Race and Regionalism

Race-Regionalism CoverThe election of Barack Obama represents a turning point in the role of race in United States politics. It proves conclusively that the United States electorate has moved past simple prejudice based on the color of a person’s skin. And it demonstrates that there is a majority coalition in favor of progressive change. This is a milestone, and it offers an outstanding opportunity to advance a new national agenda.

Unfortunately, the election in itself does very little to challenge the economic and social system that inflicts racism on vast segments of the people in this country. To make change, our movements will need to maintain consistent grassroots pressure on the new leadership. But we also need to deepen our understanding of how racial inequality is maintained. Furthermore, we need a solid theory of how and where we can redistribute opportunity so that communities of color and low-income people can gain their fair share of benefits and remedy past wrongs...

Over coffee a couple of weeks before the election, a colleague said to me: “Sure, they will let a black man be president just like they let all those black men become mayors of cities in the 70s.” At that point, cities were bankrupt, the productive sectors had fled to the suburbs, and the tax base wouldn’t recover for at least 20 years—who better to preside over the declining urban shell than someone who could be discredited, then discarded after the dirty work was done. More...


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In this Issue - From the Editor

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The election of Barack Obama represents a turning point in the role of race in United States politics. It proves conclusively that the United States electorate has moved past simple prejudice based on the color of a person’s skin. And it demonstrates that there is a majority coalition in favor of progressive change. This is a milestone, and it offers an outstanding opportunity to advance a new national agenda.

Unfortunately, the election in itself does very little to challenge the economic and social system that inflicts racism on vast segments of the people in this country. To make change, our movements will need to maintain consistent grassroots pressure on the new leadership. But we also need to deepen our understanding of how racial inequality is maintained. Furthermore, we need a solid theory of how and where we can redistribute opportunity so that communities of color and low-income people can gain their fair share of benefits and remedy past wrongs.

Toward the goal of providing a clear understanding of our current starting point, in this issue, we examine the indicators of racism across a broad range of measures: health outcomes, incarceration rates, education levels, equal access to housing, income levels, and wealth accumulation. Contributions from Julian Bond, Sheryll Cashin, Manning Marable, Myron Orfield, and Jonathan Kozol clearly demonstrate that by every indicator racism has a powerful grip on this country. People of color, particularly African Americans, have higher mortality rates, shorter life spans, and more health problems; people of color are more frequently in jail, prison and on parole; are graduating at lower rates from high school, college, and post secondary programs; inherit less, earn less, and retain less money; get offered bad loans, are foreclosed on, evicted and are still restricted to certain areas for housing. It’s clear that we must make deep structural changes in our economic and social practices to remedy these wrongs.

One hopeful avenue for structural change is the integration of divergent streams of thought, including the civil rights movement, smart growth urbanism, and environmental justice into a growing movement for regional equity. By breaking the segregating restrictions of separate and unequal municipal and county governments, this brand of regionalism analyzes the metropolitan area in terms of who gains and loses from public policy decisions ranging from arcane zoning procedures to racist real estate lending practices. In this issue we share the views of leading practitioners from organizations such as Policy Link, the Partnership for Working Families, and the Gamaliel Foundation, as well as theoreticians such as john powell, and Robert Bullard. And in an insightful intergenerational dialogue with Carl Anthony, Juliet Ellis, Nathaniel Smith, Cecil Corbin-Mark, Leslie Moody, and Dwayne Marsh, we consider just how strong this movement is and where it can lead us.

Over coffee a couple of weeks before the election, a colleague said to me: “Sure, they will let a black man be president just like they let all those black men become mayors of cities in the 70s.” At that point, cities were bankrupt, the productive sectors had fled to the suburbs, and the tax base wouldn’t recover for at least 20 years—who better to preside over the declining urban shell than someone who could be discredited, then discarded after the dirty work was done.

In the waning days of the Bush regime, the powers that be have added $2 trillion to the national debt with not a peep of protest from the loyal “opposition.” This piñata* for the disgraced allies of the regime is truly amazing work: a $634 billion installment on a bloated war budget; the well advertised $700 billion bankers bail out fund; a half-dozen smaller tax schemes netting another $200 billion; and a running deficit of $400 billion.

Our progressive coalitions will be up against this economic reality, as will Barack Obama and the renewed Democratic majorities in the House and Senate. But the partial nationalization of the financial system offers us an opportunity to demand far more than we have lost. Reparations and affirmative action are not popular terms in the lexicon of today’s politics, but the truth is both are strategies that have been proven to work.

As we articulate and advance progressive “new majority” solutions to centuries old problems, it’s our responsibility to put the destruction of structural racism on the front burner, and to keep it there.

*Piñata: A paper mâché figure stuffed with candies and toys broken open by children in Latin American fiestas. ?The term accquired a political meaning in the waning days of the Sandinista government in Nicaragua 1990. Government officials, surprised by their election defeat, used their last few months in office to legally expropriate just about everything that wasn’t nailed down, and quite a few things that were (such as Daniel Ortega’s mansion). While the measures were in part justified by the fact that the agrarian reform and peasant expropriations of the land had not yet been legalized, the rank favoritism and personal gain displayed still stand as a high point in transparent corruption.

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From the Director's Desk

When Urban Habitat was founded in 1989, we were one of the only regionally-based environmental justice organizations in the country. We worked regionally because it provided a frame of reference to more effectively deal with the systemic causes of many of the issues facing local communities. What we experienced was that decisions on transportation, land use, or siting of industry usually took place in arenas far larger than a particular neighborhood. We saw that poor air quality from idling diesel trucks did not stop at the border of West Oakland but traveled across neighborhoods, cities, and counties. More importantly we discovered that local organizing wasn’t “big” enough to challenge the sources of these sorts of problems.

Over time an intentional “movement” for regional equity has taken hold. There are now many organizations that experience the benefits of framing their work within a regional equity framework. Groups that may previously have been operating in geographic, sector, or issue silos now look for opportunities to link their work across these boundaries. For example, through the work of the Social Equity Caucus, a regional coalition of 75 Bay Area organizations coordinated by Urban Habitat, groups are uniting across nonprofit, public, and private sectors to develop a shared regional agenda for environmental, economic, and social justice. Organizations working on issues such as tenant right’s in Marin are able to connect with groups doing similar work in Oakland and San Francisco. “Going regional” is not always easy especially when local day-to-day work requires an immediate response. But as this issue of Race, Poverty, and the Environment demonstrates, there is a growing number of organizations using this model as both a theory and a practice.

Next month, Urban Habitat and the Social Equity Caucus will host the first inaugural State of the Region conference, where we will examine political, economic, environmental, and social trends that are impacting low-income communities of color throughout the Bay Area. Leaders from labor and the private and public sectors will be participating in this day-long event to deepen our understanding of these forces and to build partnerships and alliances across sectors, issue areas and geography.

In closing, I want to share my excitement over the fact that the country has elected the first black President. As many of you know, President Obama was trained as a community organizer by the Gamaliel Foundation and absorbed many crucial lessons about organizing that have since served him well.  At the United States Mayors Conference in June of this year, Obama assured the mayors that he knew the challenges they face, saying, “I will never forget that the most important experience in my life came when I was doing what you do each day—working at the local level to bring about change in our communities.” He went on to promise that once he is in the White House he will partner with local government to “promote strong cities as the backbone of regional growth.”  Further, he explained, “We need to stop seeing our cities as the problem and start seeing them as the solution. Strong cities are the building blocks of strong regions, and strong regions are essential... That is the new metropolitan reality and we need a new strategy that reflects it.”

While the challenges the country currently faces are unprecedented, we now have national leadership that shares our values and commitment to regional equity. This should inspire all of us to work even harder to ensure that this vision becomes reality for the communities about which we care the most.

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The New Majority: Yes We Can!

In the wake of the landslide victory of Barack Obama as President, progressive forces are challenged to develop a larger vision of what is possible. President-elect Obama ran a brilliant campaign. The executive branch of government now has a mandate to bring the troops home, restore good will toward the United States among people around the world, lay the groundwork for a healthy economy, and accelerate the fight against greenhouse gas emissions. Now the hard work must begin. To be effective in the coming era, progressive advocates will need to develop a positive vision for American prosperity and a unifying strategy for how it might be realized. We will have to find ways to overcome fragmentation and to integrate a mosaic of separate issues and separate constituencies into a dynamic and proactive agenda for transformation.

Changes will be needed on many fronts. Not the least of these will be transformation of the ways we live in our cities, suburbs, and rural communities. Metropolitan patterns that developed after World War II have provided a framework for prosperity for well over half a century. On an individual level, that prosperity has proven robust for a great many in the United States. Many working-class families bought houses in growing suburbs, following a promise of homogeneous government, lower community taxes, better public schools, privacy, perceived safety, and even abundant free parking.

The past few decades, however, have revealed limitations in that metropolitan vision. Metropolitan fragmentation and a reliance on private developer decision-making have been subsidized by public investments in transportation and infrastructure. These practices have led to new forms of racial, political, and economic disenfranchisement, social segregation, concentrated poverty, and lack of access to jobs for many left behind. They have led as well to the destruction of many downtowns, the near death experience of others, and economic and fiscal decline of hundreds of cities and older suburbs.

In addition, researchers have documented a range of public health and environmental problems that can be attributed to current metropolitan development patterns: respiratory diseases, asthma, obesity, and automobile accidents. They argue that there has been an over reliance on private developers in making land use decisions. In areas such as Atlanta, the metro region has grown from 65 miles north–south to a staggering 110 miles, four times the rate of population growth. A 1998 Rutgers University study reported that sprawl costs taxpayers more than 20 times what it provides in financial gain to speculators. Among many other problems, this sort of growth leads to loss of air quality, heat islands, and water quality degradation from excessive asphalt.

To be effective, progressive forces must focus on a challenge that is big enough to have an impact—and small enough to be within the reach of ordinary people to organize their efforts in a new way. This Regional Equity movement to rebuild our metropolitan regions could provide such a focus for both the short and longer term. The essays in this issue of Race, Poverty and the Environment provide recommendations for this direction. Building on two decades of work by community organizers, congregations, policy advocates, and labor leaders, the essays included here begin to lay out the possibility of large-scale mobilization needed to rebuild our cities, suburbs, and rural places.

Regional organizing efforts were initially modeled on neighborhood-scale, place-based strategies of the 1950s and 1960s. These grew out of struggles in the poorest communities. More recently, regional strategists have learned to confront structural problems of inner cities as well as older suburbs by challenging racial geography and jurisdictional fragmentation at the metropolitan scale. Building on the lessons of these efforts, President-elect Obama has demonstrated that organizing for change can be taken to scale, eventually reaching the middle class, and even the most privileged members of our communities. Yes we can.

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On Race and Regionalism

left Angela Glover Blackwell: I come to this work out of a racial equity perspective. “Regional equity” is helpful because it allows us to mainstream our discussions and get a new boost. But I don’t think we can achieve racial equity unless we actually focus on racial equity. We need to address the unwillingness to deal with race, which continues to place people of color at a disadvantage.

Bruce Katz: We’re really talking about alignment in our work. Take “Fix It First” [a strategy in the Detroit region to invest in existing transportation infrastructure in the city and inner-ring suburbs before building new roads in the suburbs]. We’re making three arguments in favor of the program: efficiency, fiscal responsibility, and equity. All of those come together in a politician’s mind. We’re not promoting just competitiveness, but inclusive growth also.

john powell: In Cleveland, African-American leadership has pushed back against regionalism, saying it has been driven by the white suburbs. They want a kind of regionalism where the interests of African-Americans are up front, and they are pushing us to better say where regionalism has actually benefited marginalized people, and where it hasn’t.

Carl Anthony: The people in leadership understand the language of competitiveness. They don’t really understand racism and inequality. I don’t think you can really make an argument that we should talk about mixed-income housing, workforce housing, and all these things, as if racism doesn’t exist. I think it is necessary to lift this up, and there is going to be tension there. But I don’t think you can get black people in substantial numbers involved in this kind of discussion unless we deal specifically with race. I think the reality is that we’re going to have to do both.

Excerpted from Edging Toward Equity: Creating Shared Opportunity in America’s Regions, Report from the Conversation on Regional Equity (CORE ) By Manuel Pastor, Chris Benner, and Rachel Rosner, Center for Justice, Tolerance and Community, University of California, Santa Cruz.

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Editors Emeritus
Carl Anthony
Luke Cole

Juliet Ellis

Jesse Clarke

Design and Layout
Jesse Clarke

Editorial Assistance
Merula Furtado

Publishing Assistant
Christine Joy Ferrer

Editorial Advisor
Carl Anthony

© 2008 by the individual creators and Urban Habitat. For specific reprint information, queries or submissions, please email editor@urbanhabitat.org. Much of the work on this site is availble under a creative commons license.

RP&E was first published in 1990 by Urban Habitat Program and the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation’s Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment. In the interest of dialogue, RP&E publishes diverse views. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the editors, Urban Habitat, or its funders.

Urban Habitat
Board of Directors

Joe Brooks (Chair)

Romel Pascual (Vice-Chair)   
Mayor's Office, City of Los Angeles
Associate Director of the Environment

Tamar Dorfman (Treasurer)
S.F. Mayor's Office of
Community Development

Carl Anthony
Cofounder, Urban Habitat

Arnold Perkins
Alameda Public Health Department (retired)

Felicia Marcus
Natural Resources Defense Council

Organizations are listed
for identification purposes only


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Reflections on Regionalism

Reflections on Regionalism 

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From Hope to Change: The New Equity Movement

By Angela Glover Blackwell

A movement for equity is blooming in America. We see evidence of this everywhere, along with signs that the public wants change. Record numbers of voters participated in the 2008 election, a campaign that on its face challenged outmoded notions about race in this country. Young people are more involved in politics than at any time since the Sixties. Diverse voices, from Catholic Charities to the United States Conference of Mayors, have endorsed comprehensive policy agendas to end poverty. Millions of people are working hard every day to ensure that all of us live in fair, inclusive, and opportunity-rich communities.

What exactly do such communities look like? What does equity mean, and how can advocates working on disparate issues, such as healthcare, education, housing, community development, prison re-entry, job training, and the environment, make sure that equity and inclusion are at the heart of their efforts and goals? An equitable society is one in which everyone can participate and prosper. In short, equity creates a path from hope to change.

Regional equity is at the core of this broad, hopeful vision for full inclusion and sustainability and provides a roadmap for change. The regional equity concept recognizes that communities are the building blocks of vibrant, competitive regions and ultimately, a healthy, prosperous nation. America faces unprecedented challenges in the 21st century as we become a nation without a single predominant racial group. We cannot thrive if communities of color continue to be neglected, disinvested, and isolated from economic opportunity. As a framework for action, regional equity offers a toolkit of principles, strategies, and tactics for advancing opportunity for everyone.

Regional Equity Comes of Age

In March 2008, nearly 2,000 equity leaders working in communities, government, non-profit organizations, foundations, and universities gathered in New Orleans at Regional Equity ’08: The Third National Summit on Social Justice, Smart Growth, and Equitable Development. The paramount theme of the conference was how to build a more inclusive society and a more inclusive movement for social and economic change.

The regional equity concept emerged in the late 1990s, as social justice advocates recognized the role that metropolitan development played in maintaining and exacerbating racial and economic disparities. Fifty years of sprawl—the movement of jobs, people, infrastructure, and tax base away from cities toward the farthest edges of regions—left cities struggling for investment and consumed exorbitant amounts of land and resources. As opportunity shifted to the suburbs, communities of color were almost completely left behind in isolated, distressed neighborhoods.

The goal of regional equity is to ensure that all people—particularly low-income people of color—have access to the essential ingredients for success in our society: high-quality schools, living-wage jobs, transportation, strong social networks, decent housing, safe and walkable streets and parks, healthy food, an environment free of toxics and pollution, services, and infrastructure. The path to shared regional prosperity is equitable development, which stands on four principles:

1. Integrate people-focused strategies with those focused on improving places;

2. Reduce local and regional disparities;

3. Promote investments that are equitable, catalytic, and coordinated;

4. Ensure meaningful community participation, leadership, and ownership in change. [1]

Equitable development requires thinking intentionally about impacts at the beginning of political processes and demands a particular focus on people of color, who have historically been excluded from political conversation and decision making. Only through authentic wrestling with issues of diversity and difference can we respond to the monumental forces that are reshaping our country and our world.

Equity in a Changing World

Once in a great while, events and trends converge to shift collective consciousness and pave the way for broad social movements. The rejection of second-class citizenship by black soldiers returning from World War II, the entrance of the United States into international Cold War politics, and the successful independence struggles of former European colonies in Africa set the stage for the Civil Rights movement. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and the “earthrise” photo from the 1968 Apollo mission awakened awareness about our natural resources and spurred an environmental movement. In both cases, large numbers of people formed the organizations that secured new laws, rights, and protections to achieve lasting social change. We are living in such a watershed moment.

Confidence in the American economy has waned: our education system and public infrastructure are crumbling, the middle class is disintegrating, the social safety net has frayed, and poverty is increasing. With more than two million people in prison—one in 15 black men is behind bars—the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. The need for a new direction in national policy is clear.

At the same time, four major forces of societal change—globalization, rising inequality, shifting demographics, and the environmental crisis—are giving new urgency to the principles of equitable development and demanding new approaches in every sector, from community-based programs and advocacy alliances to foundations, governments, and businesses. More than ever, regions are becoming the critical geographic unit and the locus for developing inclusive, equitable, sustainable solutions.

Globalization. The rapid development of transportation and communication technologies have sped up the diffusion of ideas, information, goods, capital, and people across the globe, creating vast entrepreneurial opportunities. But the benefits of globalization have accrued mostly to the new transnational elite, leaving behind the middle class, the working class, and the poor. The global economy has also changed the nature of competitiveness, with regions now vying for jobs and investment on a tough international playing field. Economic restructuring has devastated some industries in the United States and weakened the economies of entire cities and regions, particularly in the Northeast and Midwest. Low-wage service and retail jobs have replaced unionized blue-collar manufacturing jobs, hollowing out the labor market and limiting opportunities for upward mobility. The growing dominance of multinational conglomerates with dispersed operations makes it harder to hold companies accountable for their labor and environmental practices.

Rising inequality. The gap between rich and poor has widened since 1980, and is larger than in any other advanced industrial country. The United States also has one of the highest rates of poverty in the industrialized world—12 percent, or one in eight Americans. In 2006, 24 percent of African Americans and 22 percent of Latinos lived in poverty, compared with 10 percent of whites. But the geography of poverty and opportunity within regions is also changing. After a half-century of suburban flight the affluent are increasingly locating to cities, pushing working families and low-income blacks and Latinos to aging outlying communities. For the first time, suburban poor outnumber the urban poor.[2] The lack of affordable housing near jobs forces working families to cope with ever-higher costs for transportation, and the financial pressures are growing as fuel prices soar.[3]

Shifting demographics. We are moving toward a future of greater diversity and more complex, nuanced race relationships. One in three residents is a “minority.” Four states and the District of Columbia have no single dominant racial or ethnic group. While the nation’s citizenry is rapidly aging and married couples with children constitute a shrinking portion of total households, the population will continue to grow largely due to immigration and the higher birth rates among fast-growing racial and ethnic groups. Although immigrants remain heavily concentrated in the nation’s largest cities, they are dispersing to smaller cities, towns, and rural areas leaving local governments, school districts, and businesses grappling with culturally diverse and sometimes linguistically isolated constituents, students, and clients. In many places, the influx of people from varied ethnic backgrounds sparks conflict fueled by economic insecurity.

Environmental crisis. The issue of sustainability—ensuring that we protect resources for future generations—is not new, but climate change has increased its salience and urgency. Researchers on seven continents predict that, without intervention, climate disruption will lead to drought, heat waves, food shortages, disease, and ultimately, war, social upheavals, and economic instability. Society’s most vulnerable people will shoulder the greatest burden, even though they contribute the least to the greenhouse gases responsible for global warming. African Americans and Latinos in the United States already are more likely to live in polluted communities and suffer from environmentally triggered health complications, such as asthma. As Hurricane Katrina made shockingly clear, low-income families often lack the means to move to safety when disaster strikes, and have fewer savings and assets to help them recover.

An Agenda for Change

The future of our nation depends upon everyone participating in its economic, social, and political life and the sustainability of our economy and natural resource base. The regional equity framework provides guidelines for dealing with the new challenges of crafting a national agenda for full inclusion and sustainability to engage communities that have traditionally been excluded from economic and political decision-making.

Globalization demands that economic and social justice advocates develop strategies that make the new economy work for, rather than against, working families and their neighborhoods. Advocates can build on the alignment between social and economic inclusion, and regional (and therefore national) competitiveness. We must pursue an agenda for shared economic prosperity, which includes:

  • Growing a sustainable high road economy that produces jobs with family-supporting wages and career ladders;
  • Fixing our crumbling roads, bridges, and other public infrastructure to connect low-income neighborhoods to their regional economies;
  • Investing in human development and building a strong, high-skilled workforce;
  • Increasing economic security of working families;
  • Improving the quality of existing jobs;
  • Managing the downside risks of globalization by providing retraining opportunities, and establishing strong standards and protections for labor and the environment.



