable raising concerns, mistakes could be avoided. Having a diverse staff is itself an essential goal: Our research shows that having a diverse workforce that mirrors the customer base is critical to unlock the business opportunities associated with advancing racial equity.
  2. Leadership support, structure, and accountability to embed racial equity in the business: In most companies, diversity and inclusion efforts are entirely separate from the business units responsible for market expansion or ensuring the quality of service. However, some companies are bringing skilled expertise in diversity, equity, and inclusion into their operations. When AirBnB found that there were too many instances of people being discriminated against on the Airbnb platform because of race, the company decided to assemble a permanent, full-time product team of engineers, data scientists, researchers, and designers whose sole purpose is to advance belonging and inclusion and to root out bias.
  3. Establishing mutually beneficial partnerships with organizations led by people of color: While we hope companies will find new opportunities to better understand and authentically serve communities of color in ways that reduce inequities, we know companies can’t do this alone. Leading companies understand the need to partner with experts that work with communities of color. It is important to ensure that these are not token partnerships, but authentic and mutually beneficial for both the business and the local partner. Cigna, a commercial health insurance company collaborated with a local health care system in Memphis, Tennessee, to promote breast cancer screening among its Black customers living in neighborhoods with limited access to screening facilities. Efforts like these contributed to elimination of the breast cancer screening rate gap for Black patients, originally identified in 2012 and 2013 data. This partnership helped reduce unnecessary costs for Cigna and contributed to the goals of the local health care system.

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