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.

02 November 2005

Check Out My RAC!

My guess is that Metro didn't think too much before throwing that acronym out to the public. More importantly, I'm not sure just how much strategic planning went into the creation of the Riders' Advisory Council. Of course, once I found out about the RAC - approximately 72 hours before the application deadline - I applied. While I have no doubt the initiative is flawed (Metro really wants to hear what schmucks like me have to say?), I do believe this is a baby-step in the right direction.

- - -

Then yesterday sumpnspicious happened; I received an e-mail simply entitled "Riders' Advisory Council Application":

Thank you for your interest in Metro's Riders' Advisory Council (RAC)! This e-mail is to confirm that we have received your RAC membership application and are in the process of reviewing it. However, in reviewing your application, it was noted that some of your information appears to be truncated/incomplete. Please take time to carefully review your application information (attached) and make any necessary changes to ensure that all of your information is captured.

NOTE: You will be given three (3) business days to re-submit the attached application with changes. If you have not replied within the allotted time, the application will go to the next stage of the screening process as is.

If you deem the application acceptable as is and no changes are necessary, you do not have to do anything. Otherwise, please REPLY to this e-mail or forward any changes to RACComments@wmata.com. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact Akua K. John at (202) 962-xxxx. Thank you in advance for your cooperation and your interest in the Riders' Advisory Council.

Akua K. John
Office of Project Communications
Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority
600 Fifth Street, NW
Washington, DC 20001

Pardon? I labored for a least an entire hour on the application - two essays filled with complete sentences, not just phrases and bullet points - and now you want to tell me that my application is somehow "truncated?" After wrestling with the attached PDF for five minutes or so ("Error: The Requested File Does Not Exist"..."Error: The Requested File Does Not Exist" etc.), I realized the problem was with whatever program Metro used to transfer the responses I entered for the online form into a PDF. Not only did it cut off essays mid-paragraph, all of the apostrophes morphed into quotations marks - I'm surprised they even wanted to give an illiterate bastard like myself a chance to make amends.

Whoever is vetting the applications must have found my half-paragraphs intriguing enough to ask for the rest, no? If not, what I fear most is a fare increase due to the manpower and bandwidth expenses incurred if every applicant's answers were amputated.