Regional equity advocates have long focused on alleviating poverty and expanding opportunity. The changing geography of poverty now requires us to craft new policies and approaches, expand support systems and services to communities that need them, and build broader alliances and coalitions.

Shifting demographics have major implications for housing, development strategies, and organizing efforts. An aging population and the shrinking American family, combined with the rising costs of energy suggests a renewed demand for dense mixed-use urban neighborhoods. Advocates and policymakers must anticipate these market forces and mitigate gentrification at the front end by ensuring long-term affordability, economic opportunities for residents, and a community voice in the planning. The deepening diversity in more communities calls for efforts to include newcomers and minority groups in economic, social, and political life and strategies to work through language barriers, cultural differences, and the complexities of race relationships.

The environmental crisis presents an imperative to build on the agenda of environmental justice advocates who, for decades, have fought for a healthier and more sustainable society for all. Climate change has brought unprecedented media attention to our energy use and natural resources. The public and political will to find solutions is growing. In addition, the emerging green economy is projected to boom in the coming years, creating “green collar” jobs that offer living wages, skills development, and career ladders. Advocates need to ensure that these opportunities have few barriers to entry and are linked to the renewal of low-income communities.

Organizing for Action

In cities, suburbs, small towns, rural areas, and tribal nations across the United States, momentum is growing for broad, equitable change. From community leaders pushing for affordable housing, to neighborhood residents advocating for healthier food options close to home, to elected officials bringing positive change to scale, we see sophisticated strategies being developed as they lay the foundation for a national agenda for equity and inclusion.

Equitable development models are rebuilding distressed neighborhoods, connecting residents to jobs, transportation, good schools, parks, and grocery stores. The revitalization of West Garfield Park in Chicago through the activities of Bethel New Life; the Murphy Park school-centered, mixed-income neighborhood development in St. Louis; and Market Creek Plaza in San Diego’s Diamond neighbor

hoods, where residents own stock in the $45 million commercial and cultural center built on the site of an abandoned factory.[4] These are among the most mature models of true community transformation.

Innovative strategies are taking hold everywhere. The community benefits movement, which emerged in Los Angels a decade ago, is spreading and evolving. Dozens of communities have negotiated agreements to ensure that large development projects meet community goals for jobs, housing, services, and infrastructure. Transit Oriented Development (TOD), which promotes dense mixed-use development around a transit stop to create vibrant and walkable neighborhoods, has become a standard development “product” and advocates in the San Francisco Bay Area, Denver, Portland, and Seattle are implementing strategies to ensure that TOD benefits current residents and businesses. Inclusionary zoning has been widely embraced, and more than 300 cities and counties now require or encourage private developers to include affordable units in their market-rate developments.[5] And efforts to improve the built environment to increase the health of vulnerable populations are gaining traction among researchers, policymakers, and advocates.

The organizational infrastructure that supports the regional equity movement has expanded. National organizing networks are building urban/suburban coalitions, and regional equity coalitions are making strides in Boston, Sacramento, and Washington, D.C. Research is shaping the direction of organizing and action. Data analyses have shown that poverty and inequality within regions harms economic competitiveness. Policy analyses describe how creating avenues for low-income residents to build income and assets promotes long-term regional and national prosperity.[6]

Lessons learned from hurricanes Rita and Katrina have pushed advocates to develop strategies to ensure that future disasters do not disproportionately affect poor communities and communities of color. Building government and community capacity, making certain that federal and state funding allocations benefit low-income homeowners and renters, and connecting displaced residents to resources are just a few of the many approaches inspired by the rebuilding efforts in the Gulf Coast.

Needed, a Roadmap of Collective Wisdom

All of us now must join together to move forward on the path from hope to change. We must create a roadmap based on our collective wisdom and knowledge. We must articulate principles and policy proposals that have the power to shape the political debate in the media, in legislatures, in boardrooms, in living rooms, and in the streets.

Our efforts must span all levels of policy action—federal, state, regional, and local—and include institutional change as a primary target. We must work in the key areas of economic development, infrastructure, transportation, workforce development, education, housing and neighborhoods, prison re-entry, health, land use, fiscal and tax policy, and the environment. The movement must cut across bureaucratic silos and encourage holistic thinking.

Experience has taught us that community engagement and empowerment lead to stronger, more meaningful policy reform and social change. Everyone—particularly people of color, who have historically been excluded from participation in decision-making and previous reform waves in America—must have confidence that the movement for equity enhances their political power, social cohesion, sense of place, and prospects for the future. 


1. For background on equitable development, see Promoting Regional Equity: A Framing Paper, Oakland, California. PolicyLink, 2002; Fox, Radhika and Blackwell, Angela Glover. Regional Equity and Smart Growth: Opportunities for Advancing Social and Economic Justice in America, Funders’ Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities, 2004; Advocating for Equitable Development, Oakland, California, PolicyLink, 2005.

2. Berube, Alan and Kneebone, Barbara, Two Steps Back: City and Suburban Poverty Trends, 1999-2005 (Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution, 2006).

3. Lipman, Barbara J., A Heavy Load: The Combined Housing and Transportation Burdens of Working Families, Washington, D.C.: Center for Housing Policy, 2006. Available at www.nhc.org/pdf/pub_heavy_load_10_06.pdf.

4. Stuhldreher, Anne, “The People’s IPO: Lower-income patrons of Market Creek Plaza can now invest in the shopping center,” Stanford Social Innovation Review, available at http://www.ssireview.org/articles/entry/the_peoples_ipo/.

5. Center for Housing Policy, The Effects of Inclusionary Zoning on Local Housing Markets: Lessons from the San Francisco, Washington D.C., and Suburban Boston Areas, New York City, Furman Center.

6. Vey, Jennifer, Restoring Prosperity: The State Role in Revitalizing America’s Older Industrial Cities, Washington, D.C. The Brookings Institution, 2007.

This article is based on Regional Equity and the Quest for Full Inclusion, by Angela Glover Blackwell and Sarah Treuhaft, presented at Regional Equity ’08: The Third National Summit on Social Justice, Smart Growth, and Equitable Development. See http://www.regionalequity08.org/

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Organizing Against Urban Sprawl: A New Model

By Gregory A. Galluzzo

I have been a community organizer in the tradition of Saul Alinsky since 1972. I must confess that I regard my first 15 years of organizing as “cleaning the engine room of the Titanic.” Working within the most unglamorous part of the ship—the slums, the ghettos, and the barrios of America—we focused on cleaning the grease, polishing the knobs, and adjusting the nozzles. In other words, we worked on getting rid of drug houses, improving a park, and opening a health clinic, while the ship itself was being steered “right” and towards certain disaster, rendering irrelevant all of our efforts in turning communities around. To illustrate the point, I like to tell a story.

The Parable of the Inner City

There once lived a people in a mountain valley with a beautiful lake at its center. The lake supported a diversity of wild plant and animal life and was a source of recreation for the valley’s inhabitants. Water from the lake was used to create beautiful fountains and to irrigate farms and gardens, as well as to raise livestock. The well being of the valley and its inhabitants was totally dependent on the lake.

However, some people living in a valley below were very jealous of the lifestyle enjoyed by the inhabitants of the upper valley. So, they secretly dug a tunnel below the lake and proceeded to drain its water for their own purposes.

The people in the upper valley soon began to suffer. Their plant and animal life diminished and died, as did their crops and livestock. The fountains were shut off and the gardens abandoned. The people attempted to adapt to their new reality but without their life-sustaining lake, the deterioration was inexorable and soon the upper valley turned into a desolate place.

This is exactly what has happened to our inner cities. Once, they were like the place by the lake—vibrant and prosperous—until the suburbs came along and drained them of their capital. In a capitalist society, the garden always grows wherever the capital flows. Now those of us who inhabit the urban cores of our society are fighting for some of that diminishing capital.

Urban sprawl and a systematic disinvestment from our cities underlie the seemingly endemic social problems of America. It’s a peculiar phenomenon that has led to economic and racial isolation, disparities in political power, the disappearance of an urban agenda in national policy, the weakening of unions, and a massive destruction of the environment.

St. Louis and Buffalo, once cities of populations over 600,000, now have around 300,000 residents. Likewise Cleveland and Detroit, once with populations of 800,000 and 1.8 million respectively, have halved their populations. The consequent effect on city services, property values, commercial enterprises, job opportunities, schools, and congregations has been catastrophic. Only the poor are left behind.

Playing Robin Hood in Reverse

Thirty-five years ago Gary, Indiana was a city full of promise with its prosperous steel mills and the nation’s first black mayor of a major city. If you were to drive through Gary today you would think that it had been systematically fire bombed. The city has lost tens of thousands of homes and the downtown area is a boarded up ghost town with its abandoned Holiday Inn and convention center. There is not enough money to support good schools and other city services.

However, if you were to take a helicopter ride and survey the region around Gary, you would see that some 40,000 new homes, new churches, and a mall—one of the largest in the country—have sprung up in the suburbs of Gary. It is a prime example of what urban sprawl does to a metropolitan region where there is little actual population growth. For every home built in the suburbs, a home will be abandoned in the city; for every mall created, whole urban commercial districts will be devastated; for every suburban church built, a city church will wither.

The irony of this tragedy is that the city of Gary actually subsidized its own demise when it subsidized the water, sewer, and utility lines for its suburbs. Money that could have been used to fix its streets was used to build expressways and roads in the suburbs.

We have in America a Robin Hood in reverse syndrome—we take from the poor and give to the rich. People in our inner cities need to go to the suburbs to shop. There is not a single Sears store in the city of Detroit and every time a city resident needs a Diehard battery, he or she is subsidizing education and services for wealthier people in the suburbs.

Minnetonka, a suburban development just outside the Twin Cities area in Minnesota, is another example of such a transfer of wealth. Of the $360 million in public monies spent on creating it, only about $30 million came from the people in the new suburb. The people in the cities and older suburbs provided the balance, which would have been better spent on repairing streets and yes, some important bridges.

Real property, which for most Americans provides a hedge against retirement or the capital to start a business or send children to college, has been stagnant or declining in value in many urban areas. John a. powell, founder and president of Ohio State University’s Kirwan Institute, says that economic well being should be measured not by income but by equity. He tells the sad story of his father and his friend, both war veterans who obtained Veteran Administration (VA) loans to buy homes.

Owing to a law restricting the use of VA loan monies to integrate communities, John Powell Sr., an African American, could not buy a home in the newly created suburbs, while his white friend could not buy in the Detroit inner city. Both homes cost the same, but 30 years later, the white veteran’s suburban home was worth over $350,000, whereas the black veteran’s home was still worth only $15,000. The situation is tantamount to stealing over $300,000 from an African American family. Multiply this by 10 million and you get some idea of how institutional racism plays itself out in the United States.

The Peculiar Phenomenon of Urban Sprawl

Professor powell makes the startling statement that the net capital worth of the entire black community in America is zero. As much is owed as is owned. But the net worth of the white community is $9.0 trillion. This disparity is largely a result of the creation of urban sprawl.

Currently, congressional districts from the suburbs outnumber urban and rural districts combined. So, the majority of those who make our laws in congress are uninterested in the issues facing city dwellers. And unions tend to lose their power the farther they go from the city.

Perhaps the most tragic victims of this peculiar phenomenon are the children in our cities. The most predictive factor of success for schools is the economic status of the population they serve—the greater the concentration of poverty, the more likely that the children will do poorly. Poor children living in a middle income neighborhood will have a much greater chance of success than children living in areas of concentrated poverty where they have few role models, live in crime infested communities, and have no opportunities for summer and after school jobs. Urban sprawl, because it concentrates poverty, puts tens of thousands of America’s children on the economic conveyor built to the junk heap of history.

Urban sprawl also destroys green space. The building of houses on natural flood basins and the ever growing network of expressways with their polluting traffic pose the number one threat to the environment.

But it does not have to be this way.

Portland’s Solution to Urban Sprawl

In Portland, Oregon they have created an urban growth boundary around the already developed metropolitan region. Thirty years ago, the metropolitan planning council created a policy that no government funds would be expended outside this boundary. As a result, property within the boundary is now worth a million dollars per acre; whereas, outside the boundary an acre fetches about $1,000. People can build outside the boundary but they will not have a road, sewer system, or water main built to their house. And in the event of a house fire, there is no guarantee that a fire truck will be made available, causing home insurance rates to go up.

Julius Caesar is quoted as saying: “The margin of profit for most enterprises is government subsidy.” An observation that is as true today as it was 2,000 years ago. By restricting subsidies outside the metropolitan area Portland created a level playing field for African Americans. Now property values in Portland’s traditional black community have increased by 10 billion dollars.

Organizing for the Sprawl

The type of issues at the heart of the urban problem are: how taxes are raised and spent, the allocation of federal and state transportation dollars, school funding formulas, land use policy, water rights, and opportunity housing. We need to stop subsidizing urban sprawl and the concentration of poverty and create a tax policy that spreads the wealth equitably across a region. We also need to mandate mixed income housing in every suburb. But the traditional model of organizing neighborhoods in urban areas to solve problems is no longer relevant because decisions affecting the urban core are not made by city hall—they are made at a regional level and governed by state law.

Those who make policy realize that the population in the urban core is now a small minority. Milwaukee, Cleveland, Detroit, Gary, Buffalo, Atlanta, St. Louis, and Oakland do not have that much clout in state politics. These cities are a minority even in their metropolitan region. To move political power we must build a much broader base and organize at the metropolitan and state wide levels.

In his book, Who Rules America: Power Politics and Social Change, William Domhoff asserts that the forces of sprawl combine into a cabal that wields enormous power at the state and local levels and real change can occur only when all progressive forces align.

Unions, civil rights organizations, progressive politicians, transportation activists, environmentalists, and urban neighborhoods are all negatively impacted by sprawl. And increasingly, the first and second rings of suburbs are also being affected, giving many suburban politicians an interest in curbing this ever expanding circle of destruction.

It is time for community organizing to recognize that its targeted base should expand beyond the minority and working class white communities in cities to include some middle-income suburbs as well. Combating urban sprawl offers an opportunity to create the type of coalition that Domhoff describes as necessary for change.

The Way Out of the Sprawl

Our next president comes out of the community organizing tradition. A former director of a Gamaliel affiliate on the South Side of Chicago, Barack Obama understands the pernicious problems created by urban sprawl for the people in the cities. He has also constructed a powerful coalition of progressive forces in this country, which crosses race, class, and geographic boundaries. This is an optimum time for the new organizing model to take root by tapping into this emerging coalition with a fresh outlook on solving problems. By examining the racial implications of urban sprawl and committing ourselves to addressing them effectively we can begin to heal many of the seemingly incurable social problems confronting our country.

Gregory A. Galluzzo, a former Jesuit priest, is the national director and co-founder of the Gamaliel Foundation, a community organizing network representing more than a million multi-faith, multi-racial church-going people who work on campaigns for social justice.

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Race, Regionalism, and the Future of Organized Labor

By Greg LeRoy

As America’s labor movement organizes to recover its strength in numbers, race and regionalism are central to its coalition-building needs. The movement has come to realize that suburban sprawl, with its discriminatory patterns of economic opportunity, is anti-union, and progressive smart growth is the public policy menu that goes hand-in-hand with new member organizing.

Forward-looking labor leaders are embracing America’s urban residents of color who are denied economic opportunity when sprawl drives jobs to the fringe. By advocating for progressive regional smart growth policies that intentionally benefit urban families—such as affordable housing, better transit and schools, and the clean up of brownfields—unions can win the loyalty of workers central to their rebuilding strategy. At the level of specific development projects, coalitions can help win good jobs and new bargaining units for urban residents by advocating for community benefits—such as living wages, local hiring, and anti-displacement safeguards. Rising energy prices and a growing awareness of climate change are the newest wildcards in urban development patterns. Will the wealthy return to transit-rich cities and massively displace working families, especially those of color? How can unionized workplaces become more energy-efficient and competitive? And will the new movement for “green jobs” and greener workplaces enable unions to finally defeat the “no smoke, no jobs” ideology that has often divided unions from environmentalists?

The bottom line: if labor expects to rebuild its political strength and influence for working families in the state capitols and in Washington D.C., it must first recover and build upon its urban roots. It can do that by building a more diverse labor movement.

Restoring the Legal Right to Organize

With union density in the United States’ private sector teetering at less than eight percent—by far the lowest of any industrial democracy—the labor movement is advocating the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) to replace the National Labor Relations Act. (The low union membership is attributable to the anti-union climate that has evolved since the Reagan administration. How that hostility came about is a complicated story. Sprawl is one underlying cause.)

The EFCA would provide majority sign-up rights and other safeguards to allow workers to decide, free from corporate coercion, whether they want a union. Endorsing the EFCA has for years been the litmus test for politicians seeking labor’s support, and groups like American Rights at Work have been educating the public on the need for reform. Indeed, the law passed the United States House of Representatives in 2007, but was killed by a filibuster in the Senate. Advocates hope that EFCA will become law, especially if the Democratic majority in the United States Senate grows to a filibuster-proof 60.

Sprawl Creates Less Opportunity, Weaker Unions

Studies by Good Jobs First show that suburban sprawl is a broadly anti-union phenomenon. While each industry has its particulars, across the board, as jobs thin out geographically, away from cities, they also tend to de-unionize. At the same time, urban residents without a car, disproportionately people of color, lose access to jobs as growth occurs on the fringe beyond the transit lines.[1]

Beyond Wal-Mart’s effect on the United Food and Commercial Workers, transit jobs are undermined because commuters have to use cars. Unionized inner-city hospitals are stressed, forced to serve a disproportionate number of families without private insurance as sprawl concentrates poverty in urban cores. Similar patterns are evident in hospitality, construction, manufacturing, building services, and trucking.

In grocery retailing, non-union companies, such as Wal-Mart, Food Lion, and Food Shoppers Warehouse, penetrate metro areas starting in the exurbs. Typically accessible only by auto, they undermine transit accessible stores in cities and older suburbs, while denying access to fresh food and food-price competition to people without cars.

The rapidly growing hospitality industry, while rich in job opportunity, is notorious for low wages except when unionized, which is limited to some urban cores, airport areas, gaming centers, and amusement parks. Similarly, cleaning and maintenance work in office buildings is unionized in many urban cores, but not in most “edge cities.”

Manufacturers migrate outward for the same “push” reasons as other businesses, and for factory-specific reasons, such as production systems that require “large footprint” single-story plants; some also seek to avoid unions. A few foreign-owned auto assembly plants have even been charged with discriminatory practices, such as recruitment territories that exclude urban areas with minority populations.

In construction, “rat” or non-union contractors typically enter a metro area by building sprawl at the fringe and nibbling inward.

In the public sector, sprawl undermines the tax bases of older areas, so public school teachers and other government employees suffer lower pay, tougher working conditions, and the increasing pressure for privatization schemes, such as school vouchers. Indeed, a chronic decline in the tax base creates a systemic web of problems for urban governments and public employees.[2]

CLCs: Advocates for Smart Growth

Central Labor Councils (CLCs) are metro federations of local unions whose leaders have unwittingly become smart growth activists. A 2003 survey reveals that all of them see serious problems in suburban sprawl and have advocated for urban reinvestment policies, collectively known as smart growth.

More than three in four CLC leaders believe:

a. that there is a geographic mismatch between the creation of new jobs and the location of affordable housing and the dispersion of jobs is undermining union density;

b. that the health of someone in their family has been harmed by environmental pollution;

c. that some suburbs use exclusionary zoning against low- or middle-income families and the growing political power of new suburbs is undermining the political clout of working families;

d. that regional infrastructure systems do not treat older areas fairly;

e. that regional transportation authorities should have more flexibility in allocating dollars between highways and transit; and

f. that some cities are pushing privatization because they have lost a lot of their tax base.[3]


As legislative advocates, between two thirds and four fifths of the CLC leaders have lobbied state or local legislatures for funding to repair and rehabilitate existing schools; to stop a factory shutdown in an older area; against a “big box” retail project; to preserve or expand mass transit operating budgets; and to increase funding for the rebuilding of aging infrastructure. Half or more have sponsored or participated in affordable housing construction, joined coalitions on pollution issues, or worked on political campaigns with environmental groups.

A growing number of CLC leaders are sponsoring new alliances to weigh in on economic development issues, often to promote community benefits agreements. These project-specific agreements between coalitions and private developers typically embody smart growth basics, such as density, mixed use, mixed income housing, and transit-oriented development.

Under the leadership of the Partnership for Working Families, CLC leaders in cities as varied as San Jose, Milwaukee, Atlanta, and Boston, have launched new coalitions with sophisticated research capacity to intervene early, leverage the power of job subsidies for accountability, and win living wages, local hiring, affordable housing, fair treatment for locally owned small businesses, and open space and environmental improvements. These benefits can favor unionized employers and may foster new member organizing. They also intentionally build new labor-community coalitions.

