Region Forward Blog

Equity as the Model to Grow and Sustain our Region's Competitiveness (Part 1)

Nov 17, 2011


Alicia Lewis and Sophie Mintier Housing Planners at MWCOG recently attended PolicyLink’s Equity Summit 2011 in Detroit. The “Dispatches from Detroit” series will provide RF followers a recap of what they learned as well as specific proposals to move our Region Forward. This is part one of Alicia’s report.

“We do planning well in this country but we don’t plan for the masses or the least among us.” Bob Allen Urban Habitat

I really didn’t know what to expect from PolicyLink’s Equity Summit in Detroit. Admittedly what most attracted me was the opportunity to visit Detroit – a city currently known for its large swaths of vacant and abandoned land as well as its residents determined resident spirit to triumph following the near collapse of the U.S. auto industry. Equity – its intrinsic meaning and interrelated planning implications – did not initially enter my mind.

I often comment that ‘traditional’ city planning (bricks and sticks as well as policies and laws) rarely considers the world beyond its geographic boundaries. That sentiment was echoed and amplified during the summit. At the same time that inequality – particularly regarding income – is receiving more national attention than it has in the recent past (largely due to the Occupy movement) participants were reminded and apprised of how decades of conventional planning and policies have widened the wealth income educational attainment and even age gap among us as Americans. Consider a few key indicators of note:

The U.S. has the third-highest income inequality among the world’s advanced industrial nations;

Between 1989 and 2007 the top 1% of the nation’s households captured 56% of the country’s income growth while the bottom 90% of the nation’s households captured 16%;

In 2010 average annual productivity increased nearly 4% but workers’ pay fell 1.5%;

Between 1979 and 2005 the incomes of the country’s top fifth increased 75% while the incomes of the middle 60 percent and bottom 20 percent grew 18 and 1 percent respectively;

45% of middle income black children end up poor compared to 16% of middle income white children;

Between 1984 and 2008 older Americans’ (65 ) median net worth increased 42% whereas that of younger Americans’ (under 35) decreased 68%;

15.5% of blacks and 11.9% of Latinos are unemployed compared to 8.3% of whites and 7.1% of Asians.

The Occupy Movement – presently occurring in more than 2400 communities worldwide – directly illustrates the angst communities across the globe feel attributed to social and economic inequality. Occupy protests are occurring in more than 70 major U.S. cities including Washington D.C. The message Occupiers and Equity Summit 2011 panelists alike convey is that our most vulnerable are suffering the most. The ‘trickle-down’ economic growth effect has not occurred.

This region is only as strong as our weakest link. At a time when every public dollar spent comes under intense scrutiny our local regional and national planning must include a strong emphasis on promoting growth. And equity must be at the core of this growth strategy. Region Forward – the vision for metropolitan Washington agreed to by all 21 local governments in the region – was created with the understanding that our region must constantly increase its relative competitiveness while also making sure folks across the region benefit from the results.

Thankfully much of COG’s work to roll out the implementation of Region Forward’s recommendations has included an equity focus including the creation of a Regional Equity Team that is aimed at strengthening public engagement and ensuring the new Region Forward Coalition always keeps equity concerns central to their work (I’ll discuss this more in Part Two). There are exciting opportunities to deepen our commitment to equity as we implement Region Forward – I return home encouraged and hope we’re all up for the task.

Alicia Lewis

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