Planning Winter 2021

6 Ways to Help Bridge the Racial Wealth Gap

Planners can and should play a pivotal role in advancing equitable economic outcomes.

Artist Tonika Lewis Johnson cataolgues the individual, societal, and economic impacts of segregation on her hometown of Chicago, one of the most racially segregated cities in the country. Here, a young girl rides her bike past a boarded up building on the city's South Side. Photo by Tonika Lewis Johnson.

Artist Tonika Lewis Johnson cataolgues the individual, societal, and economic impacts of segregation on her hometown of Chicago, one of the most racially segregated cities in the country. Here, a young girl rides her bike past a boarded up building on the city's South Side. Photo by Tonika Lewis Johnson.

By Karen Kazmierczak

Income inequality has been increasing for decades along racial lines. According to the Brookings Institute, "the average white family has roughly 10 times the amount of wealth as the average Black family," while "white college graduates have over seven times more wealth than Black college graduates."

The coronavirus pandemic could further widen that gap. A September poll from NPR found that 72 percent of Latinx respondents, 60 percent of Black households, and 55 percent of Native Americans reported significant financial hardships due to COVID-19. In comparison, 36 percent of white households said the same.

These inequities haven't happened by chance. They are the outcome of policies and practices like redlining that carried racist intent. The Fair Housing Act made those policies illegal, but their legacies are lasting — and, in some cases, unaddressed.

As the pandemic continues to impact government budgets at all levels, the way funding is distributed becomes even more critical. To achieve equity, available resources must be distributed in a way that corrects and repairs historic inequality by investing in the people and communities that have long been neglected.

As a planner, you might not have the authority to redirect funding to economic development, transportation improvements, and housing initiatives in previously underfunded communities, but you can still play a pivotal role in advancing more equitable economic outcomes. Here are six strategies to help get you started:

1. EDUCATE YOURSELF on the history of racial discrimination and the outcomes of those policies on Black people and the community you serve.

2. LISTEN TO RESIDENTS AND COMMUNITY LEADERS. Develop or deepen existing relationships and be a facilitator who brings community members into conversations about their neighborhoods. Understand where you may lack cultural or community expertise and bring in members of the community to fill that gap.

3. CONNECT WITH PEOPLE who drive decisions on funding and community investment — they might already be championing these ideas. Build a network of professionals and elected leaders who can work together to drive change.

4. USE PLANNING EXPERTISE to identify where and what type of investments will meet the desired outcome of narrowing the racial wealth gap. Help to drive reparative investments to the communities that need them; tools like mapping and other data analysis can be crucial to effective actions.

5. ADVOCATE FOR RACIAL EQUITY when and where you have influence. Identify current and future planning projects, developments, and decisions, and incorporate equity into the processes, analysis, and recommendations you make.

6. INTEGRATE RACIAL EQUITY into all aspects of planning work for lasting and transformative impact. Focus on addressing racial equity in each intervention you undertake, including visioning and plan making.

The AICP Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct and the APA statement on Ethical Principles in Planning both affirm that planners have "a special responsibility to plan for the needs of the disadvantaged." Equity is a planner's responsibility, and as communities commit to righting the wrongs of past injustice and taking action to achieve racial equality, planners must play an essential role.

Karen Kazmierczak is APA's senior marketing manager.