Building Trades: Active on Development Issues

Because they are politically active on development projects, the Building Trades are a key labor constituency. In the past, some have opposed smart growth initiatives backed by environmentalists, suspecting that smart growth is no growth in sheep's clothing. However, research by Good Jobs First finds that smart growth policies create more construction jobs—and more union jobs—than does sprawl. Buildings that use less land but are more complex, a “fix it first” highway policy, and growth management policies that encourage labor-intensive rehabilitation, all create more work hours and correlate with higher unionization rates.[4]

The construction industry has been plagued by enduring allegations of racial bias in some metro areas, but forward-looking union leaders in Seattle/ King County have used Project Labor Agreements (PLA)—an umbrella contract that ensures a project will be built with union labor and have no work stoppages—at the Seattle-Tacoma airport expansion to win large shares of work for apprenticeship labor and achieve strong affirmative results. Similarly, the highway construction set-asides won by affiliates of the Gamaliel Foundation in Kansas City and Michigan, and the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency’s Construction Careers program all use the leverage of public dollars to help construction crews more closely resemble local workforces.[5]

Winning Regionalism and Rebuilding Unions

Unions have a unique opportunity now to help rebuild America’s urban centers and regain their numerical strength. To do so, they must intentionally cast their lot with city residents, disproportionately of color, who endured the darkest years before “empty nest” Baby Boomers and “Gen Xers” and “Gen Yers” started to rediscover the appeals of urban life. Union members bring a unique strength to this cause: they live all over the metro areas (although disproportionately in older areas), so they are free of the “turf” definitions that constrain the organizing visions of many community groups.

Beginning in 2009, the debate to reauthorize the Surface Transportation Act will begin. The so-called “highway bill” is also the main source of federal support for mass transit, and a broad coalition of transit and smart growth advocates is coming together as Transportation for America to seek a more progressive outcome. With gasoline tax revenues down (people are driving less), road-building costs way up (soaring material prices), and an urgency about climate change, experts foresee a sharp debate over more support for transit.

It is a debate that every union should weigh in on because unionized employers are disproportionately located in areas that have public transportation, so union jobs would benefit from better transit service. Union members are also more likely to reside in transit-served areas and would benefit from having more choices on how to commute.

The enormous interest in renewable energy, energy efficiency, and other “green economy” opportunities is prompting a new wave of corporate tax breaks and training grants, but there is no guarantee that urban residents will benefit from them. Fortunately, a new coalition, Green for All, is pushing to make the green jobs movement an intentional anti-urban poverty strategy. As well, the two oldest national advocacy networks for green jobs, the Apollo Alliance and the Blue-Green Alliance, are largely rooted in organized labor and many of their strongest coalitions are in urban areas and with urban elected officials.

Advocates should also expand the demand to include “greener workplaces.” That is, job subsidies should be reformed (as four states have begun to do) to explicitly encourage employers to locate jobs along public transit routes. It would mean more job opportunities for carless workers, a greener commuting choice for all workers, and more unionized transit jobs!


1. LeRoy, Greg. Talking to Union Leaders About Smart Growth, Good Jobs First, 2001.

2. On tax-base harm of sprawl, see Orfield, Myron. American Metropolitics: New Suburban Reality, Brookings, 2002.

3. LeRoy, Greg. Labor Leaders as Smart Growth Advocates: How Unions See Suburban Sprawl and Work for Smart Growth Solutions, Good Jobs First, 2003.

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

Greg LeRoy directs Good Jobs First (www.goodjobsfirst.org) and is the author of The Great American Jobs Scam (Berrett-Koehler, 2005). A union consultant based in Chicago, he is a 34-year union member and former president of a local Amtrak service workers union.



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Working Families Organize Regionally

Picture this: In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, union leaders link worker organizing rights at the Penguins’ Stadium to neighborhood demands for a grocery store and community investment fund—and score a victory. In Bayonne, New Jersey, a coalition of faith, union, and environmental leaders persuades local officials to link good jobs, affordable housing, and sustainable practices to the redevelopment process at the Military Ocean Terminal. In the Southside section of Atlanta, Georgia, long-time residents and union leaders protest the closure of a fire station in one of the city’s poorest communities and demand to be part of the budget review process to identify responsible alternatives. And the list goes on.

The World Beyond Traditional Organizing

There is a movement afoot that defies boundaries: It appears to span historical divides while engaging new and dynamic leadership; it is regionally based but aspires to bring about national change; most importantly, it seems to rise above issues and organizations towards a shared vision of an economy that works, an environment that heals, and a community that is engaged and informed.

Many of these efforts started independently, seeded by a new generation of leaders who aspired beyond traditional community and workplace organizing. They saw the potential for a new kind of regional power—one that shares the political strength of progressive unions with the passion of social and environmental justice organizations.

These leaders understood the principles of community organizing and the importance of leadership development in giving voice to the people. They respected the power of faith to engage congregations in broader struggles for justice. They organized living wage and community benefits campaigns and low wage worker campaigns as the building blocks for a more powerful movement, which became the Partnership for Working Families—a movement dedicated to building power and reshaping the economy and urban environment for workers and communities.

According to Madeline Janis, director of the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE) and co-founder of the Partnership, “We didn’t know that these same fires were being kindled in other cities. We were so focused on our work to transform Los Angeles. Then came calls for support and advice from around the country and we realized what a critical moment we were in.”

Seeking Signatures Over Handshakes

As a federation of affiliates networked with hundreds of allied organizations regionally and nationally, the Partnership’s work is based on the premise that civic and economic activity cannot be divorced from democratic values—specifically, grassroots participation and worker organizing. It mobilizes working families to push for a role in economic development and land use decision making, and for public policies and private contracts that mandate corporate accountability together with community and environmental benefits.

“There isn’t a businessman in America that would take a handshake deal with the city in lieu of a written contract. As citizens and taxpayers we should have the same expectations,” says Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, executive director of Working Partnerships USA and leader of the South Bay Labor Council.

Organizations within the Partnership employ a variety of strategies and innovations to bring about the following core programs:

  • Community Benefit Agreements, which bring together broad-based local coalitions to improve development outcomes and shape the future of cities.
  • Policy campaigns that expand influence beyond sites to cities and regions.
  • Industry campaigns that raise the economic standing and political power of thousands of workers at a time.
  • Governing coalitions that re-design government for the public purpose.
  • Organizing and leadership development campaigns to grow the pool of leaders and organizers.

Perhaps the most important characteristic of the organizations is their permanence and capacity. These are not seasonally staffed campaigns, election year window dressing, or temporary issue alliances. They are infrastructure organizations that rely on deep relationships and an understanding of the interconnectedness of each other’s issues. They rely on permanent, shared staff dedicated to the research, organizing, communications, and legal aspects of campaigns, and on the coalitions that bring about moral and political pressure to bear for positive community and worker outcomes.

In Atlanta, a Stand-Up Example

The amazing examples of groundbreaking work and transformative organizing across the country, even in conservative, fast growing regions with limited labor and community organizing capacities has lessons for us all.

In Atlanta, Georgia, Stand-Up is working to connect good jobs and regional equity to transit-oriented development projects. Late in 2005, they secured an unprecedented commitment to incorporate community benefits—including affordable housing, prevailing wages, and local hire requirements along with a compelling community engagement component—into a planned $2 billion transit, green space, and public infrastructure investment in Atlanta’s BeltLine development.

Best of all, the policy has served as a tool to organize and educate hundreds of Atlanta residents on the public process for development approval and funding. Stand-Up’s strong community, labor, and faith coalition conducts community level research, monitors city meetings, generates neighborhood input, and is completely engaged in sharing a vision for the future of their city. Recently, Stand-Up secured a legislative commitment from the city to produce a geographic equity plan for the BeltLine prior to the issuance of additional funds. They also won additional resources dedicated to the BeltLine community benefits implementation plan.

“This presents challenges, to be sure,” claims Deb Scott, director of Stand-Up. “City staff and leadership can get defensive when faced with community concerns regarding issues of equity. As the city continues to prepare for an influx of new residents, we are organizing to expand community and union power. We are looking for ways to mitigate displacement of existing residents, and helping to create new ways of redistributing the benefits of development.”

A FRESC Take on Responsible Development

In Denver, FRESC* Good Jobs, Strong Communities has been growing the Campaign for Responsible Development (CRD) to secure community benefits for the nearly 20 acres surrounding Denver’s Union Station. Affordable housing, family-supporting jobs, opportunities for community-based small businesses, and environmentally sustainable construction and operation are the benefits sought. The CRD is composed of community, labor, faith, and housing groups—including the 9to5 National Association of Working Women and several construction and service worker unions. Its goal is to ensure that this flagship development and future hub of the new regional FasTracks system sets a standard for community benefits.

FRESC is also trying to create a permanent union-community alliance with deep neighborhood roots by coupling its coalition work with base building organizing. It is working with impacted community and public housing residents so that they have a voice in planning decisions and possible future redevelopment as a part of FasTracks and corresponding transit-oriented development.

With its new friends on the City Council, existing political allies, and a deep understanding of public decision-making processes, FRESC is aiming to change the political landscape to ensure that maximizing community benefits is a fundamental part of future development decisions.

Speaking to the City Council on behalf of the CRD, FRESC Director Carmen Rhodes stated, “I don’t stand before you today to say that it is easy to protect vulnerable workers from poverty-wage jobs or to build affordable housing. But I am here to say that these things are important, and few important things are easy to do.”

Challenges and Opportunities

Convincing the public sector that the Partnership wants to build a prosperous economy is not always easy. It also faces tremendous opposition from another sector of entrenched leadership—the downtown business partnerships that have served as a shadow government for years. There is even some fear among friends in the environmental and smart growth sectors that complicated deals with the threat of higher costs may drive even eco-friendly developers back out to the greenfields.

This is where the idea of a new economy, and the hope for a green economy come in. Our shrinking tax base will never be boosted until we can eliminate poverty wages and the public costs associated with them, such as healthcare, housing, and other social nets. But simply creating jobs is not the answer. When new jobs, especially in the fast growing service, hospitality, and green sectors pay self-sufficiency wages, we will begin to see progress.

There is tremendous hope in future federal infrastructure, transportation, and development programs. If our national leadership shared the belief that public money should yield a public return and attached self-sufficiency wages, freedom of association, and an economic impact analysis to their spending programs, we would see hundreds of thousands of new jobs propel families into the middle class. Now, with a national Partnership of organizations working to tailor programs to local needs, we may actually, finally realize the intended outcomes.

Many Hands Make a Stronger Union

As a long-standing union leader in Denver, I saw the challenges that our newest members had with affordable housing, off-hours child care, family health care, and transportation. Their contracts were not very strong and their occupations would not quickly get them to middle class wages in the current organizing and economic environment. Additionally, it seemed that all of our members—even those with the best contracts—had children and family members without job security, health care, or continuing education for career advancement. Many had adult kids living at home, and were watching their nest egg dwindle as they approached retirement.

It occurred to us then that if all we did as a labor movement was focus on improved contracts and, to a lesser extent, political and new worker organizing, we would never address the more immediate issues that were critical to our members. It wasn’t until we had moved beyond our core mission that we were able to exponentially improve the lives of our members and to engage them in the union in a deeper, more meaningful way. It greatly increased our workload but it also generated new leadership in our movement to help share the burden and lighten the load.

When leaders from across our diverse movements come together in this common realization—that there is no one issue, no one answer, and no one organization that can confront this complexity alone—then we will begin to see change at the scale we have all been hoping for.

Leslie Moody is executive director and a founding member of the Executive Committee of the Partnership for Working Families. From 1994 to 2007, Leslie was an organizer and union leader in Denver.

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Growing Smarter to Achieve Livable Communities and Regional Equity

It has now been more than 105 years since W. E. B. DuBois’ classic The Souls of Black Folks, in which he predicted that “the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line.1 The color line is no imaginary line. In 1945, St. Claire Drake and Horace R. Cayton wrote Black Metropolis documenting the role racism played in creating racial inequality and the black ghetto.[2] Today, six decades later, all communities are still not created equal. Enforcing existing federal fair-lending laws is one area where more work is needed.[3] Middle-income homeowners in black neighborhoods have fewer services, retail shopping, banking, good schools, and other residential amenities—amenities that most middle-class white neighborhoods take for granted.[4] Although a majority of African Americans live in cities in the nation’s large metropolitan regions, a growing number now also resides in the suburbs.

Suburbs were principally encouraged, financed, and supported by federal government taxation, transportation, and housing policies. But the period between 2000 and 2006 saw a reversal of white flight from many of the nation’s large cities. For the first time in decades a number of majority black cities have lost black population.[5] At the same time, the white population in more than half of the nation’s counties has declined. As of 2007, people of color make up more than half the population in 302 of the nation’s 3,141 counties.[6] It is likely that the number of counties with predominantly people of color will increase as white baby boomers retire from densely populated communities. At present, one in four counties is near the tipping point where black, Hispanic, and Asian children constitute a majority of the under-20 population. Overall, people of color now account for 43 percent of Americans under 20. This demographic shift confirms that people of color—now about a third of the population—are positioned to constitute a majority of all Americans sooner than 2050, as projected by census demographers.

Why Regional Equity is Essential

Many urban problems do not stop at the city limits, and some require regional solutions. The question is, how do we forge equitable and inclusive solutions to address disparities in transportation, housing, economic opportunity, land use and infrastructure, education, environmental justice, and health?[7]

Regional equity is built on three basic premises:

  • Regional health depends on the health of all sectors of the region;
  • Central cities and declining suburbs cannot confront the problems of racialized concentrated poverty independently and without a regional focus;
  • A regional approach will support rather than undermine the political power, social cohesion, and sense of place of all residents of the region, but particularly of those communities that have long been denied an effective voice.[8]

It is commonplace for jurisdictions to compete in a “race to the bottom” by reducing taxes, lowering wage standards, and easing environmental regulations—all in an effort to lure new investments.[9] Angela Blackwell and her colleagues at the Oakland-based think tank, PolicyLink, Inc., see “community-based regionalism” as an important strategy for promoting equitable development and sustainable solutions to regional disparities and injustice.[10] Similarly, john a. powell calls for a racially just “federated regionalism.”[11] In his Racism and Metropolitan Dynamics, powell writes, “[Racially just] federated regionalism is a model in which a regional authority controls access to the opportunities that have regional dimensions, but local authorities control other matters. This way identity, governmental responsiveness, and community are preserved. Regionalism—specifically, a racially just form of regionalism that not only facilitates access to fundamental life opportunities but protects against harm and nourishes political power and community strength—is simply a tool to gain greater traction [on] existing efforts.”[12]

The absence of a national urban policy has left hundreds of financially strapped cities and their aging first-ring suburbs in a “sink-or-swim” position. Generally, central cities and their older suburbs grow increasingly resource poor, while developing and sprawling suburbs grow resource rich. The socio-spatial layout and negative relations between cities, older suburbs, and newer suburbs has resulted from decades of policies and practices to isolate poor people of color.[13]

Over the years, however, central cities and suburbs have become more alike. Many social ills, such as poverty, unemployment, infrastructure decline, environmental degradation, crime, and drugs, once associated primarily with big cities, are now commonplace in many older suburbs. Reducing inequities within regions makes economic, social, environmental, and health sense since the future of cities and suburbs are inextricably linked. The fate of business is linked with the workforce, and of the middle-class with the poor.[14] Poverty and inequality within cities can stifle development in the whole region. Problem-ridden cities and declining suburbs are two sides of the same coin. They are interconnected across the metropolitan landscape because of region-level economic restructuring.[15]

Building Regional Transportation Around Equity

Transportation investments, enhancements, and financial resources have benefited new suburban communities, even as older urban communities have been disadvantaged by transportation decisions. To access many of the new suburban developments one needs an automobile, since public transit is usually inadequate or nonexistent. Transportation sprawl, which creates a car-dependent citizenry, is consuming land faster than the population growth in many areas across the country.

Meanwhile, the infrastructure in most American cities is crumbling, as illustrated by the collapse of the eight-lane bridge in Minneapolis, Minn. in August 2007. About 11 percent of the nation’s outmoded steel bridges, mostly from the 1950s and 1960s, lack the redundant protection to reduce such failures.[16] Taken as a whole, infrastructure decline has a negative impact on the well-being and quality of life for everyone—not just inhabitants of older central cities.

Policies that address transportation sprawl can also combat the adverse impact of climate change. Global warming will increase temperatures on hot summer days, potentially leading to more unhealthy “red alert” air pollution days in the coming years.[17] A 2007 study of 50 cities in the United States found that future ozone concentrations and climate change could detrimentally affect air quality and thereby harm human health.[18] The most vulnerable populations will suffer the earliest and most damaging setbacks, even though they have contributed the least to the problem of global warming.

Americans living in compact urban neighborhoods where cars are not the only transportation option drive a third fewer miles than those in automobile-oriented suburbs. Less auto-dependent development is key to shrinking the nation’s carbon footprint and mitigating climate change. Experts pin carbon dioxide (CO2) reduction on a “three-legged stool, with one leg related to vehicle fuel economy, a second to the carbon content of the fuel itself, and a third to the amount of driving or vehicle miles traveled—VMT.”[19] If sprawl development continues, the projected 48 percent increase in the total miles driven between 2005 and 2030 will nullify expected gains from vehicle efficiency and low-carbon fuels.

Better Health Through Smarter Growth

Smart growth can also save lives by reducing deadly air pollution, which claims 70,000 lives a year; nearly twice the number killed in traffic accidents.[20] More than half of the nation’s population lives in counties with unsafe air (American Lung Association, 2007). Transportation accounts for one third of the nation’s CO2 emissions and motor vehicles account for 75 percent of the carbon monoxide emissions, nearly half of the smog-forming volatile organic compounds (VOCs), more than half of the nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions, and about half of the toxic air pollutant emissions in the United States.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, African Americans and Latinos are almost three times more likely than whites to die from asthma.[21] One in every four American children—about 27 million under age 13—lives in an area that regularly exceeds the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ozone standards. These areas also account for about half the pediatric asthma population—around two million children.

High ozone levels cause more than 50,000 emergency room visits each year and result in 15,000 hospitalizations for respiratory illnesses. Ozone pollution is responsible for 10 percent to 20 percent—nearly 50 percent on bad days—of all hospital admissions for respiratory conditions. Moreover, ground level ozone sends an estimated 53,000 persons to the hospital and 159,000 to the emergency room, and triggers 6,200,000 asthma attacks each summer in the eastern half of the United States.[22]

Another important point to consider is that spending on transportation is lowest in metropolitan regions with strong public transit systems.[23] Rising gas prices take money out of consumers’ pockets and food off the table. They also hit low-income and working class family budgets the hardest.[24] For working-poor homeowners, nearly 25 percent of their household income is consumed by housing and commuting expenses, compared with just 15.3 percent for other households.

In June 2008, gas prices reached a national average of $4 a gallon for the first time. Nationally, American families are now spending about four percent of their take-home income on gasoline. By contrast, in some rural counties in the mostly black and poor Mississippi Delta, that figure has surpassed 13 percent.[25] Gasoline expenses are rivaling what many families spend on food and housing. At the same time, more Americans are using public transit. Urban transit systems in areas like New York and Boston have seen an increase in ridership of five percent. But many metropolitan areas in the South and West where the driving culture is strongest and bus and rail lines are more limited report surges of 10 to 15 percent in transit use.[26]

Moving Beyond the Color Line

Addressing equity in the nation’s metropolitan regions, cities, suburbs, and rural areas will have positive economic, environmental, and health impacts. Regional equity initiatives will also help build strong institutions and better infrastructure with policies that foster equitable public and private investment. If regional housing, economic development, land use, and transportation policies were more democratically accountable, they could have great potential for community change that is racially and economically just and environmentally sustainable. The movement for regional equity has traveled a long way. Yet, it still has many miles to go before we eliminate inequities within and between regions. Encouraging a balanced regional approach makes economic, social, environmental, and health sense since the future of cities, suburbs, and rural areas are interdependent.


1. DuBois, W.E.B. The Souls of Black Folks. New York: Penguin Books. 1903, reprint edition, 1996.

2. Drake, St. Claire and Cayton, Horace R. Black Metropolis. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, reprint, 1993.

3. Ross, Stephen and Yinger, John. The Color of Money: Mortgage Discrimination, Research Methodology and Fair-Lending Enforcement. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2002.

4. Cashin, Sheryll. The Failures of Integration: How Race and Class are Under­mining the American Dream. New York: Public Affairs, 2004.

5. Dougherty, Conor. “The End of White Flight,” The Wall Street Journal, July 19, 2008.

6. Roberts Sam. “Minorities Often a Majority of the Population Under 20,” The New York Times, August 7, 2008.

7. PolicyLink, Inc. Promoting Regional Equity: A Framing Paper. Miami, FL: The Funder’s Network for Smart Growth, November, 2002.

8. Institute on Race and Poverty. The Racial Justice & Regional Equity Project. http://www1.umn.edu/irp/rjrewhatis.html.

9. Pastor, Manuel Jr., Dreier, Peter, Grigsby, Eugene J. III, and Lopez-Garza, Marta, Regions That Work: How Cities and Suburbs Can Grow Together. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000, p. 155.

