18 November 2005

Equitable Development

I've been thinking a great deal about how to approach my first post on gentrification. I am looking for a dialogue - both with myself and with members of the community ("community" being a very pliable concept here, i.e. my neighborhood, DC, the blogosphere, etc.). My thoughts on gentrification and it's discontents aren't static (hence the opportunity for a dialogue with myself), but I am wedded to the belief that the term is too frequently used as a general epithet. Trust me, I will post more on the topic, but tonight I just wanted to highlight a recent op-ed in The Boston Globe on New Orleans that is relative to DC on many levels. In "Fairness in new New Orleans", Xavier de Souza Briggs and Margery Austin Turner define the imperative for equitable redevelopment as the city rebuilds:
Planners have to get much more specific about both the ends and the means of rebuilding to ensure the equitable redevelopment of poor communities. Many observers have raised the prospect that a rebuilt New Orleans will resemble a Las Vegas or Disneyland on the Gulf, dominated by the entertainment and tourism industry, favoring luxury housing, and planned by a group that even The Wall Street Journal labeled ''the power elite." Clearly, that is an outcome to be avoided.

An extensive body of social science research concludes that racially segregated and high-poverty communities undermine the life chances of families and children, cutting off access to mainstream social and economic opportunities. We must avoid resegregating New Orleans' poor and minority residents in isolated and distressed neighborhoods. But the alternative cannot be simply displacing them through land grabs that "gild the ghetto," as the most exclusionary urban renewal schemes of the '60s did.

The active involvement of New Orleans residents -- along with business owners and professional planners -- is a prerequisite for equitable redevelopment. Urban planning and other fields offer concrete models for using 21st-century information and communication technologies as tools of inclusion -- tools for organizing a maze of issues into agendas that groups can tackle, demystifying development choices and jargon, simulating a range of development scenarios, projecting results, and supporting citizen deliberation and voting to get the best and most legitimate ideas off the ground. Negotiated ''community benefit agreements" and other tools help ensure equitable outcomes, but a strong process is key to ensure equitable decision-making. Both are crucial, given the deep divisions and mistrust so evident after the storm [. . .].

Does equitable development = gentrification? Does anyone know the outcome of last week's inclusionary zoning meeting? Oh, and even the big minds at the Brookings Institution made the connection between New Orleans' recovery strategy and our policy needs here in DC - a great, quick read.


  1. What I am unsure about is what you mean by 'equitable'. I have a hard time generally with this word when it is used in a socioeconomic context. I, by no means, am trying to come of snooty...I am just curious to know what your take is on what the NO planner are actually trying to do.

    By the way, this one (the blog) is a goody! Way to go!! Whoot

  2. Dialogue would be good. I find myself in these "on the one hand..." conversations about gentrification with myself and a few friends a lot. You know, on the one hand, gentrification means the more powerful pushing out the less powerful, destroys that which is or was intrinsically valuable about the neighborhood, etc. But on the other hand, neighborhoods and cities change, and maybe cities becoming more desirable places to live isn't entirely a bad thing.

    It's frustrating to me that there isn't more of a conversation about these issues. Gentrification is neither inevitable nor is it immutable. How do we make change work better for more people? That's the question I ask myself.

    Great blog, by the way!


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