Report: Cities must focus on equity when innovating
- A new research report from the National League of Cities urges cities to carefully examine equity among all residents as they modernize and add technological advances. The Future of Equity in Cities cautions that widening gaps between the rich and the poor, and among races, is creating a growing social and economic divide that could de-stabilize cities.
- The report addresses the topics of economic development, infrastructure and public safety to identify upcoming equity challenges and opportunities for cities.
- Although the report points out that cities’ diversity is increasing, it also indicates that the different groups are becoming more segregated.
Innovation and technology can create a buzz and get people excited about city modernization. But the report points out that not everybody living in urban environments experiences that buzz or feels energized by advances because they won’t benefit from them. Increasing gaps in incomes and racial groups mean only the wealthy fully reap the benefits when cities innovate. That includes areas of necessary technological infrastructure with innovations like autonomous vehicles.
There’s evidence of some cities putting a large focus on rolling out technological advances in an equitable fashion. For instance, leaders in Washington, DC recognize that the city is comprised of diverse populations and it will not thrive if it doesn’t cater to everybody differently with flexible solutions. Similarly, leaders in Philadelphia are devising a smart city roadmap in which including all community members plays a huge role. Thought leaders also prominently discussed equity during the Washington Post’s cities summit earlier this month.
But although equity is frequently spoken of, not all cities are actually prioritizing inclusion for all groups when innovating. It’s a widely understood fact that high-income communities often receive upgrades before those with low-income residents. That concern is driving many in Lexington, KY, for example, to call for equitable installation of the city’s upcoming gigabit service infrastructure.
In large cities, high skill and high wage jobs are the fastest growing employment sectors. Seattle is a prime example of how innovation and the tech boom have spurred rapid, yet inequitable growth. Tech jobs and a focus on future advances have prompted an influx in wealthy — and largely white male — residents, which has caused the cost of living to skyrocket. The pay gap has widened significantly in Seattle and lower income residents get left behind and pushed out. It’s happening to such an extent that city leaders are actively seeking solutions — such as a proposed business tax and an affordable housing plan expansion — to better include underserved populations who increasingly can’t afford to live in Seattle.
The report highlighted some positive areas of inclusion, such as the increasing diversity among large cities’ police officers. That means police forces are better reflecting the makeup of the communities they serve. Police departments are also on the leading edge of incorporating technology and data to better serve the public, especially in an equitable manner.
Another bright spot is transportation. About 80% of the cities included in the report mention equity as a consideration in their transportation plans. Cities’ recognition of the importance of mobility for all residents is apparent in a number of recently announced transportation solutions that target low-income communities without access to transit or lower-density communities in suburban and rural areas.
The report concludes that cities should continue to embrace technology. But leaders should constantly evaluate implementation plans to ensure that the community’s values remain the backbone of new plans and policies and that the benefits of advances are accessible to all populations.
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