10. PolicyLink, Inc. Promoting Regional Equity: A Framing Paper. Miami, FL: The Funder’s Network for Smart Growth, November, 2002, p. 7.

11. powell, john a. “Addressing Regional Dilemmas for Minority Communities,” in Bruce Katz, Reflections on Regionalism. Washington, D.C., Brookings Institution Press, 2000, pp. 232-236.

12. powell, john a. Racism and Metropolitan Dynamics: The Civil Rights Challenge of the 21st Century. Minneapolis: Institute on Race & Poverty, University of Minnesota, August 2002, p. 5.

13. Jargowsky, Paul. Poverty and Place: Ghettos, Barrios, and the American City. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1997, p. 193.

14. Pastor, Manuel Jr., et al. Regions That Work, p. 157.

15. Ibid., p. 3.

16. Wald, M.L. and Chang, K. “Minneapolis bridge had passed inspection,” The New York Times, August 3, 2007.

17. Patz, J.A., Kinney, P.L., Bell, M.L., Goldberg, R., Hogrefe, C., Khoury, S., Knowlton, K., Rosenthal, J., Rosenzweig, C., and Ziska, L. Heat Advisory: How Global Warming Causes More Bad Air Days. New York: NRDC, July 2004.

18. Bell, M.L., Goldberg, R., Hogrefe, C., Kinney, P.L., Knowlton, K., Lynn, B. Rosenthal, J., Rosenzweig, C., and Patz, J.A. “Climate change, ambient ozone, and health in 50 U.S. cities,” Climactic Change, 2007 Volume 82 pp. 61-76.

19. Ewing R. , Bartholomew, K., Winkelman, S., Walters, J., and Chen D. Growing Cooler: The Evidence on Urban Development and Climate Change. Washington, D.C.: Urban Land Institute, 2008. p. 2.

20. Earth Policy Institute. “Air Pollution Fatalities Now Exceed Traffic Deaths by 3 to 1.” September 17, 2002. Retrieved June 2, 2008, from www.earth-policy.org /Updates/Update17.htm.

21. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Asthma Prevalence, Health Care Use and Mortality 2000-2001.” Retrieved June 1, 2008, from www.cdc.gov /nchs/products/pubs/pubd/hestats/asthma/asthma.htm.

22. Abt Associates, Inc. “Adverse Health Effects Associated with Ozone in the Eastern United States.” Washington, D.C.: Clean Air Task Force, October 1999.

23. Center for Neighborhood Technology. 2004. Making the Case for Mixed-Income and Mixed-Use Communities, June 1.

24. Roberto E. Commuting to Opportunity: The Working Poor and Commuting in the United States. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program, February 2008.

25. Krauss, C. “Rural U.S. takes worst hit as gas tops $4 average,” The New York Times, June 9, 2008.

26. Krauss, C. “Gas prices send surge of riders to mass transit,” The New York Times, May 10, 2008.

Robert D. Bullard is the Ware Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Director of the Environmental Justice Resource Center at Clark Atlanta University. He is the editor of Growing Smarter: Acheiving Livable Communities, Environmental Justice, and Regional Equity, the first book in MIT’s Sustainable Metropolitan Communities series.


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Clean and Safe Ports: Building a Movement, Region by Region

On March 20, 2008, hundreds of people filled the hall at Bannings Landing in the Los Angeles port community of Wilmington to witness the Los Angeles Harbor Commission adopt a Clean Trucks Program to reduce air pollution at the Port of Los Angeles. The program’s goals were straight-forward: replace and retrofit approximately 16,000 trucks in order to meet the 2007 federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) emissions standards by 2012.

Once implemented, the Clean Trucks Program—which faces stiff opposition and pending lawsuits from industry—would require trucking companies which service the Port to hire truck drivers as employees rather than relying on independent truckers. With this model of doing business, the city hopes to reduce truck emissions, create a stable workforce, and set up mechanisms for community and government accountability.

It was a momentous event for members of the Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports whose two-year campaign was finally bearing fruit. While there had been earlier (unsuccessful) organizing campaigns to unionize the truckers, this Coalition took a broader approach: it harnessed more than 30 diverse groups to join the truckers and incorporated economic and public health benefits into the campaign to create a precedent-setting model of trucking at the Port of Los Angeles.

A Victory of Many Flavors

The victory also brought significant advances for each of the Coalition partners—many of whom had specific agendas. For labor, made up of several unions and immigrant labor groups and led by the Teamsters, the national Change to Win Coalition offered a significant victory over the exploitative trucking system that came into being with the deregulation of the industry in the 1980s. Under that system, independent truck drivers had to bear the burden of all maintenance and upkeep of the trucks—which cost over $100,000—along with Port fees, licensure, fuel and other costs of doing business at the Port. Truckers who currently own and operate their trucks and must compete individually for hauling jobs net less than $30,000 annually.[1] With the Clean Trucks Program and its employee concession model, labor has successfully put in place a system that shifts the cost of doing business at the Port from individual truckers to the firms that now employ them. Plus, truckers as employees now have the right to organize.

The Program was also an important victory for environmentalists and public health advocates. The South Coast Air Quality Management District has found that the combined ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach generate more than 20 percent of the diesel particulate that’s the largest pollutant in Southern California. For long-time advocates of clean air and public health, the campaign goal to reduce diesel exhaust—responsible for 70 percent of all airborne cancer risk—was a high priority. Cleaning up to 2007 federal standards by replacing and retrofitting old trucks represents a significant advance in air quality policy. For Coalition partners, such as the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Coalition for Clean Air, and the American Lung Association, the plan met important air quality and public health needs of Port communities.

In some ways, the campaign’s focus on labor on the one hand and clean air/quality-of-life issues on the other reflects an historic and place-based framework for environmental justice. Environmental Justice (EJ) organizations saw the issues facing truck drivers—many of whom are Latino immigrants from South Los Angeles, Wilmington, and Commerce—as deeply intertwined with the quality-of-life conditions in their neighborhoods, which are plagued by toxins in the air, water, and soil because of their proximity to industrial land.

Throughout the campaign, EJ coalition partners advocated for—and at times struggled with other coalition partners over—the need to protect their communities from the trucks and the further encroachment of Port industrial facilities into neighborhoods. The EJ definition of environment as “where we live, work, play, pray and go to school,” served as a framework to synthesize labor, environment, public health, and community issues for the campaign. The formation of the coalition and the campaign came as a natural extension of the organizing of community residents, many of whom were truckers. EJ organizers were able to engage with truckers on issues of home, family, and children and to rely on social networks rather than on labor unions and worker solidarity alone. It was a welcome new approach to many truckers soured by the unsuccessful organizing efforts of the past 27 years.

Defining Social Movement Regionalism

—an emerging form of regionalism that focuses on redefining regional development, developing regional scale coalitions, and reworking power to transform the way the economy works.[2] It’s a movement led by coalitions of diverse groups functioning at the regional, state, and national levels.

For EJ groups, shifting scales from neighborhoods to regions made practical political sense: The air quality and health issues facing Wilmington, a community adjacent to the Port of Los Angeles, were shared by communities all along the goods movement corridors of the 710 Freeway, the Alameda Corridor Rail Project, and the rail lines that converge in the City of Commerce before heading East along three rail routes towards Riverside and San Bernardino.

The Ditching Dirty Diesel Collaborative in Oakland takes a similar approach of developing a regionwide strategy to reduce diesel emissions in the San Francisco Bay Area. In the Central Valley of California, groups work through existing organizations and coalitions, such as the Fresno Metro Ministries, to address the impact of increased air pollution along the rail and highway corridors of Fresno and Modesto. In San Diego, the Environmental Health Coalition has begun to focus on the impact of expanded port operations and the proposed new port complexes in Baja California, Mexico. These coalitions and collaboratives are now showing signs of scaling beyond neighborhoods to regions, and on to state and national levels in order to build power, policy, and influence in the ports, trade, and goods movement debates.

Scaling Regional Equity to National Equity

In December 2007, The Impact Project organized a primarily community-based conference that drew more than 550 participants from 16 states and four countries interested in learning more about taking action to reduce the impacts of goods movement in their respective communities. At the request of conference participants, The Impact Project[3] has undertaken the important task of building a national network to facilitate the sharing of information and strategies

Earlier this year, PolicyLink, a national policy advocacy and research institute based in Oakland, California, sponsored its third Regional Equity Summit in New Orleans, Louisiana. More than 2,000 people came together to discuss regional approaches to addressing persistent inequities within America’s cities and regions. A panel entitled, “America’s Gateways: Building a Progressive Ports Agenda,” which looked at the impact of trade on regional economies, community health, and the environment was the first such discussion at a national summit and featured perspectives from Oakland, Los Angeles/Long Beach, and South Carolina. The audience, most with deep roots in environmental justice organizing, expressed growing concern about ports and goods movement in Cancer Alley, Mississippi as well as in New York and New Jersey.

In July 2008, the national Change to Win Coalition hosted a summit focused on identifying strategies and opportunities for advancing clean trucks programs across the nation. Following the lead of the Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports in Los Angeles, leaders from labor, environmental, EJ, and community organizations from Seattle/Tacoma, New York/New Jersey, and Oakland committed to sharing resources and lessons learned.

The number and diversity of the attendees and the scale of their participation in the three events suggest that discussions, debates, and community/region-based movements are reaching a national scale. The scaling up of strategies and goals that reflect regional power illustrate the core tenets of social movement regionalism: a redefinition of what Port operations and growth should look like and a recognition that coalition approaches are critical to bringing together divergent interests, and harnessing the power of labor, environmental, public health, EJ, faith, and community groups in the common pursuit of good jobs and clean air.Ports and Goods Movement: An Infrastructure for Social Movement Regionalism. In August 2008, East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice won its lawsuit against the City of Bell for violating the Cailfornia Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) when it leased land to BNSF Railway for an intermodal operation without an environmental review. The ruling represents a significant win for communities that have organized for years around the local impacts of rail traffic and provides an important legal tool for other communities seeking to enforce compliance with existing CEQA law. This is the stuff that good EJ and labor organizing is made of—mobilizing and empowering local members to build an organization that is able to use legal and planning tools to lift up and magnify local voices into a social justice movement and a campaign win that is larger than itself. The campaign and policy success of the Clean Trucks Program reflects an emerging movement, a social justice regionalism that builds on earlier movements but pays explicit attention to the region as an important analytical frame and scale for strategies and policy solutions. By redefining the terms of the debate, by engaging in coalitions, and building power (in the face of tremendous odds), Port and goods movement campaigns fuel social movement regionalism and advance the potential for new regional economic development, just community development, and the advancement of progressive national politics.


1. Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports. www.laane.org. See also “Sweatshops on Wheels: Union-Community Coalition Takes Aim at Port Trucking” by Doug Bloch. Race Poverty & the Environment, Vol 14-1 Spring 2007

2. For a full discussion of regionalism and its variants see: Pastor, Manuel, Benner, Chris, and Matsuoka, Martha. This Could Be The Start of Something Big: How Social Movements for Regional Equity are Reshaping Metropolitan America, Cornell University Press, forthcoming.

3. See www.TheImpactProject.org

Martha Matsuoka is an assistant professor in the Urban and Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College in southern California. In the 1990s she was the director of Urban Habitat’s Economic Conversion Project.

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The Clean Trucks Program and the campaign leading up to it represent key elements in what has become known as 'social movement regionalism.'

Breaking Through to Regional Equity

A new civil rights movement is emerging in communities throughout the United States. It presents a vibrant vision and voice in contrast to the usual story of urban sprawl and concentrated poverty. Through bold regional organizing and advocacy efforts and innovative partnerships and policy reforms, new alliances are creating working models of metropolitan regional equity in inner cities, suburbs, and rural areas across the nation.

Too often, low-income residents and communities of color are saddled with polluting facilities that contaminate air, land, and water. These communities typically lack access to grocery stores, libraries, parks, banks, and vibrant public spaces. Most have no living-wage jobs near where they live, and often no transit options that would make employment elsewhere in the region a viable option. This skew in distribution of resources and opportunity can be attributed in part to spatial racism—policies that reinforce inequitable structures even when individual attitudes of prejudicial behavior may have shifted.

Because the dynamics that create poverty in our urban cores are regional in scope, solutions must take into account the region as a whole. Even when extensive resources are directed to lifting a pocket of concentrated poverty, this action alone will not solve the problems. In today’s fragmented geographic and political landscapes, multi-sector coalitions are working to ensure that all communities in the metropolitan region can participate in and benefit from their region’s economic growth and activity. Groundbreaking practices and strategies are transforming policies that affect housing, jobs, land use, and transportation.[1]

Public policies have reinforced, and in some cases caused, racial segregation and neighborhoods of concentrated poverty in America’s cities and suburbs.[2] Increasing fragmentation of municipal governments within metropolitan regions has contributed to the development of opportunity-rich areas whose residents wall themselves off from the rest of the region.[3] This separation leads to vast disparities in housing, schools, tax bases, transportation, and wealth between inner cities and suburbs.

Moving toward equity requires a deeper understanding of the disparities that unravel our social fabric. The isolation of those residing in America’s hollowed-out urban cores, as well as the social costs of sprawl, are exacerbated by outmoded policies that need to be reexamined. Public policies that result in racial segregation and isolation are also responsible for haphazard low-density development, duplication of public services in the suburbs, traffic congestion, destruction of critical habitat, squandering of energy, and related air and water pollution.[4]

Through the lens of regional equity, the jurisdictional geographic focus of metropolitan planning expands the definition of “urban” to include not only the inner core of a city but also its surrounding suburbs and rural areas. From this regional perspective of concentric and interdependent rings it becomes apparent that the problems of sprawl, vacant properties, and lack of affordable housing are all interrelated, as are their solutions.[5]

The Quest for Sustainability

If the quest for sustainability is to be a genuine force for metropolitan transformation, then social equity and the struggle for racial justice must be integral to the concept. Building on the work of social scientists Julian Agyeman, Robert Bullard, and others, we call this the quest for just sustainability.[6]

This quest has far-reaching consequences. When taken seriously, it sparks a new dialogue among environmental and racial justice advocates and strategic thinking about how shared objectives might be realized. Secondly, it promotes a re-examination of the concept of “smart growth” to ensure that projects receiving wide public acceptance incorporate social equity, as well as environmental goals. Thirdly, it lays the groundwork for explicit performance standards for “equitable development,” to be adopted by the development industry and embraced by the general public. Finally, this work at the metropolitan level in the United States should create a road map for regional equity including short range and longer term strategies, indicators, and policies.

Sustainable communities are often defined by the three “E”s: economic prosperity, environmental soundness, and (social) equity.[7] Twenty-first century metropolitan regions need to take all three forces into account as they plan for the future. While the economy was the historic driver of urban planning, the second half of the 20th century saw the rise of “green planning”—preserving parks, wetlands, and open space. The ecological conditions that support life have come to be acknowledged and valued as part of the economic competitiveness and social desirability of a region.

Environmental organizations in industrialized countries have often misinterpreted sustainability, ignoring social equity.8 The 1987 report of the World Commission on Environment and Development, Our Common Future, explicitly refers to reducing poverty and inequality as central to sustainable development.

To highlight the importance of equity, Agyeman coined the term “just sustainability,” defined as “the need to ensure a better quality of life for all, now and into the future, in a just and equitable manner, while living within the limits of supporting ecosystems9.” A viable and sustainable economic future calls for healing the land, maintaining or restoring its vitality, and dismantling our toxic legacies.[10]

Achieving Equity at the Regional Level

Addressing concentrated poverty in the United States in the 21st century requires a shift in geographic consciousness among advocates of fairness, opportunity, and full participation of disadvantaged populations.[11] The 20th century perspective of the city as a compact urban space within municipal boundaries is no longer adequate. Formerly, poverty was isolated in a few African American inner city neighborhoods, and in rural areas like Appalachia. Although poverty persists in many urban and rural neighborhoods, a study of 15 metro regions by the Institute on Race and Poverty found that by 2000, roughly half of the African American population and more than 60 percent of Latinos lived in financially stressed suburban areas. Immigrants arriving in the United States in the early 20th century typically settled in inner city enclaves. In the 21st century, many immigrant populations are bypassing older cities altogether and moving directly to the suburbs, where poverty is now spreading. As David Rusk points out in his influential book Cities without Suburbs, “the city is now the region.”

To be effective, organizers must come to terms with this new metropolitan landscape. The goal of regional equity is to reform those policies and practices that create and sustain social, racial, economic, and environmental inequalities among cities, suburbs, and rural areas—and to integrate marginalized people and places into the region’s structures of social and economic opportunity.

Substantial spatial separation—enforced by policy—continues to divide humans across racial and economic lines; however, the biological reality is that we are all part of an interconnected living system. While “across the highway” has replaced “across the tracks,” the myths that foster separation persist, inscribed in the architecture and design of our cities. A metropolitan regional perspective enables us to acknowledge the reality of differentiation and subsystems, while also seeing the wholeness of the living system. Linking these interdependent geographic rings, thereby challenging spatial divisions by race and class, has proven to be a powerful regional equity strategy.[12] The quest for regional equity links economically isolated and racially segregated residents with opportunity structures throughout their region, revitalizing inner city and suburban neighborhoods and urban markets—the assets and key building blocks of a healthy region.

Building Community in the 21st Century

We tend to think of building new neighborhoods or rebuilding older ones as constructing buildings, planting trees, paving sidewalks, and engaging in other activities to improve the physical appearance of an area. But building a community should be, first and foremost, a social activity based on restoring trust, solidarity, confidence, and faith in the capacity of individuals and groups to implement change. This requires healing the scars of internalized racism, separatism, cynicism, and resignation. It also means restoring awareness of the relationship between human communities and the life support system of the planet upon which they depend.

Events of the final four decades of the 20th century undermined the sense of social cohesion among large sections of the American population. Although the civil rights movement challenged the legacy of racism embedded in United States history, it also stimulated a national backlash and a retreat from engagement followed by an overemphasis on individualism, reinforced by consumerism.

In the opening decade of the 21st century, social movements play an increasingly visible and important role in building and rebuilding a sense of community in America’s cities, suburbs, and rural areas. Given the disruptions of the global economy, and the technological transformations of the information age, social movements often provide the basis for new forms of identity.[13] Neighborhoods, groups, and communities, building on their ethnic, class, or territorial awareness, come together to fight their common opponents: big-box industries like Wal-Mart, toxic dumping, and other issues affecting survival and local quality of life. Now, groups that previously forged a shared identity through saying “no” are building new regional power alliances and creating proactive, positive alternatives for the future.

The regional equity movement creates remarkable new opportunities for community building among an astonishing range of metropolitan social justice actors: environmentalists, labor and blue-collar organizers, clergy, civil rights advocates, community organizers, immigrant activists, and African Americans. This burgeoning movement demonstrates a community-building process in which participants respond to an imminent threat, build organizational and leadership capacity, acquire zoning and litigation tools, and engage in a community visioning process, thus acting to produce positive assets for the region as a whole. It is building a new context for multiracial, multiclass, and gender-balanced leadership for a practical vision that may well prove attractive, even essential, to established metropolitan elites and decision makers.


1. Bullard, Robert, ed. Growing Smarter: Achieving Livable Communities, Environmental Justice and Regional Equity, Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2007;

Blackwell, Angela Glover, and Fox, Rhadika K. “Regional Equity and Smart Growth: Opportunities for Advancing Social and Economic Justice in America” in Remaking American Communities: A Reference Guide of Urban Sprawl, Soule, David C. ed., Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2007;

Pastor, Manuel Jr., Benner, Chris and Rosner, Rachel. Edging Toward Equity, Santa Cruz, CA: Center for Community, Justice, and Tolerance, 2006.

2. Jargowsky, Paul A. and Steiner, Rudolf. Poverty and Place, Ghettos, Barrios, and the American City, New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1997;

Massey, Douglas S. and Denton, Nancy . American Apartheid, Segregation and the Making of the Underclass, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998.

3. Pastor et al., Edging Toward Equity, 2006.

4. Wolch, Jennifer R., Pastor, Manuel Jr., and Dreier, Peter, eds. Up Against the Sprawl: Public Policy and the Making of Southern California, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004.

5. Katz, Bruce, ed. Reflections on Regionalism. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2000.

6. Agyeman, Julian. Sustainable Communities and the Challenge of Environmental Justice, New York: New York University Press, 2005;

Agyeman, Julian, Bullard, Robert D. and Evans, Bob. Just Sustainabilities: Development in an Unequal World, Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2003;

Bullard, Robert. Growing Smarter, 2007.

7. Wheeler, Stephen M., and Beatley, Timothy. The Sustainable Urban Development Reader, Oxford: Routledge, 2004.

8. Ibid.

9. Agyeman, Sustainable Communities and the Challenge of Environmental Justice, 2005.

10. Bullard, Robert D., ed. The Quest For Environmental Justice: Human Rights and the Politics of Pollution, San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 2005.

11. Anthony, Carl. “Race, Poverty and the Human Metropolis in The Humane Metropolis” in People and Nature in the Twenty-first Century, Rutherford H. Platt, ed., Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2006.

