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Equitable Development – Making Sure Low-Income Residents Aren’t Left Behind

Thursday Feb 12, 2015 - Comments: 0

Students at the University of Pennsylvania School of Design have developed a three-step methodology aimed at making community revitalization more equitable.  Motivated by a fear of leaving the most vulnerable members of society behind, the framework is designed to help any city or community integrate equity into growth. 


The three basic steps are: 

  • Step One - Uncover the levels of inequity that currently exist
  • Step Two - Create an action plan (working backwards from outcomes to --> conditions to --> interventions), and
  • Step Three - Monitor results and retool the approach when necessary for greater impact


They then applied the framework to three cities identified as rebounding in a Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia report - In Philadelphia’s Shadow:  Small Cities in the Third Federal Reserve District– Lancaster, Bethlehem, and Wilmington, PA.  The students did not work directly with these cities; the Penn Design study was a theoretical examination of what these communities could do to enhance their equity footprint.  The students also hoped to inspire others to think about how the methodology could do the same for their communities.


Their efforts resulted in their own report – Small Legacy Cities, Equity, and a Changing Economy – which was presented in a recent webinar hosted by the Philadelphia Reserve.  In addition to walking listeners through the methodology, they discussed insights from their Lancaster evaluation.  


Here are some of their conclusions: 


Lancaster, PA

Lancaster is a former agricultural and manufacturing hub located 80 miles west of Philadelphia. The arts are the reason for the city’s recent success and comeback.  While the upturn has been a boon for downtown businesses, tourism, and the city’s image, growth has not spread to the south, where most low-income residents live.


Putting their three-phase methodology to work, the students proposed a number of interventions designed to help low-income residents benefit from city development; among them were living wage ordinances, local contracting preferences, and shared-equity mortgages.  But they were particularly keen to take advantage of the nearby hospitals and universities (anchors) to promote programs that would create pipelines between them and lower-income residents that would lead to meaningful employment down the road. 


Innovation 21

The presentation also highlighted the equity strategies adopted by Innovation 21, a Pittsburgh-based public-private partnership whose mission is to promote the growth of entrepreneurship in the region's innovation economy and connect that growth to underserved communities.


Innovation 21 works to elevate the prospects of their residents through ‘cluster-based entrepreneurship,’ where they actively nurture the entrepreneurial ambitions of business-minded residents by awarding grants, holding workshops, and developing relationships between promising startups and successful local businesses.  They also provide support by helping entrepreneurs secure additional backing from community development financial institutions (CDFI’s) and crowd-funding, as well as supply mentors, free legal services, and other resources. 


Equitable development ensures that economic prosperity and lower-income resident prosperity go hand-and-hand.  By deliberately building equity into growth strategies, communities move toward prosperity for all, not just those at the top. 


What do you think of equitable development?  Could the three-phase methodology work in your community? 


Click here to access a recording of the webinar! 

The webinar slides can also be retrieved by clicking here.


This past December, Stabilize highlighted the National Equity Atlas, a database with a variety of equity-related indicators.  Click here to read the blog.   


Logo Courtesy of Innovation 21


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