A recurring theme throughout our reads this week is equity and inclusivity and how to create and adapt our cities so that they are actually equitable places. Such a vision is expansive and encompasses many aspects of a city, intertwining factors like health, activity, parks, housing regulations, and art - all of which shape the cities and neighborhoods we live in.
Equitable, accessible public transportation is one of the key aspects of a vibrant city that is completely connected within itself and within a broader system of transportation that is (or should be in our utopian vision) regional and national. Right now such a vision is threatened as many of the great potential rail projects that would connect regions are being started and then stopped midway, or outright rejected - as with the rail project funding that Governor Scott refused. Vice details how rail projects have been systematically rejected or stopped as political winds in states have shifted right, halting projects even when there was significant popular will in favor of their completion.
In Miami, a recent MPO meeting on transportation solutions illustrated how a lack of political will or action (as well as corruption) can stall expanding and improving public transit. Part of the meeting detailed Miami’s longstanding People's Transportation Plan, including a promised rail to and from Kendall and one to the Beach that has so far not materialized. Much of the discussion centered around lack of Federal funding for transportation projects, although what commissioners and others present failed to mention is that Federal funding was pulled from the MDT in 2009 over massive mismanagement and theft concerns.
But, although poor political leadership can stall or circumvent transit development, visionary leadership that is responsive to the needs of citizens can have an equally transformative impact. A good example is the city of Pittsburgh and their mayor, Bill Peduto, who ran his mayoral campaign on working to make the city more walkable and bikeable. As mayor he has made good on his promise to focus on those issues, shepherding the construction of a flexible protected bike lane and working with advocates and planners to stay ahead of the curve on adapting Pittsburgh into a fully bikeable, walkable city.
One of the things that happens when a city is easy to get around in via means other than cars is that it is more connected, and people have the opportunity to interact with one another with greater frequency. These interactions with others who may be outside of our normal social sphere have the potential to increase our empathy and understanding of others - an important ingredient in any city that wants to be livable.
Getting to a place of empathy is going to be quite a challenge though, as long as opposition remains strong toward fair, integrated housing. A new ruling by the Supreme Court around disparate impact and fair housing will force cities to reconsider how and where they distribute low income housing. Unfortunately, such housing has long been opposed by conservatives and liberals alike. This kind of NIMBYism (not in my backyard) is a tough issue to beat because it rests on the ubiquity of casual and unacknowledged racism and classism, which translates into a “separate but equal” scenario that is separate but definitely not equal. CityLab has a detailed article on the historic opposition by white liberals toward building low income housing (often functionally a euphemism for minorities moving into a neighborhood since minorities are disparately impacted by poverty) and how the Supreme Court ruling will likely continue to be fought at the local level.
While opposition to integrated housing carries on, others are working on making low income neighborhoods more equitable via parks, greenways, and sidewalk and crossing upgrades and redesigns, to name a few changes underfoot in areas like the South Bronx, as the Haven Project takes shape. This project is being spearheaded by the New York Restoration Project; they are working with residents to transform their neighborhood into one that is safer and a lot greener. As the Think Progress article on this project points out, access to parks and greener neighborhoods encourages residents to be more active and increases the safety of those neighborhoods. All of these are factors closely tied to community health and well being on multiple fronts. Changes like these have the potential to positively impact crime and individual health problems, such as diabetes.
Just from looking at a few issues as we have done here, such as transit, green space, and fair housing, it is clear that addressing inequity and exclusion is serious business - a problem that is complex and must be tackled on multiple fronts. This article on place-making and its future draws together many of those elements into a cohesive vision for cities, and that is what we’ll leave you this week to ponder.