12. Orfield, Myron. American Metropolitics: The New Suburban Reality, Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2002.

13. Buechler, Steven M. Social Movements in Advanced Capitalism: The Political Economy and Cultural Construction of Social Activism, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000;

Castells, Manuel. The Power of Identity, 2nd ed., Oxford and Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers, 2003.

M. Paloma Pavel, is founder and president of Earth House Center in Oakland, California. This article is adapted from Breakthrough Communities: Sustainability and Justice in the Next American Metropolis edited by M. Paloma Pavel, to be published in June 2009 by The MIT Press. © 2009 Massachusetts Institute of Technology. All rights reserved. (For more information on the book.)

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Regional Equity Goes National

A half-dozen leaders in the regional equity movement join an intergenerational conversation with movement elder Carl Anthony on the prospects for national change.


  • Carl Anthony, Co-Founder, Earth House Leadership Center, Urban Habitat, Oakland
  • Juliet Ellis, Executive Director, Urban Habitat, Oakland
  • Nathaniel Smith, Director, Partnerships & Research for Equitable Development, Emory University, Atlanta
  • Cecil Corbin-Mark, Director of Programs, We Act for Environmental Justice, New York
  • Leslie Moody, Executive Director, Partnership for Working Families, Denver
  • Dwayne Marsh, Director for Policy Engagement, Policy Link

Jesse Clarke: Can you situate the movement for regional equity in a historical context? What came before, and how do these different movements relate to one another?

Carl Anthony: We all have a rather short memory, but most of the social movements that we think of today as being defining movements of our time actually have roots that go way back to the 17th and 18th centuries, or even the 16th century, with the European expansion. The ones that are most familiar, the Civil Rights Movement and the abolitionists’ movement had their beginnings with the struggle against slavery. The Labor Movement had its beginnings in England in the Industrial Revolution which followed from the colonization of the New World.

The Women’s Movement also had groundings in those days when the families were broken up in order to provide for manpower for the Industrial Revolution. The indigenous people’s movements and most of the anti-colonization movements around the world go back to that time. Even the environmental movement goes back to the colonization of islands in the New World where people could see the devastation based upon the exploitation of natural resources.

We are actually in an inter-generational struggle that goes back quite a long time. When the Civil Rights Movement came to its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s, it was a movement about human rights, but it was also a movement about spatial geography. That’s a concept with which most people may not be very familiar; but we had a whole region of the country in the South where African Americans were being terrorized. It was a place where it was embodied in law that black people could be lynched, that they had no voting rights. They couldn’t even go and buy a cheeseburger at a five-and-dime. Participation of blacks in the commercial and civic culture was off limits. So, even as African Americans struggled in that space for inclusion into daily life, similar struggles in a different space but from the same origin were taking place in the North.

As the migration of African Americans came into the cities, the spatial context of the struggle changed, and a lot of the struggles then became grounded in urban neighborhoods. This context of struggles for neighborhoods took on a very powerful meaning in the 1960s. It was built upon not only the history of African American displacement, but also on the struggles of other immigrant groups to participate in the United States on an equal footing.

The struggle for black power and the culmination of that movement for equality in both the South and the North resulted in the new electoral politics of the 1970s. Almost every major city in the United States went through a process of trying to accommodate the struggle, the insurgency, of African Americans. African American mayors and members of City Councils were elected in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New Orleans, Raleigh, and most other big cities.

Simultaneously, with the emergence of African American leadership within the cities, the white population left—they actually left and they took the resources with them. So we had a huge fiscal crisis in every city across the country and African American mayors and leadership were left coping with diminished fiscal capacity and rising social needs. 

So, as we talk about regionalism, we need to really understand that, in some ways, this is not really new, it’s actually an old struggle. There are a number of conditions that have made it possible for this to become a battleground at the end of the first decade in the 21st century. And I’ll just mention several key influences.

Rise of Environmentalism: First is the rise of the environmental movement, which produced a public questioning of life in the suburbs as being the optimal quality of life for everyone. During the 1950s and 1960s, the suburbs were thought of as being the best possible way of life.

Suburban Decline: The second really important influence was the recognition that all suburbs are not the same, and Myron Orfield’s groundbreaking work with Metropolitics actually demonstrated that some of the suburban places are getting the shaft in the current pattern of metropolitan development so that they’re receiving a lot of the same problems that the old inner cities used to realize.

Globalization: The third influence has been globalization. The structure of our metropolitan regions have been changed radically in the last 20 years because of globalization.

Demographics: In addition, there are two more points that I want to mention and maybe open it up for conversation. There has been a big demographic change. The quality and character of individual families changed in the last 30 years. The “single person” and “single head of house­hold” are the dominant household types in the United States—the“Ozzie and Harriet” lifestyle is certainly not predominant.

Migrants from all over the world, particularly from Latin America and the Asian Pacific islands, have become a very important political force. And finally, the African American community is finding itself in the middle of a dilemma because it is actually being undermined by the success of a relatively small fraction of people who have achieved middle class status as a result of the 1960s.

A class divide is opening up within the African American communities. While some people are managing to get over to the middle class, tthe bottom third of the population is actually worse off than they were in the 1960s.

So, as the African American middle class moves up, they also are moving out. We now have 60 percent of the Asian American population, 50 percent of the Latino population, and 40 percent of the African American middle class population living in the suburbs. This is quite a different picture than it was in the 1960s and 1970s.

Lastly, the mortgage crisis that has really come to a head in the last couple of years, has demonstrated that the old idea of metropolitan development is dead. The struggle for regional equity will be a struggle whereby the middle class people who have now moved into the suburbs join together with those in the inner city to create a new reality for our metropolitan regions.

Jesse Clarke: Carl Anthony has laid out the trajectory of the social movements which came together under the regional equity banner. (See preceding Carl Anthony interview excerpt.) That naturally leads into the question, how do you differentiate between the regional equity movement and other civil rights and social justice movements that have similar objectives or similar demographic bases?

Dwayne Marsh: Policy Link came to this frame both because its leadership was committed to the idea but also because it came from the ground up. There was an early gathering of about 30 or so people doing work in what we then called “community-based regionalism.” In that conversation, there was a clarity of understanding that you can’t make lasting neighborhood change without at least a regional analysis, if not a regional strategy for moving power. The reason our own tri-annual gathering of regional equity advocates has tripled in size is people are finding practical usefulness in this kind of real-world theoretical framework.
The principles that drive a regional equity analysis cannot be easily stretched into something that doesn’t consider the interests of working class, low-income people of color. One can contrast that with “ Smart Growth” as a frame. People looked at Smart Growth and agreed with some of the principles, but felt like too often, at the end of the day, no benefits accrue to their constituencies.

Nathaniel Smith: To go back to what Carl’s piece addresses, we need to understand that this movement is not an independent movement unto itself but a continuation of a broader, longer, movement for social justice in our country and in our world. The regional equity framework allows individuals to get together who may not have thought of being under the same tent. It gives them the opportunity to find that common thread that binds us together as human beings.

If you go back to one of King’s last speeches at the National Cathedral, “Remaining Awake in a Great Revolution,” one of his great quotes is: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”
What he’s talking about is how we’re all connected as individuals. What he’s talking about is regional equity. And what we need to do is to build upon that great quote and move forward in really promoting social justice in our broader community.

Juliet Ellis: I really appreciate Nathaniel’s comments highlighting interconnectedness because in doing the work in the Bay Area we hear again and again that one of the reasons people want to be part of the effort is the understanding that we’re stronger when we work together. Our fights are similar and there is synergy in us working together for the real solutions.

The beauty around the joint equity work in comparison to other movements that are out there is the fact that the regional equity agenda is explicitly about equity. Not just smarter growth, not just greener jobs, but equitable participation for low-income people and communities of color. The tent is big enough but it’s explicit enough. So unlike the kind of coalition work where Urban Habitat is alone in advocating for the equity part of the equation, our regional equity work is an easy natural fit.

Carl Anthony: I think one of the other wonderful things we’re experiencing in the Unites States (and you see this in the Presidential contest), we’re welcoming a new generation that is saying not only can we represent the communities that we come from, but we can provide leadership for everybody. 

Dwayne Marsh: I think that’s so right, and this concept that we are all interconnected and intertwined leads to the realization that we are mutually vulnerable: the vulnerability of one is the vulnerability of all. And this is an idea that resonates as a true American ideal. Ultimately, it’s the same premise as the New Deal, which became a signature piece of American political thought: the security of one is tied to the security of all.
Unfortunately, for the last decade, and even longer, urban centers have been subject to an assault. Our urban centers weren’t seen as interconnected to the place where “white flight” took flight to. There was a refusal to recognize that there is a direct connection between what’s going on in the urban environments, and the suburban ones.

I think that once again it’s becoming very clear to people that we have to work together in larger, more diverse coalitions to build our power together. It’s also becoming clear that to build power together in a regional equity movement is to deal with transportation issues, with employment, with housing, and with the environment in a broader way than in the way just one person or one organization might be approaching it locally.

Jesse Clarke: So, what sort of power are you talking about building?

Leslie Moody: In Denver, we’re working in a number of major metropolitan areas on both, site-specific development campaigns to win community benefits agreements and on larger community benefits policies and principles in cities. We’re seeing the incredibly transformative nature of the regional equity movement: people moving from isolation (sometimes connected to a community organization or a union or a church, but feeling like they have no access to power) and then, through this work, realizing that they not only can access power, but that they have the power to govern.

The meaning of this political movement in the country right now, as well as the movement we’re seeing in cities, is really inspiring and exciting. Over the last eight years we have been subject to a concerted attack on the role of government in society and the power of government to hold corporations accountable and to hold communities to a high standard. There had been a sense that progressive governance was removed as a possibility. Now we’re seeing the revitalization of a progressive vision of what our cities can be, the power of government to raise the floor, level the playing field and create opportunity, whether it’s through the education system or through housing opportunities or job opportunities, and people ready to actually jump up and govern. 

And so, I think there’s a moment when you pull enough groups together who have been isolated and competing for resources and frustrated long enough that we can all start saying, “Wait a minute. We have a vision. We share this vision. And if we combine our resources, our membership bases are able to actually think about how power is structured in our region. We will be the folks, we will be the people who can decide the future of our cities and our regions.”

Jesse Clarke: In terms of the political power of governance, how do you think the current situation compares to the situation in the 1970s when African American mayors and city councils took power and then found that the treasury was bare and the political power that they were exercising was the power to administer scarcity, the power to withdraw investment, the power to ration social services and healthcare? When you look at the social institutions like unions and other movements like the Civil Rights Movement that held economic power outside the electoral system, how do you see regional equity building that kind of autonomous power that’s not dependent on elected officials’ transitory power?

Leslie Moody: When you get right down to it, unions have an economic power that is really unmatched in a lot of the other organizing that we see. (And these 100-year-old labor institutions are going through their own challenging restructuring.) Unions have the power to bargain a contract, to improve your job, your wages, and your working conditions. It gives people a real sense of security despite the overwhelming economic power of developers and large corporations. In addition to conventional union organizing, we need to figure out what real economic power resides in our families, neighborhoods, and communities.

Carl Anthony: Our social and economic institutions go through phases of being powerful and dormant, but take a 50-year perspective. When Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks started organizing in Montgomery, everyone thought that the South was dead. But the churches, historically black colleges, and even the elected folks lined up behind this new agenda. Our unions are going through really huge problems, but they’re also bringing in new assets, such as the new immigrant labor force. We’re beginning to see the value of having these institutions that have had some challenging history but also have some sound operating principles that we will need to get us through the next stage.

When we talk about social movements capable of autonomous political action, we’re talking not only about labor, the environmental movement, the environmental justice movement, or the Civil Rights Movement; we’re also talking about all of the other people of color movements, all of the social movements for progressive social change. They have an opportunity to come together and govern. We’re moving into a position where we can posit what we do want and what we can make happen.

In 1961, no one thought that when those four students went in to ask for a hamburger that it would have the transformation value that it had. They thought it was about a hamburger. It was not about a hamburger. It was about transforming American society and we see the fruits of that in the electoral process for the presidency of the United States. But we haven’t seen anything yet. We realize that Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton are only two of thousands and thousands of people who have this capacity to stand up and really demand the changes that we need. We’re at the beginning of something that could be quite powerful and transformative.

Nathaniel Smith: When you look back at Dr. King, Rosa Parks, Dr. Abernathy, Dr. Larry and other people that began the civil rights movement in Alabama, there are some lessons that can be learned about how to sustain that spark. We’ve learned that you need to get beyond the technical explanation of regional equity and focus on developing a common language. We’ve learned that you need to get everyday people to understand their stake. We learned that we need to tell neighborhood-based and grassroots stories around regional equity, and keep those close to our hearts.

Just as in the civil rights movements, its not just specific issues, tactics, or even strategies that will hold us together over the long term. It’s the common language, the values, the stories, the passion, that we have for social justice, that will keep us together during the work that we have ahead of us.

Jesse Clarke: Are these regional equity organizations ready to start collaborating on a national agenda? What are some of the key elements that agenda would have regardless of who’s in office in the federal government? What are the political and social objectives of the movement that need to be knit together to create a common national platform?

Carl Anthony: The bad news right now is that there’s no regional government in this country. The good news is that there’s no regional government in this country. We will need to develop and sustain the capacity of our folks coming from the bottom up, from the grassroots up, to mobilize their own neighborhoods and their own communities and their own labor unions and their own educational campaigns. But then to move beyond their originating base to enlist the folks from the inner-ring older suburbs and with the white working class.

We can now see the possibility of connecting the progressive elements of the environmental movement to the working class, with issues like green collar jobs and the green economy. We can do it in a way, as Nathaniel pointed out, that the average person in the community can understand—what’s in it for their children and their grandchildren and their neighbors.

To some extent, we also need to consolidate. There are several hundred regions around the country. But if we’re able to build strong organizations in just a dozen of those regions, that would have a huge catalytic impact on national politics.

Cecil Corbin-Marks: I don’t think that the agenda coming out of the regional equity movement is going to be focused on a unitary platform. It’s not an agenda around a set of core issues because the issues play out in fundamentally different ways regionally. Furthermore, when it comes to coalition building, it’s easy for the status quo forces to pick people off around issues.

There have to be different agendas on a variety of different levels to achieve particular types of outcomes. Policy and planning processes; participation in political campaigns and the elections; pressure on appointments and making sure that key decision-makers are put in key positions—each will need to be aproached based on the particulars.

The question is not “What agenda can we unite around?” but “What are the values around which we shape an agenda that can lead us to a common place?”

Leslie Moody: I agree. I don’t think that a focus on narrow issues is the way to go. We need to focus on shared principles across a broad spectrum of issues: on standards of employment; on requirements for public participation in decision-making; and on equity in financing. As we look at potentially huge federal investments in infrastructure, transportation, housing, the green economy, we need to agree on standards that will control how these dollars devolve to the state and city level. When that money comes in, we want a voice about how it’s going to be spent. We want to be able to screen the employers and consultants that are bidding on that to make sure they’re doing local hiring, creating high-wage jobs and real career opportunities. What are the things that we demand, no matter what the issue or the funding stream?

Dwayne Marsh: If we’re going to do real mass mobilization, we have to move beyond the tens of thousands who have been touched by the work of community based organizations, to the millions of people who need to be. It’s a battle for the uncommitted part of this country and we have to look for issue opportunities to do that.

Juliet Ellis: What’s great about the regional equity frame is that it allows us to be able to talk about issues in a really comprehensive way. So I worry less around issues being picked off in that “divide and conquer” process that we’ve experienced in the past.

Organizations like Urban Habitat are talking about education, transportation, and housing as a comprehensive story. So I say, yes, there is the opportunity for us to get on the same page and articulate our shared values and shared principles around participation, winning electoral power, and so on. But there’s also a real hunger to figure out how to actually move these issues on the ground locally. How do we share strategies, so that we’re not reinventing the wheel every single time. What is working in Denver that we could actually apply to what we’re trying to do here in the Bay Area?

Carl Anthony: I just want to add one other part. On the capacity question: for many, many years, most of us have been operating with one or two percent of our capacity because we’ve been spending a huge amount of energy just trying to cut through all of these different overlays and frames. What this particular movement allows us to do is look more holistically. And that has a potential of liberating capacity.

We haven’t talked much in this conversation today about the prison system, and how many people are actually being wasted by sitting there, and how do we liberate that potential, not only to disrupt the systems that are wrong but also to begin to create the kinds of systems that we really need?

The country is longing for vision and the grassroots mobilizations coming up from communities of color are extremely inspiring. It’s an inclusive approach that includes everybody and anybody who is progressive, who has something to contribute. The capacity question is very much linked to having a faith in ourselves to mobilize the people of the emerging generation toward a new vision of the whole society.  

Race and Regionalsm | Vol. 15, No. 1 | Fall 2008 | Credits

Recording of the roundtable interview "Regional Equity Goes National"

Listen to a recording of the roundtable interview Regional Equity Goes National".  Or view the edited article.
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Speaking of Race

Speaking of Race

“We’re in This Together” An interview with Danny Glover

2008 marks the 40th anniversary of the struggle to institute Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State. What do you see as some of the similarities between your work then and your current efforts to get African American history represented in films?

Danny Glover: I was a student and an activist in the Black Student Union (BSU) at San Francisco State in the mid-60’s. We were doing a lot of outreach into the community—tutorial programs with students who were not doing well in public schools, and trying very hard to make what we were learning in college relevant to the issues and problems confronting our communities. We were also engaged in protests on campus and raising issues around race and racism and the need for greater inclusion on campus.

When Imamu Baraka (Leroi Jones) came out to San Francisco as part of the Black Arts movement, he needed somebody to act in one of his plays. He challenged us by saying something to the effect of “Can any of you so-called revolutionaries act?” Since nobody else seemed willing to take the challenge, I timidly stepped up. So my introduction to acting was as a social medium. As my work progressed, I came to see activism and art as integrally linked.

As a student, I, along with a group of other young people from various backgrounds, ethnicities, and experiences, was involved in bringing together what would become a powerful movement for transformation and change. The coalition at that time was very broad: visionary and progressive white students involved in organizations like Students for a Democratic Society, black students from the Black Student Union, Hispanic students from La Raza, and The Third World Liberation Front.

The successful struggle for these programs resulted in the longest strike on a college campus in United States history. We were committed to creating a larger sense of democratic possibility in which everybody’s voice, culture, and history was honored and valued equally. As a diverse community, as a diverse group of students, we were trying to learn about the world and how and where we fit individually and collectively. In attempting to do that we kept running into these institutionally constructed divides—that privilege some realities and marginalized others.

It was a hard-fought struggle that would forever alter the educational landscape in the United States. It resulted in the creation of the first black studies program and the first College of Ethnic Studies in the country. Forty years later, it remains the only College of Ethnic Studies in the country.

We came together and we struggled together to create something that did not previously exist. The campus was closed down for several months as we organized to challenge the fundamental assumptions of the educational model that we were being required and forced to participate in. One of our most important demands, which sometimes gets lost, was to increase community access to education—particularly greater access for students from underserved communities. So, in addition to the content of the education that we were receiving we were also attempting to create a much more level playing field in terms of access. Who is allowed the privilege of participating? Whose stories? Whose voices? Whose vision? Whose interests?

And as you know, in the work that you do at Urban Habitat, those issues are as relevant today as they were then—perhaps even more so.

One other thing about how and why I got involved, even before I got to college. I remember seeing images of young people who were not that much older than me being beaten at lunch counters. Their dedication, their courage, their heroism in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles made an enormous impression on me.

Q. And how do you see all of this related to your current work in film?

Glover: For me—as you can imagine— it’s extremely related. For me, the personal and the political don’t represent separate realities. Who I am as a human rights activist is as important to me as who I am as an artist. Perhaps other people are able to separate those realities and those roles, but I’m not able to. I have difficulty with being described as an activist. What I strive for is to be a better citizen. And my definition of citizenship isn’t limited to the geographic confines of the United States. Whether we like it or not, the earth is our collective home and I believe that our responsibilities as citizens (whatever country we happen to reside in or whichever block our house happens to be located on) is to protect and sustain (in whatever way we can) this small fragile blue planet that we call Home (with a capital H).

A lot of the work that I do as an actor and filmmaker is about grounding and affirming a broadly re-imagined and re-envisioned sense of what we mean when we say community. And within that space, what are the stories that need to be told?

The kinds of projects that I’m interested in spending time, energy, and money on (at critical junctures) are films that are beautifully executed, intelligently conceived, and more importantly, films that remind us of our connectedness as human beings. The geography might differ, the issues and themes might differ, but the underlying connectedness is what really matters. And at this point, for me, much of that work is collaborative. At Louverture Productions, for instance, we’re dedicated to collaborating with, mentoring, and supporting filmmakers from around the globe—including the United States.

