A Super Helpful Guide to Equitable City Growth

When there’s a big project with public dollars in the city of New Orleans, the city assembles a group of small business owners from disadvantaged backgrounds, and gives them the tools, resources, and networking opportunities they need to bid on some of that work.

In Chicago, financial empowerment centers are learning how to better coordinate outreach and relationship building with mainstream financial institutions in neighborhoods bombarded by predatory lenders.

In New York City, where just over half of all firms are minority- or woman-owned but only 4.8 percent of the municipal government’s procurement of goods and services went to such businesses in 2016, a new contract financing loan fund was launched earlier this year  to boost the chances of MWBEs winning and succeeding on bids.

These are just a few examples of the kinds of policies and programs that can be found in PolicyLink’s new All-In Cities Policy Toolkit. It provides examples of specific policies that local leaders can adapt to their own economic and political contexts; relevant research and data resources; and model policy and campaign language. The Oakland-headquartered research institute, which focuses on low-income communities and communities of color, plans to keep adding to the resource. It’s like a mini-Wikipedia for equitable economic growth policies.

The toolkit groups policy tools under six policy areas and 18 key strategies. It’s designed to help leaders inside and outside city government identify, understand and choose targeted policy solutions to advance racial economic inclusion and equitable growth.

Besides explaining what each policy tool is, the toolkit also provides examples of who implements each tool, and key considerations like trade-offs or possibility of state preemption such as in the case of local living wage ordinances.

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Each tool also contains links to examples of where policies have been implemented or even shown to be a success, like NYC being the first city in the U.S. to provide a right to counsel in housing court, or Austin’s transparent, performance-based system for doling out tax incentives and other subsidies to businesses.

Mural in Bushwick, Brooklyn, where rents have increased 44 percent between 1990 and 2010-2014 (Photo Credit: Liz Tan / Flickr)

What many of these ideas have in common: They were each designed from the perspective of groups that have been historically marginalized, neglected and forgotten. When policies or programs that start out from that perspective succeed, they don’t just benefit those affected directly. PolicyLink CEO Angela Glover Blackwell calls it “the curb cut effect” — laws and programs designed to benefit vulnerable groups, such as people with disabilities or people of color, often end up benefiting all of society. It’s a reference to the laws requiring sidewalk curb cuts, which accessibility advocates, many of them wheelchair users, began fighting for in the 1970s.

“The investment turned out to benefit lots of people: parents wheeling strollers, workers pushing heavy carts, travelers rolling suitcases, even runners and cyclists,” Blackwell wrote. “It’s a marvelous illustration of how an investment aimed at helping one vulnerable community has made our entire society better.”


This feature originally appeared in NextCity.


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