This year’s theme for the All-America City Awards is “Building Equitable and Resilient Communities.” As such, the 2021 awards will recognize communities that have worked to improve equity and resilience to achieve broad-based economic prosperity. And as we prepare for a post-COVID world, many local leaders wonder – how can they invest in building strong communities without negatively impacting long-term residents and spurring displacement?
Last year, two graduate students from the University of Colorado Denver’s Master of Urban and Regional Planning program – Dana Sparks and Julia Wcislo - completed a final project called “Community Development and Anti-Displacement Toolkit.” In it, they include 17 strategies to aid public and private organizations in considering equity in the procurement and development process. Their vision is that all future development – in Denver and beyond – will advance equity and be driven by the needs and voices of the communities primarily impacted. They wanted their project to give the concept of equitable development some “teeth.”
The project quickly circulated throughout Denver’s local government and nonprofit sphere, and they received feedback from various community representatives. Of particular interest was feedback from the Globeville Elyria Swansea Coalition Organizing for Health and Housing Justice (GES Coalition). In their preface to their new, revised toolkit, the authors write,
“Looking back, what we had identified as community empowerment strategies were simply tools that we felt would either directly benefit the community or needed the community voice to be effective. The folly of this label is two-fold. Firstly, communities are innately powerful. An outsider using the term empowerment may actually imply the opposite, that a strategy must be used to give neighbors a seat at the development table that they rightly already have. Secondly, we want to be clear that we believe all strategies employed to advance equity should start and stop with the local community.”
Sparks and Wcislo’s toolkit – now revised using feedback from community groups like the GES coalition – is an important tool that local governments, non-profits, and developers can use to invest in impacted neighborhoods with equity at the forefront. Since “building equitable and resilient communities” requires – well, building – all involved in the development process should take notes.