The third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the devastation of New Orleans, also marks the release of a wonderful film that Joslyn Barnes and I are the executive producers of called, Trouble the Water. It’s an empowering film from the perspective of a young woman (and her husband) who basically became internal refugees after the levees broke. Kimberly and Scott Roberts, with a video camera they bought for $20, document their harrowing struggle for survival against both the natural elements and the government’s appalling ineptitude. But what starts out as a story of two people stuck in New Orleans riding out the storm because they didn’t have money to leave, quickly turns into a story of towering heroism as people join forces to help each other.

When the film premiered at Sundance, the audience stood and cheered. They recognized their own humanity and their own connectedness. They were able to see themselves and they were able to do that across the “divides” of race and class. That’s art that inspires.

Q. What can United States residents and particularly, African-Americans learn from Haitian history? Why are you making a movie about Touissaint L’Ouverture?

Glover: Bringing Touissaint and the Haitian Revolution to the screen is a dream that I’ve been working on for the last 20 years. Touissaint led the only successful slave rebellion in history and in the process defeated Napoleon’s army, as well as the imperial armies of Britain and Spain. It’s an amazing story in part because it rounds out what we know about the United States and French Revolutions. The United States revolution brought us the Declaration of Independence, the French, the Declaration of the Rights of Man.

The Haitian Revolution represents the third leg: universalizing these principles to all men—not just privileged, landed, wealthy men of European ancestry.

In terms of world historical movements and revolutions, it was actually the most important of the three because it extended the ideals enshrined in the American and French Revolutions. The Haitian Revolution successfully established a republic based on more broadly inclusive universal principles. Unfortunately, women were not part of any equation back then.

A critically important question for African-Americans is, “Why has this monumental achievement been so erased from our history and from our consciousness?” So, that for me is why it so important and has been such a passion.

What about a film like Bamako?

Glover: Bamako is, as you probably know, a film that graphically dramatizes how the IMF and the World Bank are actually exacerbating poverty in the developing world—rather than eliminating it. It’s also important because it represented an opportunity for us to collaborate with Abderrahmane Sissako, a Mauritanian filmmaker who is not only one of the most important filmmakers on the African continent but we believe, one of the most important filmmakers in the world.

The film is imaginative and exciting on so many levels, beginning with the setting. The action takes place in the courtyard of a walled house in Bamako—the capital of Mali. The courtyard—rife with chickens and goats, as well as the personal drama involving a couple on the verge of break-up—provides the backdrop for a very public drama aimed at putting the World Bank and the IMF on trial. It’s beautifully shot, culturally rich with a great deal of inspirational music. And in terms of story, again it’s inspirational and touching and powerfully transformative.

One last note, we recently released a feature documentary co-produced with the Marley family about the life of Bob Marley, Africa Unite, which focuses on issues related to African unity and youth empowerment, filmed in Ethiopia.

Well, I think you have a sense of where I am at this stage in both my creative and my personal journey—recognizing that we’re in this together, and it’s part of a powerful process of re-imagining the future and future possibilities. And that’s true whether we are trying to re-imagine the future of our cities or of our planet. It’s important that we each recognize that our voice matters and that our vision of hope and possibility is a critical piece of the puzzle.

Danny Glover has worked as an actor, producer and director in dozens of films and television shows. In addition to many other activist commitments, he is the chair of Trans Africa Forum and president of the Vanguard Foundation.

Race and Regionalsm | Vol. 15, No. 1 | Fall 2008 | Credits

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Is Integration Possible?

When we look at where we are in society on issues of race, regionalism, and segregation, sometimes it seems like we’re really going backwards. I want to talk about why I think that is so and how we can move forward.

In 2004, we commemorated the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education. In 2005, we commemorated Brown II. In Brown I, the Court condemned Jim Crow and called for moving towards integration, but then, before we got into the actual game plan, it said, “Let’s come back and talk about the remedy.” That was Brown II.

Brown I was a great inspiration but Brown II was a great mistake. Brown II was where we got the infamous and deathly slow “all deliberate speed.” In a more cynical perspective, I suggested Brown II was decided before Brown I; that in order to get a unanimous decision on Brown I, there was an agreement in court that there would not be implementation under Brown II. And there’s a lot in history to suggest that.

In the last few years, there have been dozens of books about Brown. If you read those books—and I think I’ve read all of them—most of them, at best, are very ambivalent about the idea of integration. Take What Brown Should Have Said, for example, a compilation of opinions by nine scholars. In it, Derick Bell, a profound thinker considered by many to be the father of critical race theory and the first African American tenured professor at Harvard Law School, says that Brown was wrongly decided and that Plessy was the right decision. Just think about this: an African American scholar who worked at the Legal Defense Fund is embracing segregation!

Segregation, whether imposed by others or self-imposed, can only be understood in the American context against the background of white supremacy. It cannot be understood as just a free-floating idea of individual choice. It is false symmetry to ask: “Why is it that when we have an all-white community we don’t say it’s segregated and needs to be fixed; yet, when we have an all-black community, we say there’s something wrong with that?”



Oftentimes, public discourse around segregation quickly turns into a discussion of choice. You can hear people say, “Well, you know, blacks and Latinos and Asians, they don’t even want to be integrated anymore—maybe they never did. People are self-segregating.” When Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas—not a great scholar or intellect, but a very powerful person, nevertheless—poses the question, “Isn’t it racist to say that black children have to go to school with white children to get an education?” he is, like many others, conflating black segregation with white segregation. So I want to just tease that out.

We did a study at the Institute on Race and Poverty where we looked for what we called “truly integrated schools.” You won’t be surprised to learn that we found no such school in the United States. We found a lot of schools that were desegregated. But most schools, in various forms, were segregated, or else, in various states of desegregation or resegregation. When I talk about truly integrated schools, I mean something quite profound; schools that do more than just put people together. I mean schools that integrate structures and norms. Mere desegregation and assimilation is not true integration.

When the powerful and the elite, say: “There’s something wrong with the racial other, so keep them away from us,” that’s segregation. When they say: “There’s something wrong with the racial other, we need to fix the other and make them more like us,” that’s assimilation. Both models are predicated on something being wrong with the “other.” But the second model often gets conflated with integration. So, it’s not surprising that black scholars—and black people in general—are truly repelled at both of the models. James Baldwin talked about this in an essay, “The Price of the Ticket,” where the title refers to the “cost” of becoming a member of white society. Baldwin concludes that the price is too high.

What segregation means, in addition to being separated by phenotype, language, or religion, is segregation from opportunity. Since Jim Crow and formal racial hierarchy have decreased, spatial racism has become the most important and functional way to distribute opportunity. So, when they talk about inner-suburbs, rather than inner-cities, you know that many of those suburbs are in trouble. Why? Not necessarily because white folks are leaving or blacks and Latinos are showing up, but because opportunity is leaving. We are structuring opportunity spatially so that certain populations do not have it.

We create suburbs and exurbs, and try to structure them in such a way that all of the tax capacity, all of the schools, all of the high-functioning children, all of the new development, all of the jobs, all of the transportation money, all of the parks, in short, everything we associate with opportunity and making a good life, are heavily concentrated or monopolized in these communities.

What’s the function of segregation? In what ways do we distribute opportunity? In her book, The Failures of Integration, Sheryll Cashin looks at Prince George’s county, Maryland just outside of Washington D.C., which has the highest concentration of wealthy African Americans in the country, and asks, “Is segregation working there?” Usually, when we talk about segregation of black people, we’re also talking about concentrated poverty. But Cashin decided to look at concentrated wealth among blacks and found that they are not doing so well either. I am not suggesting (and neither is she) that they are not doing well because they are black folks. Rather, I am suggesting that they are not doing well because of the way that the larger society distributes opportunity, even to an affluent black community.

Most of us—scholars, thinkers, academics—would agree that race is socially constructed, which suggests that racial hierarchy and racial disparities are also socially constructed. How? In part, through the distribution of space and opportunity. But there’s something even more profound to which we have not paid enough attention—that is the construction of race. I would suggest that segregation is part of the way that we distribute racial identity and bring meaning to racial identity. So, it’s not simply white folks over there and black folks over here, and how do we distribute goods and services to them? We are actually using this mechanism to distribute identity itself.

In a piece I wrote recently, I suggest that the creation of whiteness and white identity and the creation of the modern self occurred at the same time, and is really the same event, especially in the Anglo-American tradition. And what are the attributes of that modern self in the Anglo-American tradition? In his book, The European Dream, Jeremy Rifkin suggests that Hobbes, who may be considered a founder of the Anglo-American identity, looked out at the world, found it a scary place and set out to find a way to manage it. His solution was to accumulate power, accumulate private property, dominate and control the world and, to exclude the scary other. That exclusion, that domination, that scariness, is the Anglo-American white self.

Toni Morrison has said that after 300 years of being a racist society, we’ve looked at how racism and slavery have distorted and marred people of African descent, but we haven’t paid enough attention to how that process has marred and scarred people of European descent. What I want to suggest is that segregation hurts all of us, but it hurts us in different ways. What we really need to create is an alternative space for whiteness.

Let me close by just saying that when we talk about integration and segregation, it’s often something disturbing: the school may be integrated but the black kids are in the basement, while the white kids are upstairs in the AP classes; or the black kids are being ignored by their teachers in the integrated schools, so they are getting a worse education than they did in the segregated schools; or the black families are being pushed out of neighborhoods in transition. People look at these things and say, “Maybe integration isn’t such a good thing.” I want to clarify that this is not integration. And as long as we have racial hierarchy, we will continue to have segregation.

john a. powellis director of the Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in the Americas at Ohio State Uiversity and the Gregory H. Williams Chair in Civil Rights and Civil Liberties in the Moritz College of Law. This is an excerpt from a speech given at a University of Minnesota, Institute on Race and Poverty converence on race and regionalism in 2005.

Race and Regionalsm | Vol. 15, No. 1 | Fall 2008 | Credits

Pride and Prejudice

In the winter of 1981 or thereabouts, I was sitting on a box of bottled liquor in Lamar Dawkins’ package store in Orangeburg, South Carolina, talking with Mr. Dawkins about Strom Thurmond. Mr. Thurmond was much on our minds because of his recent announced opposition to renewal of the Voting Rights Act, and we were planning a series of protests across the state against the old unreconstructed segregationist and United States Senator.

I was trying to get a fix on Mr. Thurmond’s character for strategy purposes from Mr. Dawkins, who was a native South Carolinian and a longtime civil rights leader. Somewhere along the way he remarked that Mr. Thurmond, you know, had a black daughter.

Although this was years before the Essie Mae Washington revelations made the national news, I’d heard such stories about Mr. Thurmond before—heard, in fact, that he had several black half-brothers living in Aiken, on the Georgia border. But you always heard such stories about white Southern politicians—the more segregationist and anti-black the politician, the more outrageous the stories—but so far, despite all of my inquiries, no-one had ever provided more than speculation. Mr. Dawkins, however, was not one to speculate.

“How do you know Strom Thurmond had a black daughter?” I asked him.

“Because she used to board with us, when she went to South Carolina State,” he answered.

“How do you know it was Thurmond’s daughter?”

“Because he used to come and visit her.”

By that time, I had been working full-time in the African-American Freedom Movement for 15 years, most of them in the Deep South, some of them fighting directly against Strom Thurmond. I had been studying race and racism in America since my high school days. I had come of age on the West Coast watching Mr. Thurmond and other anti-black politicians on television rail against civil rights, accompanied by stories and images of the related torture deaths and church bombings and police beatings against demonstrators and black neighborhoods. My image of anti-black racism was one of white people who hated African-Americans, didn’t want us around them, and beat us or murdered us if we got too close. And yet, I went home that night after my conversation with Lamar Dawkins, marveling at how little I actually knew about the subject. Race and racism were far too complicated to be painted in black and white.

After Strom Thurmond died and Essie Mae Washington came forward with the revelation that she, indeed, was the African-American daughter who the Senator had fathered, most of the talk centered upon the scandalous shame of it—a man who hated “Black People” lying in bed with a black woman to produce a child. For my part, I always saw the other side as well, a white man who so loved his black daughter that he risked exposure—and political scorn and ridicule, possibly the loss of office and all the related power—to visit her during her college days.

I wonder, sometimes, what Thomas Jefferson actually felt when he looked across the grounds at Monticello and saw the children he had fathered through Sally Hemmings, the woman who he professed to “own” in chattel slavery. Did he feel shame at having laid down with a daughter of Africa, or pride of parentage, or some complicated combination of the two? For my part, I risk scorn and ridicule from my African-American brethren every time I bring this side of the issue up. As with all nations and all peoples, we like to serve our enemies up uncomplicated. It makes them easier to skewer.

“Great To Be A Negro”

But that is ever the contradiction of race in America, isn’t it? So integral a weaving inside the American fabric, race is the source of both our greatest shame and some of the things about us most to be admired. Race and racism. The two sometimes run together, like two parallel creeks, so close that sorting them out, and picking our way through the racial morass, is sometimes too difficult a task for the nation to take on. And so, too often, we simply let them flow and find their own way, to the good or the bad end, depending on their own whim.

Because of the nation’s soiled and sordid history surrounding race—slavery, the obliteration of the Native American nations, the lynchings, the burning of Chinese communities, and the sometimes-violent prejudice against Mexican immigrants—much of the progressive community often sees the issue as a problem to be ferreted out and obliterated.

But that ain’t necessarily so, as the old Porgy And Bess refrain used to go. Or, more properly, there is a different side of the racial equation to be considered.

In the early 60s, when it used to be the premier and highly-influential national African-American social and political photo-and-article magazine, Ebony used to run a center-spread editorial every month. Sometime in 1964, I remember them publishing a picture of a dark-skinned African-American man in a white shirt, sunshaded, smiling broadly into the camera (an intelligent, confident smile, not the old simpleton buck-and-wing toothy grin that used to be the staple of the minstrel shows), and, unaccountably, a white handkerchief draped across his head, as if he was out in the sun somewhere having a ball, and was trying to ward off the sun’s rays. The title of the accompanying editorial, set out in a bold headline, was “It’s Great To Be A Negro.” I remember nothing about the editorial, but I will never forget the picture or the headline. It was published in that period when African-Americans were still knee-deep in the pool of imposed black self-hatred flowing out of slavery times, and there were still people around who could remember when “coon, coon, coon, I wish my color would fade” was the refrain to a popular song (“coon” being one of the early disparaging acronyms for African-Americans).

The Ebony Magazine “Great To Be A Negro” photo-editorial presaged the Black Pride era that exploded in the mid-60s, capped by the great James Brown anthem, “Say It Loud, I’m Black And I’m Proud,” which reverberated in black communities across the country.

For many of my fellow African-Americans, that is what we think of—in part—when we think of “race,” a source of pride and comfort and safety and belonging. It is not an issue of being exclusionary, or even of being antagonistically competitive, but of being part of one of the many, sometimes intersecting, social and human circles that are the nature of human beings to construct. This summer, on the 4th of July we held our annual gathering of friends and family to eat barbecue and listen to good music and trade stories. Later, we held our semi-annual family reunion, to which friends were not invited. Does this mean we have abandoned our friends who are outside the family? Certainly not. It only means that this is simply a different circle of belonging.

“Thank God for the Niggers”

It is the same way, I believe, that most African-Americans—as well as most ethnic and racial minorities in the nation—view their membership in and association with their respective ethnic and racial groups.

Unfortunately, that is not always the case with the majority white population and that, it seems, is one of the major sources of the, sometimes bitter, conflict swirling around race and racism in America.

Too often, white pride is not connected so much with white uplift but with non-white oppression, such as in the story old black Southerners used to tell about poor white folks and the “thank God for the niggers” syndrome. A white political leader once went through the Mississippi backwoods, so the story went, trying to stir the poor white folks up and get them to do something about their horrendous economic condition. “Look at y’all!” the politician thundered, “You’re most at the bottom on everything that counts. Healthcare. Sanitation. Life expectancy. Wages.” At each category he called out, however, the crowd shouted back, “Thank God for the niggers!” Puzzled, the politician asked a local after the meeting for the meaning. “This ain’t no nigger-loving territory, is it?” he asked. “No,” the local shot back, “but if it wasn’t for the niggers, we’d sure-enough be on the bottom of every one of them things you was up there talking about.”

“I’m White and I’m Proud”

For many white folks, however, race itself has now become the problem, with an odd convergent agreement on the left and the right that it ought to be eliminated in American life. Many white conservatives believe that the concept of race should be eliminated because it is too often turned into a tool used by otherwise unqualified minorities to vault themselves into positions they don’t deserve and responsibilities they can’t fulfill. Many white progressives, on the other hand, believe that race should be eliminated because it is a pariah, and is a barrier to a more egalitarian, multi-cultural world of diversity and common humanity.

Myself, I think the concept of humanity is far too big a meal to take on in one big bite, and we have to approach it in easier stages, in smaller portions. One of those portions is race, and if we use that in which to forge a greater understanding of and participation in the human race, then it is a positive thing. If it is used in a negative way, as a bludgeon with which to beat down all those who do not look or sound or act or smell exactly like us, then it is a negative.

This year’s American presidential contest, with the election of the first African-American president in our history, revealed a lot about ourselves, some of it exemplary, some of it tawdry, mean-spirited, and vicious. Race has a way of doing that. It is at the core of our humanity, one of the ways in which we practice the distinctly human habit of defining ourselves. Rather than eliminating it—even if it were within our power to do so—we ought to understand and embrace it, neutralizing its bad factors, celebrating and encouraging its good.

I live for the day when my white progressive friends can say aloud, “I’m white and I’m proud.” And they will have a reason, and no one will shun them or laugh at them or ridicule them, least of all their non-white friends, and they will feel no shame. As contradictory as it seems, on that day, I believe, we will be far along on the way towards a united humanity. 

J. Douglas Allen-Taylor writes for the Berkeley Daily Planet, Alternet, and numerous print and web publications. He lives in Oakland.


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Black-Brown Dialogue on Immigration

It a training for activists from the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), a labor educator at a diversity workshop demonstrated the extreme wealth inequality in the United States with this tableau: 10 chairs were set up for 10 people; however, one person commandeered seven chairs, leaving three chairs to be shared by the other nine. Amusing though the sight was, it very vividly illustrated the point the educator wished to make: “We don’t have a diversity problem… we have an inequality problem!”

The discomfort experienced by the nine people sharing three chairs was recognized by participants as a common experience among people who feel the “economic squeeze” and deal with it by lashing out at folks perceived as “other.” So, we have situations, such as white vs. black; Christian vs. Muslim; men vs. women; straight vs. gay; native-born vs. immigrant; and documented vs. undocumented immigrant.

Many companies, unfortunately, are not above using these divisions to assert power over their employees. One union representative told the story of an immigrant worker who filed a grievance against his firm for violating the union contract. The violation was clear, but in this situation, the firm had helped the worker obtain his legal documentation and the supervisor was able to intimidate the worker into withdrawing his complaint with frequent allusions to this fact.

Similarly, political elites are taking advantage of the turmoil caused by a combination of changing demographics, growing inequality, and overall insecurity to split communities of color and low-income workers and solidify their power.

The Regions, They are a’Changing

Many older inner-city neighborhoods have been transformed into gentrified areas populated by the middle-class and rich of all ethnicities, or serve as gateway communities for newly arrived immigrants. Some inner-ring suburbs have taken the look of older industrial cities. Blacks of all economic strata have moved from central cities to suburban areas. Parts of the South and Midwest have become magnets for immigrants from Latin America.

The situation is rife with potential for discomfort and division among people of color and workers.

In response, the University of California, Berkeley, Labor Center has developed a six-hour training on immigration for the C.L. Dellums African American Union Leadership School. Its goal is to enhance participants’ knowledge of why immigrants are in this country and the conditions under which they live. The hope is that they will use this information to heal possible splits within their union membership.

The two most important features of this training are:

n It does not attempt to delve into the policy battles taking place in Washington D.C. These battles are complicated and one’s analysis of what is the best compromise is very much dependent upon one’s values and self interest.

n It starts from the perspective of the black community. Too often, attempts to engage native-born workers and communities on immigration issues begin from the perspective of new immigrants, leading to the unintended consequence of alienating native-born workers who feel that they are asked to empathize with others while little concern is shown for their own lives and struggles.

The training begins with the black experience and asks how participants (or their families) arrived in California, followed by a short video, Up South, on the black migration from Mississippi to Chicago. The idea is to place the black experience in the context of a migration experience—the push of racial and economic exploitation in the South, alongside the pull of new job opportunities and greater racial freedom in the North and West—to make it easier to understand the social, political, and economic forces that cause migration from the Global South to the United States. Participants are also asked to talk about the loss they have suffered in leaving home. Understanding the loss that comes with migration and relating it to loss suffered by immigrants allows participants to see the “others” as human beings and not just as people who “take jobs.”

The training then continues with a video (Uprooted) that highlights the experiences of three families that come to the United States from different parts of the Global South. The documentary looks at the lives of these individuals in their home countries and the economic forces that caused them to immigrate.

In conclusion, participants watch a PBS video on New Orleans immediately after Hurricane Katrina, which tells the story of a black union member who wishes to re-build his city. He finds a good paying job through his union but is soon replaced by immigrant workers receiving half the wage. The story then shifts to the plight of the immigrant workers and the exploitation they face at the hands of contractors. The documentary does a great job of highlighting how workers—native or immigrant—are used by corporations.

