'The Issue of Our Time': APA, HUD Address Income Inequality, Equitable Growth

As more than 4,000 planners prepared to travel to Phoenix on the eve of the National Planning Conference, the U.S. Department of Labor issued its monthly jobs report. The numbers were historic:

For 73 consecutive months, the United States added private sector jobs. That’s the longest streak on record. Moreover, the recovery in local government gained strength with 12,800 new positions in March and growth for a 15th straight month.

Yet, in many ways this year’s conference, hosted by the American Planning Association, was dominated by talk of the need for planning to focus on expanding access to jobs and opportunity. 

In her remarks at the annual awards luncheon, U.S. Housing and Urban Development Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Harriet Tregoning called addressing income inequality and equitable growth “the issue of our time” in planning.

The discussion of planning for inclusive growth was joined at the conference by U.S. Department of Transportation officials touting their “ladders of opportunity” work as part of a day-long convening of regional planning agencies from across the national led by the APA Regional and Intergovernmental Planning Division.

This dynamic of strong growth in some areas of the economy and population paired with a lingering recession and dim prospects in others was an important focus for many planners at the conference. Strategies for creating shared growth and prosperity while managing the impacts of rapid change in some neighborhoods and cities continue to be dominant concerns for planners. 

In her comments, HUD’s Tregoning touted the new Prosperity Playbook initiative.

In partnership with APA and others, HUD is identifying proven policy tools and planning approaches for addressing economic and social mobility. The conference provided an opportunity for representatives from cities participating in the initial round of Prosperity Playbook meetings and research to discuss their approaches to the issue. These planners discussed ideas for incorporated social equity and affordable housing elements in transportation and economic development.

They also noted the difficulties they face in neighborhoods where planning and economic growth has created vibrant places, improved access, new amenities but also rising housing costs, social friction and, too often, displacement of long-time residents. San Francisco planner Gil Kelly, AICP, described the phenomenon well in saying that we can plan and develop mixed income neighborhoods where the incomes don’t actually mix.

There were plenty of worries about addressing affordable housing and potential political backlash to uneven economic growth and long-term shifts in jobs and wages.

In California, several communities are seeing efforts to use the ballot box to limit housing development in some neighborhoods out of fear of displacement. And, the issue isn’t limited to the U.S. International planners at the conference spoke of some cities becoming “banks” as low returns and concentrated wealth lead global capital to investments in housing that push up demand and prices.

The Prosperity Playbook work will extend through this year, and APA members will have an opportunity to help identify potential solutions. In fact, a number of sessions at the conference pointed toward some ideas.

Some communities discussed ways of intentionally linking planning for their “innovation economy” and attracting creative class workers with reinvestment in distressed neighborhoods, workforce development strategies and new educational opportunities. 

Many sessions featured discussions of ideas for incorporating social equity components into economic development planning. There was also optimism that new technologies and tools for improving civic engagement would help advance planning for shared growth.

While the challenges can be daunting, many attending the conference seemed energized and encouraged by the examples of good planning leading the way to inclusive growth and more broadly based prosperity.

More HUD

APA's Policy Director Jason Jordan sat down with Lynn Ross, AICP, HUD Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy Development, to talk about the recent launch of the Prosperity Playbook and other initiatives:


About the Author

Jason Jordan is APA's director of policy.

Top image: U.S. Housing and Urban Development Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Harriet Tregoning speaking at the 2016 awards luncheon at the National Planning Conference in Phoenix. Photo by Joe Szurszewski.

April 5, 2016

By Jason Jordan