Expanding Equity And Inclusion In Urban Development Through Transatlantic Exchange

October 28, 2019
The Urban and Regional Policy Program (URP) of the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF), in collaboration with the Urban Institute, conducted a research project that explores how— and the learning process by which—the principles of equity and inclusion can be incorporated into the design and implementation of urban planning projects, and what role, if any, can transatlantic peer-to-peer learning activities play. The focus of research is GMF’s transatlantic peer-to-peer learning the initiative, Dialogues for Change (D4C).

Dialogues for Change is an initiative that grew out of the 2012 joint declaration between the German Federal Ministry for Building, Transport, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMVBS) and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to foster transatlantic learning on a variety of urban planning and development topics in support of a shared agenda for integrated sustainable urban development framework.

BMVBS selected GMF to develop and manage an innovative and outcome-oriented city learning the network that has engaged over 30 local government managers, urban planners, and an array of nonprofit, philanthropic, and government partners from ten cities (six from the United States and four from Germany) to explore the dynamic practices of integrated urban development under its D4C initiative.

In 2016, GMF launched the third iteration of Dialogues for Change (D4C 3.0), this time with a stronger focus on how best to incorporate the principles of equity and inclusion in the implementation of integrated urban sustainability projects. Over a two-year period, GMF engaged local leaders in Baltimore, Maryland, Charlotte, North Carolina, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the The United States and Bottrop, Karlsruhe, and Leipzig in Germany, providing a forum to discuss, highlight and amplify promising approaches to strengthen these cities’ civic engagement processes through better participatory strategies and techniques.

Thanks to a research grant awarded in 2017 from the Office of Policy Development and Research/University Partnerships of HUD, GMF commissioned the Urban Institute the analysis of the engagement and learning processes D4C cities have embarked on, to capture the key insights from the D4C activities from June 2017 through June 2018, and to outline the process for integrating equity and inclusion into projects’ design and implementation.

The framework of the initiative provides a unique and timely opportunity to research the actual processes D4C cities have embarked, from which GMF can produce a set of recommendations to support other local governments in their endeavor to create more resilient urban development projects and inclusive communities. This research project and its report address two important gaps in the academic, policy, and planning literature: comparative urban planning practices on equity and inclusion and the study and assessment of transatlantic peer learning among local government staffs and their partners.

Outlined below are the most significant insights and lessons of the report from the following three interdependent perspectives;

  • The participants, their teams, and projects;
  • The D4C cohort of practitioners and the impact and influence of the GMF process; and
  • The broader, emerging community of practice that seeks to plan, design, and develop more just, inclusive, and equitable communities.

Insights and observations of participants at the project level

Acknowledge that achieving equity and inclusion will be difficult; recognize that planners and planning processes have inherent barriers and tensions they must overcome to become more equitable and inclusive, such as community attendees, history of segregation and separation, misperceptions about ethnic and religious groups, customary top-down approaches to urban planning. Manage up, manage across, and manage down to ensure that everyone understands the principles of equity and inclusion and their roles in addressing the barriers to equity and inclusion.

Apply the principles and practices of adaptive leadership (D4C Learning Theme) to help cultures, practices, programs, and policies become more equitable and inclusive. Engage partners—no single entity, such as local the government can achieve equity and inclusion outcomes on their own.

Insights and observations regarding the influence of D4C process and cohort— cohort, program, and policy

D4C’s meetings offered participants a forum in which to discuss challenges, test approaches, and get peer feedback, etc. D4C’s projects provided the participants with a practical vehicle for the adapting the principles of equity and inclusion in their projects and facilitating peer learning among and across the participants and cities.

D4C empowered participants to bring new perspectives to achieving equity and inclusion using urban planning processes. Having gone through the D4C process, the participants now have a framework/general approach for how to integrate equity and inclusion in future projects. Future peer learning or research efforts should assess the long-term impacts of this work to determine if the D4C cohort’s preliminary efforts to enhance their equity and inclusion approaches within their projects did produce outcomes that enhanced equity, such as access to a new or refurbished neighborhood assets, services, or benefits from the implemented plan, policy or project.

Insights and observation in fostering the community of practice on equity and inclusion

Start with an inclusionary community process as the foundation but note that inclusion without equity is just process and equity without inclusion is inadequate/insufficient. Understand the relationship between distributional equity policy, program goals, and actions and inclusionary processes and procedures; planners and policymakers cannot achieve equitable outcomes without both inclusion and equitable benefits. Continue to develop a common language and process for transatlantic peer learning on equity and inclusion. This can be done by facilitating cooperation and knowledge exchange to incorporate equity and inclusion beyond the planning process, to a more sustained and institutionalized practice.

It is critical to have a curriculum that gives participants the grounding in equity and inclusion along with concrete tools and tactics (such as the stakeholder exercises) in which to test these concepts. Many of these lessons and recommendations on integrating the critical components of equity and inclusion is relevant for other cities in Germany and the United States. GMF should continue to use D4C and its other activities to disseminate the lessons while expanding and formalizing the D4C approach for other cities.

Download the report (PDF) »

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