The training always generates intense discussions among participants, many of whom learn the real story behind immigration for the first time. As one participant remarked, “The comparison between black workers migrating north in the early 20th century and Latin Americans migrating north now was instructive. We can see ourselves in each other.”

Since completing the training, participants have tried to inject lessons learned into their daily dealings within the union.

According to one union member: “At first, I didn’t think the dynamics between trade unionists and immigrants (who were exploited and worked for lower wages) in Louisiana connected to my work [in the union]. But then I thought about a grievant I worked with who wanted [the union] to make a case out of her losing out on a job to a non-citizen. I think it would be useful for our union to help our members understand the stories and struggles of immigrants so that we can organize together and not be pitted against each other.”

This captures the challenge facing social and economic justice activists: how do we find ways to talk to others who see their economic plight as caused by the presence of immigrant workers?

I think the answer lies in engaging people on their own terms and helping them see that foreign workers are not enemies but allies in their struggle to live dignified lives and achieve their dreams. 

Steven Pitts is a balor policy specialist at the University of California Berkley Center for Labor Research and Education, where he focuses on strategies for worker organizing and labor-community alliances. 


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American Babylon: Black Panthers and Proposition 13

In 1969, the Black Panther Party warned that fundamental change must come to the United States, lest it “perish like Babylon,” the biblical city that fell under the weight of its own corruption and imperial ambitions. “Babylon” as place and concept passed into the lexicon of radical black politics, borrowed from African American religious tradition, as well as from the Jamaican Rastafarians for whom Babylon denoted Western capitalism and imperialism. In the hands of the Panthers, Babylon acquired a new rhetorical provocativeness: “in the concrete inner city jungles of Babylon” men and women would join together “to cast aside their personal goals and aspirations, and begin to work unselfishly together.” So, Babylon stood for both, the inevitability of imperialism’s demise and for the possibility that something better might be erected in its place, something more democratic. “The people of Babylon” could, through struggle, throw off oppression and create a new day.

Babylon provides a powerful metaphor through which to think about a particular moment in postwar American urban history. Indeed, it reminds us that black power, and contests over its meaning and implications, are a fundamental part of the political history of urban America. Facing a national crisis of unprecedented dimensions—following decades of segregation and industrial restructuring—African American radicals and liberals alike responded politically. Black communities were not solely victims of an “urban crisis”; they were burdened with, and engaged in, conceiving remedies. In Babylon, black power advocates found an urban referent through which to conceive the plight of the black nation and evoke the essential realities of the postwar American city: poverty amidst wealth, national economic growth with urban decline, and the hardening of apartheid within the liberal state. The journey through those seeming paradoxes inevitably takes us to the connections between the city and political power and to three decades of intense contest over the uses, value, and nature of urban space.

The Twin Ideologies of Space

The most significant political, economic, and spatial transformation in the postwar United States was the overdevelopment of suburbs and the underdevelopment of cities. As ostensible signifiers of this transformation, “white ?ight” and “urban decline” mask volatile and protracted social and political struggles over land, taxes, jobs, and public policy in the 30 years between 1945 and the late 1970s. Such struggles dominated postwar Oakland, California, and its nearby suburbs, ultimately giving rise to two of the nation’s most controversial political ideologies: a politics of community defense and empowerment among blacks, and a neopopulist conservative homeowner politics among whites. As the home of both, the Black Panther Party and the tax revolt, California’s story is postwar America’s story—black and white, urban and suburban, rebellion and backlash— narratives that are inextricably linked and demand to be told as one.

In Oakland and the East Bay, as the tax revolt and black power evolved together, in tension, they faced off over how the region’s assets and prosperity would be distributed. Suburban city building drew homeowners, almost exclusively white and Anglo, into political battles to shape their new communities. In con?icts over land, taxes, and housing, a combination of federal policy, homeowner self-interest, and the real estate industry’s profit-driven embrace of racial exclusivity encouraged suburban residents to take narrow views of their social responsibility. When black Oaklanders undertook the postwar struggle for racial equality, they challenged the inequities of this suburban city building and accompanying signs of urban underdevelopment: residential segregation, job discrimination, urban renewal, and deindustrialization. Over time, those challenges grew increasingly urgent and militant, precipitating among many East Bay African Americans a break with liberal assumptions and strategies in favor of community empowerment. African American–led political movements thus interpenetrated with a suburban politics focused on homeownership, taxes, and a retreat from connections to a larger social collective.

In the workplaces and communities of midcentury West Oakland, African American residents forged a distinct laborite culture that blended class politics with civil rights. Based in the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and other black railroad unions, as well as the left wing of the International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union (ILWU) on the docks and the Marine Cooks and Stewards Union (MCSU) on the ships, this culture extended its in?uence through the East Bay. It was by no means universal and never enjoyed the endorsement of the majority of whites. But it nonetheless ?owered in the working-class districts of the Oakland ?atlands—and north into Berkeley—nurturing through the dark days of Cold War anticommunism a social and political milieu in which antiracism and progressive ideas, debate and struggle, were the order of the day.

Within this milieu, Pullman porters joined with University of California law graduates in Democratic political clubs. African American women, many of them daughters of southern Jim Crow, engaged in an activist homeowner politics that subverted the prescriptions of postwar white domestic femininity. And calls for black economic rights and a broader welfare state for all California workers defined the political agenda. This culture extended its reach across time. Black longshoremen, veterans of the brutal class wars on the docks in the 1930s, articulated an internationalism that would, in the 1960s, in?uence Oaklanders Huey Newton and Bobby Seale as they founded the Black Panther Party. Black leaders from the railroad unions established political strategies in the 1940s that would guide a generation of activists in the late 1960s and early 1970s. From one decade to the next across the second half of the century, these neighborhoods were home to a rich range of laborite, community, civil rights, and eventually, black liberation politics.

A Politics of Welfare by Exclusion

In East Oakland, and other similar neighborhoods, another political tradition developed in the postwar years. Skilled workers joined with merchants and other small business interests, all largely white, in a diffuse populism that counterposed “the public” against big business and downtown property owners. Adherents of this midcentury populism were vehemently pro-union, resistant to high taxes, and wedded to the ambition of suburban homeownership that the “amazing New West” promised. In the 1940s, these politics embraced a commonsense notion of what constituted a “fair share” for “working people” on a range of economic matters, from wages to taxes and leisure.

These politics, which emerged at the same time in nearby suburban cities like San Leandro and Milpitas, led in multiple directions. In one of those directions lay an individualist conception of property rights that buttressed calls for low taxes throughout the postwar period and provided the ideological grounding for the emergence of the so-called tax revolt of the late 1970s. Oakland and the East Bay thus incubated two of California’s most important postwar political traditions: a broad liberal one that sought expansions of the social wage and racial equality; and an equally broad populist-conservative one that celebrated private rights and understood liberalism’s limits through property and homeownership.

In the 1950s and 1960s Oakland planners, developers, and capitalists turned to the instruments and technologies of postwar urban design to remake their city. They hoped to restore property values by redeveloping land, clearing slums, constructing highways and rapid transit, and mechanizing the port—a broad engineering of new urban forms. They sought to revive the city, and downtown in particular, as a site of capital accumulation. At the same time, African Americans sought a different sort of urban renaissance, one shaped by the goals of economic opportunity for the growing black community: jobs, development, and neighborhood investment. The two visions clashed, as the reengineering of Oakland, coupled with structural economic changes, further disadvantaged the city’s black working class. To resolve the tension between divergent views of the city, liberal reformers focused on remaking citizens, reconstructing people themselves through a variety of measures, from juvenile delinquency programs to the War on Poverty. Instead of a resolution, a new politics was born—a struggle over control of urban resources in the late 1950s and 1960s that dominated and convulsed the city like nothing since the organized labor campaigns of the 1930s.

Much of the modern civil rights movement, and its emphasis on economic rights, was dedicated to a critique of and confrontation with the two-tired welfare state instantiated in the New Deal—especially its segregationist housing policies, its lack of fair employment and full employment provisions, its exclusion of hundreds of thousands of black workers from the protections of labor laws, and its deeply biased forms of social insurance, including what is now called “welfare.” This required a massive engagement with the major institutions of the nation—especially the state, finance and real estate capital, and industrial employers of all sizes—that coincided with and was propelled by the largest internal black migration in American history: the movement of four million African Americans from South to North and West. Moreover, the New Deal state’s intimate involvement in urban policy meant that the federal government, municipal politics, and metropolitan development converged during these decades to a degree unprecedented in the nation’s history. This made the federal government an adversary as often as an ally. In this sense, the postwar black struggle in America represented one of the world’s most sustained and militant engagements with the modern state apparatus.

The Birth of Strategic Opportunism 

African American activists in Oakland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles fought to secure a place for black communities within the shifting patterns of metropolitan geography and economy that accompanied the vast spatial transformation of midcentury urban America. They engaged the processes and institutions responsible for the second ghetto and the urban crisis as no other group in California. Industrial restructuring, redevelopment and urban renewal, highway and rapid transit construction, and suburban city building became the pivots around which black politics turned. These issues were not merely the backdrop to the black liberation struggle. Through them, the movement itself was constituted.

In Oakland in particular, the political discourse and strategies of the long postwar African American rights movement stressed the failure of urban and metropolitan political economy to secure the promise of democracy and opportunity. In this sense, the movement, including liberal, radical, and nationalist variants, was not primarily a response to southern mobilization, but a parallel development that sought to redistribute economic and political power within the increasingly divided metropolis. When local, state, and federal political efforts had failed to do this, when liberalism came up wanting, many African Americans turned to black power and radical liberation politics.

White suburbanites did not “?ee” Oakland. They were drawn to suburban communities by the powerful economic and cultural incentives behind city building: new housing markets subsidized by the federal government; low taxes underwritten by relocating industry; and the assurance that a new home, spacious yard, and garage signaled their full assimilation into American life and its celebration of modernity and consumption. That process generated expectations: homeowners came to expect, and later demand, low property taxes; they came to expect and rationalize racial segregation; and they came to accept as natural the con?ation of whiteness and property ownership with upward social mobility. To secure those expectations, suburban homeowners were not shy about entering electoral politics over the course of the postwar decades to assert their property “rights” and to contain the benefits of suburbanization. Lifted into the middle class by the federal welfare state, white residents of southern Alameda County fought the extension of those same benefits to African Americans.

Urban Space as Metaphor

One of the most powerful political movements of the second half of the twentieth century in California—and ultimately the nation—came about through a synthesis of two venerable traditions within American political culture: low-tax fiscal conservatism and booster promotion. Its adherents, legion by the 1960s, came from virtually every economic station, united by their status and interests as homeowners. Indeed, postwar suburbanization had the effect of creating a proto-class, the members of which might have had dissimilar political loyalties (as well as different incomes, jobs, etc.) but could be united on the single issue of property taxation. Postwar suburbanization helped to instantiate, in place, a tax-conscious voting bloc. That bloc competed with advocates of liberalism and radicalism to define the direction of the state in the postwar decades.

The new postwar metropolis in California and its political economy undergirded by segregation failed to deliver upward mobility to the majority of black workers. This realization spawned revolts in Oakland, led by African American community activists and the Black Panther Party. Together, they articulated a radical critique of the whole of metropolitan development since World War II and implicated liberalism in continued black poverty. In contrast, in nearby suburbs, they reacted to the mounting costs of California’s rapid postwar development by attacking and limiting the liberal state. Homeowners embraced tax reform for an enormous variety of reasons, but they nonetheless produced a dramatic convergence of political ideology around an antistatist, property-owning individualism that would have enormous consequences for California and the nation.

By 1978, Oakland civic authority had passed into the hands of the black bourgeoisie, and Proposition 13 had signaled the emergence of a new suburban order.

Space is not the whole story, but it would be a strange and incoherent one without it. Class and race are lived through the fabric of urban life and space. Civil rights, black power, and tax reform movements did not call for rights in abstract terms. They called for very specific things in relation to very specific places. We cannot separate historical actors and events from their spatial contexts.

Robert Self is an associate progessor of history at Brown University. This article is based on an excerpt from his book American Babylon: Race and Struggle for Postwar Oakland 2003 Princeton University Press, all rights reserved. Reproduced by permission of Princeton University Press. 

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Measuring Racism

Measuring Race

Civil Rights: Now and Then

The continuing disparity between black and white life chances is not a result of black life choices. It stems from an epidemic of racism and an economic system dependent on class division. Abundant scholarship notwithstanding, there is no other possible explanation. The breakdown of the family, the absence of middle-class values, the lack of education and skills, the absence of role models—these are symptoms of racism.

We must be careful not to define the ideology and practice of white supremacy too narrowly. It is greater than scrawled graffiti and individual indignity, such as the policeman’s nightstick, or the job, home, and education denied. It is rooted deeply in the logic of our market system and in the culturally defined and politically enforced prices paid for different units of labor.

The strategies of the 1960s movement were litigation, organization, mobilization and civil disobedience, aimed at creating a national political constituency for civil rights advances. In the 1970s, electoral strategies began to dominate, engendered by the 1965 Voting Rights Act. But as the numbers of locally elected black officials multiplied, political party organization declined and the crucial tasks of registering and turning out the newly enfranchised electorate were left to organizations like the NAACP.

Forgotten in the wave of inaugurations of new black mayors was the plight of blue collar blacks. Just as black workers gained access to industrial jobs, the jobs went offshore and President Nixon’s plan to promote black capitalism as a cure for underdeveloped ghettoes was embraced by a growing generation of politically-connected black entrepreneurs. Since then, too many have concentrated too much on enriching too few, while vast numbers of working class black Americans have seen their incomes shrink.

The right to decent work at decent pay remains as basic to human freedom as the right to vote. Martin Luther King, who lost his life supporting a garbage workers’ strike in Memphis, once said: “Negroes are almost entirely a working people. There are pitifully few Negro millionaires and few Negro employers.” [1]

That there are more black millionaires today is a tribute to the movement King led but the fact that proportionately fewer blacks are working today is an indictment of our economic system and a reflection of our failure to keep the movement going.

The Black Condition Today

Though times have changed, the conditions facing black Americans today are just as daunting as the fire hoses and billy clubs of four decades ago. You only have to compare the lives of black and white children. The average black child is:

  • one-and-a-half times more likely to grow up in a family whose head did not finish high school.
  • twice as likely to be born to a teenage mother and two-and-a-half times more likely to have low birthweight.
  • three times more likely to live in a single parent home.
  • four times more likely to have a mother who had no prenatal care.
  • four-and-a-half times more likely to live with neither parent.
  • five times as likely to depend solely on a mother’s earnings.
  • nine times as likely to be a victim of homicide.

In every way by which life is measured—life chances, life expectancy, median income—black Americans see a deep gulf between the American dream and the reality of their lives. The only effective tool for advancing entry into the mainstream of American life for the past 30 years has been affirmative action.

Opponents now try to tell us that it doesn’t work, or that it used to work but doesn’t anymore, or that it only helps people who don’t need it. They argue that the beneficiaries of race-centered affirmative action are “profiting” from it. There is never “profit” in receiving right treatment. Access to rights already enjoyed by others is no benefit but the natural order of things in a democratic society.

The Truth about Affirmative Action

Affirmative action is not about preferential treatment for blacks; it is about removing preferential treatment whites have received through history. Nor is it a poverty program and ought not be blamed for the problems it was not designed to solve.

In the late 1960s, the wages of black women in the textile industry tripled.[2] From 1970 to 1990, black police officers more than doubled, black electricians tripled and black bank tellers quadrupled in number. The percentage of blacks in managerial and technical jobs doubled. And the number of black college students increased from 330,000 in the 1960s to more than a million 18 years later.

These numbers represent the growth and spread of the tiny middle class I knew as a boy, into a stable, productive, and tax-paying group that makes up one-third of all black Americans. Without affirmative action, both white and blue collars around black necks would shrink, with a huge, depressive effect on the black population and the economy.

Those who argue for a return to a color-blind America that never was and justify their opposition to affirmative action as a desire for fairness and equality, are obviously blind to the consequences of being the wrong color in America today.

Affirmative action critics often quote Dr. King’s 1963 speech about his children one day being judged by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin. But they never mention his 1967 speech in which he said: “…a society that has done something special against the Negro for hundreds of years must now do something special for him.”[3]

There is a tendency among black Americans to look back on the King years as if that was the only time in which we were truly able to overcome. But the movement was much more than Dr. King.

Martin Luther King did not march from Selma to Montgomery by himself nor did he speak into a void at the March on Washington. Thousands marched with him and thousands more did the dirty work that preceded that triumphant march.

Besides, black Americans didn’t just march into freedom. We worked our way into civil rights through the difficult business of organizing: knocking on doors, one by one; registering voters, one by one; building communities, block by block; financing the cause, dollar by dollar; and creating coalitions, one step at a time.

A Common Cause for All Colors

For too many people today, the fight for equal justice is a spectator sport: a kind of NBA game in which all the players are black and all the spectators, white. But in this true to life sport, the fate of the fans is closely intertwined with that of the players and points scored on the floor are points for all.

Because young black people faced arrest at Southern lunch counters 30 years ago, the law their bodies wrote now protects older Americans from age discrimination, Jews, Moslems, and Christians from religious discrimination, and the disabled from exclusion because of their condition.

It took but one woman’s courage to start a movement in Montgomery, and the bravery of four young men in Greensboro to set the South on fire. Surely there are men and women, young and old, who can do the same today.

African-Americans are no longer the nation’s largest minority. By the year 2050, Hispanics, Asians, and Native Americans, together with African-Americans, will make up 50 percent of the population. Where there are others who share our condition, even if they do not share our history, we should make common cause with them. n


1. King, Dr. M.L. Jr.’s. Address to the Constitutional Convention, AFL-CIO, Bal Harbour, Florida, December 11, 1961.

2. Ezorsky, Gertrude, Racism and Justice: The Case for Affirmative Action, Cornell University Press, p 64, 1991.

3. King, Martin Luther, Jr., Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?, Harper & Row, Publishers, New York 1967.

Julian Bond is a distinguished professor in the School of Government at American University Washington, D.C. and a lecturer in history at the University of Virginia. He is also the Chairman of the Board of the NAACP. This article is based on a speech to the National Press Club. 


Race and Regionalsm | Vol. 15, No. 1 | Fall 2008 | Credits

Related Stories: 

Race, Class, and Real Estate

Sheryll Cashin reads at Politics and Prose Bookstore, August 2008. © Politics and Prose Bookstore, Washington D.C.

Housing or geography is at the core of the opportunity structure in America. Where you live largely defines what type of people you will be exposed to on a daily basis, and hence, who you have the opportunity to relate to. It defines what schools you will go to, what employers you will have access to, and whether you will be exposed to a host of models for success.

Since 1970, with each passing decade we have made glacially slow improvements in opening up housing markets and decreasing racial segregation. During this period we have also seen a marked increase in class segregation. In the 2000s, then, it remains the case that the neighborhood where you live is highly likely to reflect both your race and class.

Segregation and Separatism

In my book, The Failures of Integration, I identify three main factors that contribute to race and class segregation in United States housing markets: (1) the pull of personal preferences; (2) the push of discrimination; and (3) a host of public and private institutional policies that value homogeneity over inclusion.[1]

Although in opinion polls the majority of all races say they would prefer an integrated neighborhood, similar majorities also state a preference for living in a neighborhood in which their own race is a majority or plurality. Whites, blacks, Latinos, and Asians typically do not want to be vastly outnumbered by “others.” That prospect is inherently threatening, particularly for whites. As a result, residential integration necessarily has been limited.

The most recent national audit of racial discrimination in housing, conducted in 2000, shows that while there has been considerable improvement since the last audit in 1989, whites are still consistently favored over racial minorities.[2] Researchers for the study, commissioned by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, sent minority and white testers out to attempt to rent or purchase homes in 23 metropolitan areas with significant black or Latino populations. The test partners had virtually the same income, assets and debt liabilities, and education levels.

Overall, Latinos experienced more discrimination than blacks. The group most discriminated against were Latino renters; landlords favored whites over this group one quarter of the time. They favored whites over black renters one fifth of the time. In particular, whites were more likely to receive information about available housing units and had more opportunities to inspect available units. The numbers were only slightly better for blacks and Latinos seeking to buy, rather than rent, a home.

Our separatism exists, but it is not inherently natural. Through a series of public and private institutional choices, we created a separatist social order. It did not have to be this way; separation was not our preordained fate. At the dawn of the 20th century, economic and racial integration was the norm. It was not at all uncommon in American cities to find blacks living in close proximity to other races, or to find blue collar workers living among the elite. This was especially the case in southern cities.

Segregation as Public Policy

Four seminal public policy choices made in the 20th century contributed mightily to the racially and economically divided landscape, the bastions of affluence and of need, now familiar to metropolitan America. First, we adopted a system of local governance premised on a religion of local autonomy that has fueled the proliferation of new, homogenous communities. Chief among the local powers that are wielded to exclude undesired uses of land and undesired populations is the zoning power.

