Lessons Learned on Building an Equitable Community

We formally announced our Equitable Development Plan in late 2015 that included 19 recommendations that the Bridge Park and our partners can take in three areas: Workforce Development; Small Business Enterprises; and Housing. This work was the result of meetings that took place over seven months with community members and stakeholders, government officials, business owners and policy experts. The goal of this plan was to ensure that the 11th Street Bridge Park is a driver of inclusive development – development that provides opportunities for all residents regardless of income and demography.

Over the last year and a half we've been implementing the plan by starting a Ward 8 Home Buyers Club with our friends at Manna, partnering with Housing Counseling Services to run tenant rights workshops and working with City First Homes to stand up a Bridge Park Community Land Trust. Our friends at LISC DC announced a $50 million investment in the 1 mile area around the Bridge Park in their Elevating Equity initiative. From the beginning, like-minded projects around the country shared their lessons learned as they worked to build a more inclusive community. We thought we'd return the favor and share some helpful advice we've learned to date.

Start early! When the market discovers your project, it can move much more quickly than you can possibly respond. At the 11th Street Bridge Park, we started to formulate our Equitable Development Plan 5 years before we plan to open. The earliest we could open is 2019 and we are already seeing our selected design renderings featured in local real estate ads.

Learn from the field: We talked to like-minded parks across the country to learn from their work. For instance, we had long interviews with the Atlanta Beltline’s community engagement officer and used their equitable development plan as a template for ours.

Data informed decisions: Before trying to create specific recommendations, we worked with our colleagues at LISC DC to bring together experts to assemble data on those who live near the Bridge Park. This included existing property values and their change over time, renters vs. home owners, demographics, poverty levels and the Area Median Income (AMI). This was critical to forming our action items.

Be intentional: It is important to embed equity and inclusivity in all of our work. For instance, how does your staff, volunteers (and board!) reflect the community in which you serve? As you bring on additional team members, take the extra time it sometimes requires to identify diverse and local candidates.

Engage the community: To form our Equitable Development Plan, we held a series of half day brainstorming sessions with key stakeholders from diverse backgrounds. These individuals represented city agencies (planning, housing and community development, office of the tenant advocate, employment), experts (Urban Institute, Enterprise), business owners, faith leaders and local residents. The first two sessions were invite only to ensure we had the right people in the room. (Note: it is very helpful to have a professional facilitator lead these sessions along with official note takers.) When we had an early draft of the plan, we held large public sessions for additional feedback, help us prioritize these ideas and identify existing community organizations that could help us implement the recommendations. Finally, we posted a draft version on line for public comment. 

Take a multi-sector approach: We began this effort focusing on affordable housing issues, but quickly learned that safe and secure housing was so much more difficult without gainful employment. We then added two additional topics: workforce development and small business enterprises. Each of these areas are deeply inter-connected and should not be considered in their own separate silos. If we were to start this process over, we would have added a fourth topic – cultural displacement. We are currently working on developing anti-cultural displacement strategies to incorporate into our plan.

Build early wins: Some recommendations might take many months or even years to accomplish, such as building a Community Land Trust from scratch. It is important to build accomplishments so that the community can see tangible progress. In our case, we started a home buyers' club two months after we released the Equitable Development Plan’s recommendations. There are currently 88 local residents participating in the class with over two dozen people planning to purchase their own homes in the next few months capturing the rising equity of the neighborhood.

What gets measured gets done: Once we had a final plan with 19 specific action items, we worked with senior researchers at the Urban Institute to develop clear measurable goals for each recommendation. We will continue to work with the Urban Institute over the next three years to provide a constant feedback loop to ensure we are meeting our goals and have the ability to course correct over time.

Community meeting  Community meeting  Community meeting

Scott Kratz

"The 11th Street Bridge Park will enrich lives by providing a safe and exceptional space to learn, play and reflect."

Scott Kratz, 11th Street Bridge Park Director