Second, the federal government, through its Federal Housing Administration (FHA) mortgage insurance program, adopted and propagated the orthodoxy that homogeneity was necessary to ensure stable housing values. The FHA, the largest insurance operation in the world in its heyday, essentially chose to underwrite mortgages only for new single family homes in predominately white neighborhoods, inventing and propagating the notion of redlining—a legacy we live with to this day—and initially locking out whole races and classes of people from the largest wealth-producing program in our nation’s history.[3]

Third, the interstate highway program—the largest public works program in the history of the world—opened up easy avenues for escape from the city while at the same time destroying vital black, Latino, and white ethnic neighborhoods.

Fourth, the federal government, through a number of urban development programs, created the black ghetto. Urban renewal, famously renamed by black folks as “Negro Removal,” destroyed mostly black-occupied housing strategically located near the central business district, ostensibly to help cities prepare for a post-industrial economy and to eliminate “blight.” The federal government spent about $3 billion to remove almost 400,000 units of affordable, largely black-occupied housing that was strategically located. Those people who were displaced had to move somewhere, which typically meant to public housing or more marginal neighborhoods.

Any one of these policies, individually, would have altered the metropolitan landscape in a way that advantaged some and greatly disadvantaged others. But these policies were cumulative. Coupled with the federal government’s tepid resistance to housing discrimination, these policies worked in concert to create a systemic bias in favor of racial and economic segregation rather than inclusion.

Racial Profiling by Zip Code

Private actors, particularly those in the real estate industry, have contributed mightily to the racial and economic segmentation of our life space. Most critically, the real estate, banking, and insurance industries embraced the federal government’s orthodoxy that racial and economic homogeneity were necessary to protect property values. Private developers tend to develop to meet a certain class niche.

However, something even more insidious is going on. Every zip code in America has been racially profiled. Marketing companies create databases that rate each zip code based upon their demographics. In turn, all of the actors that shape real estate markets—land use planners, real estate developers, financial institutions, insurance companies, and retailers—rely on these databases to decide where to invest, develop, and do business. One company, for example, has developed the Claritas PRIZM system of categorization—40 socioeconomic rankings of “zip quality,” ranging from ZQ1 (known as “Blue Blood Estates”) to ZQ40, “Public Assistance.”[4] All of these profiling databases establish a hierarchy of neighborhood types that skew investment decisions heavily in favor of predominately white suburban communities.

Hope through Coalition Building

The stratospheric costs we are enduring, individually and collectively, as a result of race and class separation reflect our failure to deal with the truly hard questions left over from the civil rights movement. The civil rights movement largely stopped once the barriers of formal Jim Crow segregation were dismantled. While the delegitimation of discrimination was the chief success of the civil rights movement, we never reached any national consensus about whether integration of the races and classes—that is, the sharing of neighborhoods, schools, and life space—was an important objective to be affirmatively pursued.

I believe there is no substitute for taking “the hard path” not yet chosen, explicitly tackling segregation. Our nation’s history shows that only when we choose the hard path of attacking issues of race and racial inclusion frontally do we make meaningful progress. Indirect approaches are no substitute for a frontal attack on what is ailing us as a nation. They will simply delay the inevitable adjustment that is needed—as happened when the infamous case of Plessy v. Ferguson installed the “separate-but-equal” doctrine for 60 years, until the Supreme Court jettisoned it in Brown v. Board of Education.

I dare to imagine an America that has experienced a transformative integration of the races. By this I do not mean the assimilationist model of the 1970s. Instead, I envision an America where the majority of citizens, especially whites, have developed a true comfort with racial difference, or what I call “cultural dexterity.” A culturally dextrous person—former President Clinton comes to mind—can walk into a room and be completely outnumbered by a different race or ethnic group and experience this with a sense of wonder, even celebration, rather than fear.

There is no shortage of sound ideas for bringing about more race and class integration in our neighborhoods by creating more integrated islands. What is missing is an insistent movement to alter our present separatist course in all communities. We lack a broad advocacy base for inclusive and more equitable public policies. Any movement for race and class integration must come from the grassroots. As Myron Orfield has so eloquently stated, national and state political leaders “do not create social movements around race,” rather they “mediate energy for change that is created below the surface.”[5]

Revolutionary change can be wrought by powerful new multi-race, multi-class coalitions that pursue smart new policies. Without doing the difficult, labor-intensive work of building sustainable coalitions that command at least 51 percent representation in any given policy-making arena, no change will be forthcoming. As my hero Frederick Douglass eloquently stated in the context of the abolition movement, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did, it never will.”

Any effort that is serious about reducing regional inequity must have racial and economic integration as its central goal. Among the policies that could bring about more race and class integration at the neighborhood level is inclusionary zoning (or fair share affordable housing). Since 1973, for example, Montgomery County, Maryland, has required that 15 percent of all new housing developments above 35 units be affordable to low- and moderate-income families. In addition, the black ghetto can be broken up through policies that give people trapped in high-poverty communities the assistance they need to find decent housing in middle class settings. On the school front, I recommend universal choice options. Why should a family’s ability to choose a good school for their child be limited to their ability to pay their way into an exclusive neighborhood?

These are just a few of the revolutionary policies we have not considered because of our separated way of living and the defensive parochialism it engenders. Such possibilities are achievable, however, if the majority of people who now suffer under American separatism organize and act to reclaim democratic processes. It is time for people who care to imagine a different, more inclusive order, one that will benefit everyone. 


1. Cashin, S. The Failures of Integration: How Race and Class are Undermining the American Dream (Cambridge: Public Affairs, 2004).

2. Turner, M. A., et al., Discrimination in Metropolitan Housing Markets: National Results from Phase I HDS 2000, Final Report, November 2002. Available at http://www.huduser.org/Publications/pdf/Phase1_Report.pdf, no. 3 pp. 1-19.

3. Hall, P. Cities of Tomorrow: An Intellectual History of Urban Planning and Design in the Twentieth Century. Oxford: Blackwell, 1988. pp. 291-294;

Jackson, K. Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985, pp. 203-218.

4. Metzger, J. T. “Clustered Spaces: Racial Profiling in Real Estate Investment.” Paper prepared for the International Seminar on Segregation and the City, Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, Cambridge, Massachusetts, July 26-28, 2001.

5. See Orfield, M. “Comment on S. A. Bollen’s ‘In Through the Back Door: Social Equity and Regional Governance,’” Housing Policy Debate 13 (2003): 659 and 666 (noting that Abraham Lincoln initially opposed the abolition of slavery and Lyndon Johnson initially opposed civil rights, but both leaders were ultimately forced by grassroots movements to pursue the progressive course).

Sheryll Cashin is a professor of law at Georgetown University. Her newest book is, The agitator's Daughter: A Memoir of Four Generations of One Extraordinary African-American Family (Public Affairs, 2008). This article is adapted from Breakthrough Communities: Sustainability and Justice in the Next American Metropolis edited by M. Paloma Pavel, to be published in June 2009 by The MIT Press. 


Race and Regionalsm | Vol. 15, No. 1 | Fall 2008 | Credits

Incarceration vs. Education:

 Reproducing Racism and Poverty in America


Americans are reinforced to believe that individuals are largely in control of their own destiny. Hard work, sacrifice, and personal effort, we are told, determine what happens to us. But increasingly, the fundamental institutions of American society function unfairly, restricting access and opportunity for millions of people. The greatest example of this is the present-day criminal justice system.

Let us start with the basic facts. As of 2008, one out of every 100 American adults is living behind bars. According to a December 2007 study by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), “Race and Ethnicity in America,” in the past 30 years there has been a 500 percent increase in the number of Americans behind bars, amounting to 2.2 million people, which represent 25 percent of the world’s prison population. This prison population is disproportionately black and brown. As of 2006, the United States. penal population was 46 percent white, 41 percent African American, and 19 percent Latino. In practical terms, by 2001, about one out of every six African-American males had experienced jail or imprisonment. Based on current trends, over one out of three black men will experience imprisonment during their lives.

There is overwhelming evidence that the overrepresentation of blacks in prisons is largely due to discrimination in every phase of the criminal justice system. According to the 2007 ACLU study, for example, African Americans comprised 11 percent of Texas’ population, but 40 percent of the state’s prisoners. Blacks in Texas are incarcerated at roughly five times the rate of whites. Despite the fact that blacks statistically represent fewer than 10 percent of drug abusers, in Texas 50 percent of all prisoners incarcerated in state prisons and two-thirds of all those in jails for “drug delivery offenses” are African Americans.

A similar pattern is found within the juvenile justice system. According to the same study, African-American youth amount to 15 percent of all American juveniles. However, they represent 26 percent of all juveniles who are arrested by the police nationwide. They are 58 percent of all youth who are sentenced to serve time in state prisons. In California, Latino youth are two times more likely than whites to be sentenced to prison; for African-American youth in California, it is six times the incarceration rate.

What are the practical political consequences of the mass incarceration of black Americans? In New York State, for example, the prison populations play a significant role in how some state legislative districts are drawn up. In New York’s 45th senatorial district, located in the extreme northern corner of upstate New York, there are 13 state prisons, with 14,000 prisoners, all of whom are counted as residents. Prisoners in New York are disenfranchised—they cannot vote—yet their numbers help to create a Republican state senatorial district. These “prison districts” now exist all over the United States.

The most obscene dimension of the national compulsion to incarcerate has been the deliberate criminalization of young black people, with the construction of a “school-to-prison pipeline.”

Under the cover of “zero tolerance” for all forms of “disobedience,” too many school administrators are aggressively and unfairly removing black youth from schools. Statistically, African-American youths are two to three times more likely than whites to be suspended, and far more likely to be corporally punished or expelled. Also from the ACLU study, “nationally, African American students comprise 17 percent of the student population, but account for 36 percent of school suspensions and 31 percent of expulsions. In New Jersey, for instance, black students are nearly 60 times more likely to be expelled than their white counterparts. In Iowa, blacks make up just five percent of the statewide public school enrollment, but account for 22 percent of suspensions.” Too many black children are taught at an early age that their only future resides in a prison or jail.

But despite this reality, the raw numbers and percentages of African Americans in higher educaiton has largely trended upward. The bottom line—in higher education—the overall numbers of African Americans are continuing to increase. Yet, the patterns of racial inequality and unfairness—from tenure decisions to the difficulties black graduate students have in finding employment as teaching assistants—continue to exist.


For generations, African-American parents have told their children that the surest path to professional advancement is a college education. The good news is that millions of African Americans are attending colleges, and thousands more are enrolled in graduate and professional schools. But in the aftermath of the 2003 Grutter v. Bollinger Supreme Court decision, and legislative and electoral assaults on affirmative action, a decidedly mixed picture emerges on the state of blacks in higher education.

First, some positive news. According to the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education (Winter 2007), about four million African Americans hold a bachelor’s degree, representing 18.5 percent of all blacks 25 years and older. In 1990, only 11.3 percent of all African Americans 25 years and older held collegiate and advanced degrees. In 1996, that number grew to 13.8 percent. Currently, 952,000 also hold master’s degrees. About 166,000 African Americans have earned professional degrees in fields such as medicine, business, engineering, and law. And approximately 111,000 blacks in the United States now hold a Ph.D.

These statistics represent a remarkable expansion in the access to higher education that African Americans have experienced over the past two decades, despite the public assault against affirmative action. By comparison, about 31 percent of all whites 25 years and older hold college and advanced degrees.
Several factors explain the continuing growth of black enrollments in America’s colleges and universities. First, despite the pressures to outlaw affirmative action enforcement and diversity, over the past 10 years, the majority of the 26 most prestigious research universities have redoubled their efforts to recruit African-American and Latino undergraduate students. Nineteen of these institutions posted gains in African-American freshman enrollment between 1997 and 2007, including: University of Chicago, 43 to 91, up 111.6 percent; Emory University, 84 to 121 up 44 percent; Columbia University, 116 to 153, up 31.9 percent; and the University of Pennsylvania, 154 to 202, up 31.2 percent.

A similar situation exists at many of the highest-ranking, elite liberal arts institutions. In fact, many of these liberal arts colleges have significantly higher African-American first-year admission rates than their overall admission rates. For example, Williams College’s average admission rate for black applicants between 1998 and 2007 was 55.1 percent, compared to an overall admissions rate of 21.1 percent, representing a 34 percent difference favoring African Americans. Amherst College’s average black admissions rate during the same decade, 50.1 percent, was significantly higher than its 19.2 percent overall admissions rate. Bowdoin College accepted 47.7 percent of black applicants, compared to its 24.2 percent overall rate, a 23.5 percent difference; Haverford College admitted 45.7 percent of black applicants compatred to 37.2 percent overall, a 15.5 percent difference; and Wesleyan accepted 38.2 percent of all African Americans, compared to a 28 percent overall rate, a 10.2 percent difference favoring blacks.

What explains these statistics? First, the pool of highly competitive, academically-prepared African-American high school students has grown significantly over the past 10 to 15 years. The size of the black middle and professional class has more than doubled, and the majority of these black students are drawn from these relatively privileged households. Secondly, universities and elite colleges are probably overcompensating for the dismantling of affirmative action and minority-oriented recruitment and retention programs, which were the result of Grutter v. Bollinger and state referenda like California’s 1996 Proposition 209. By elevating the black admissions rate, elite schools are making sure that minorities will be well represented in their matriculating classes.
A similar success story, at first glance, seemingly exists for African-American graduate students. Back in 1987, only 787 blacks earned Ph.D.s in the United States. By 2004, 1869 African Americans earned doctorates, representing 7.1. percent of all Ph.D.s granted that year. However, for the next two years, the number of African Americans granted Ph.D.s fell —to 1,688 in 2005 and 1,659 in 2006.

The profile of African-American Ph.D.s is strikingly different from most white Ph.D.s. On average, black Americans take 12.5 years to earn a doctorate after receiving their bachelor’s degrees, compared to 10 years for whites. The average age of an African-American Ph.D. recipient is 36.7 years, compared to 33.4 years for white Americans. As the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education noted, “It appears that the predominantly white faculties of our major research universities prefer white teaching assistants over black teaching assistants. About 16.7 percent of white Americans who earned doctorates in 2006 served as teaching assistants during their doctoral study,” compared to only 6.9 percent of black Ph.D. students.

There’s also evidence that more white Ph.D.s plan to use their doctorates in private business than African Americans. Over 15 percent of white doctorates expect to obtain employment inside industry and business; only 9.1 percent of black doctorates have similar plans. While 68 percent of African-American Ph.D. recipients plan to obtain jobs in higher education, only 57 percent of white Ph.D.s do.

Once black Ph.D.s are hired at predominantly white colleges, they appear to encounter the same old racism that generations of earlier African-American scholars faced within white institutions. From 1993 to 2003, the number of African Americans in tenured faculty positions increased by 20 percent, up from 10,555 to 12,707; however, the percentage of African-American faculty who have been awarded tenure has actually declined, from 40.8 percent in 1993 to 38.1 percent in 2003. At least 70 percent of all black Ph.D.s aren’t even employed in full-time jobs. They hold part-time, adjunct, and half-time positions, many of which have no pensions or medical benefits.

Back to Prison
Meanwhile, state after state is reducing its investments in education, while expanding its expenditures in correctional facilities. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education (March 14, 2008), between 1987 and 2007, states spent an average of 21 percent more on higher education, but expanded their corrections budgets by an average of 127 percent. Today, for the first time in recent history, there are five states that spend more state money on prisons than on public colleges—Connecticut, Delaware, Michigan, Oregon, and Vermont. The ugly tradeoff not to educate but to incarcerate continues.

Dr. Manning Marable is professor of Public Affairs, History, and African-American Studies, and director of the Center for Contemporary Black History, Columbia University, New York. This article is based on two pieces from www.manningmarable.net.

Race and Regionalsm | Vol. 15, No. 1 | Fall 2008 | Credits

Segregation is Still Wrong and Still Pervasive

Pervasive housing discrimination by public and private actors helped create, and now maintains poor, minority neighborhoods. Until the end of World War II, physical violence, racial zoning, and discriminatory real estate practices kept blacks closely confined to the ghetto.[1] In many cities, white property owners attached restrictive covenants to deeds that forbade blacks from buying homes in their neighborhoods.[2] Real estate agencies engaged in a variety of discriminatory practices, including racial steering of blacks and whites away from each other andblockbusting, which involves selling a few homes in a white neighborhood to black tenants, buying neighboring homes at lower prices from panicked white homeowners, then reselling the homes to middle-income blacks at a premium.

To this day, blacks and Latinos at all income levels are discriminated against by real estate agents, who show them only a small subset of the market and steer whites away from communities with people of color.[3] Mortgage lenders also systematically lend less money to blacks and Latinos compared to whites of similar income and background.[4] These patterns of resegregation do not end at city borders but also extend into suburbia. A recent study of metropolitan Boston showed that nearly half of all black homeowners were concentrated in seven out of a total 126 communities.[5]

The FHA Does Its Part

Starting in the 1940s, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) began to guarantee loans with 10 percent down payments, lower interest rates, and longer mortgage periods. Whites in overwhelming numbers used these loans to build homes in the suburbs, but discriminatory practices prevented blacks from following suit. The FHA would not provide low-cost loans to “inharmonious racial or nationality groups. The private sector, following the government’s lead, did not make loans to individuals in neighborhoods that were “redlined” on FHA investment maps.

Public housing has been another factor in fostering segregation. In the 1930s, authorities began siting public housing in the inner cities and since 1969, have filled it with poor tenants, instead of encouraging mixed income, racially stable communities.[6] Several studies show that if the government had not segregated public housing and its tenants, school desegregation would not have been necessary.[7] Some officials claim that low-income housing in poor neighborhoods revitalizes those communities economically, but a recent literature review commissioned by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) found that low-income housing by itself does not have a revitalizing effect.[8] On the contrary, studies of Baltimore, Cleveland, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia showed that adding low-income units in poor segregated neighborhoods is likely to further depress the value of housing.

As neighborhoods undergo the process of becoming deeply poor and segregated, they frequently lose significant population density. Studies show that in very poor segregated neighborhoods, low income tenants often move out of older, standard, habitable housing into newer, subsidized units. Because market demand in these neighborhoods is not strong, the older (but habitable) housing is simply abandoned, leading either to no net gain—or even a loss—of affordable units.

Resegregation in Real Time

Typically, after a number of black or Latino residents move into a neighborhood, white demand for housing there declines—first among households with children, and then the broader middle class. Businesses and jobs soon follow the white middle class, taking with them a portion of the tax base.[9] Since the black and Latino middle classes are not large enough to sustain the demand and price of houses in the neighborhood, the laws of supply and demand eventually lower housing prices, and low income minorities move in.

The Institute of Race and Poverty (IRP) has found striking evidence of resegregation in some of the largest metropolitan areas in the United States. Its analysis of 15 large metro regions between 1980 and 2000 found that a majority of blacks and Latinos now live in suburban cities and many neighborhoods, which appeared to be integrated, were actually in a period of racial transition. The neighborhoods experienced racial transition only if the non-white population exceeded 20 to 30 percent. Census data also shows that integrated tracts with a black population of over 30 percent in 1980 were more likely to make the transition to predominantly black during the next 20 years. However, communities that have practiced “managed integration”—employing a series of pro-integrative financial incentives, careful oversight of real estate practices, and marketing strategies geared to maintain the housing demand of whites when evidence of resegregation appears—have shown frequent success in maintaining social and economic integration for generations.

It is also evident that when schools become more black and Latino, they become poorer, and within a generation, the neighborhood follows. The most rapid racial and economic resegregation in schools is now occurring in older suburbs. Once the minority share in a community school reaches a threshold level—between 10 and 20 percent—racial transition accelerates until minority percentages reach very high levels (greater than 80 percent).

Despite this evidence of discrimination, conventional wisdom holds that patterns of segregation are simply the result of individual preference. The Supreme Court in Freeman v. Pitts upheld this view when it cited a lower court’s reliance on a study that said blacks and Latinos preferred 50/50 integrated neighborhoods, whereas whites were uncomfortable with more than a 10 percent black and Latino population, making segregation inevitable. While courts and legal commentators have cited this finding as fact, the study’s authors have recently written that the Court’s analysis was inadequate and that significant and increasing evidence shows that blacks and whites can live together on a long-term stable basis, particularly when a conscious integration plan is in place.[10]

The Harms of Residential Segregation

In 2000, about half of the black and Latino middle classes–over 10 million households–had suburbanized in the 100 largest regions. Owing to discrimination, however, blacks and Latinos often ended up in older, at-risk suburbs characterized by aging housing stock, slow growth, and a low tax base—the resources that support public services and schools. The poorest of these places were either resegregated or deeply in the process of becoming so. Clearly then, middle class minorities had fewer opportunities than their white counterparts in education, wealth acquisition through equity in homes, and employment opportunities.

Few blacks and Latinos live in bedroom-developing suburbs with average or below-average tax bases, low poverty schools, and some jobs and office space. Fewer still live in affluent job centers with low poverty schools, high tax bases, and little affordable housing. Poor whites, who do not face housing discrimination, can live more dispersed throughout suburbia, in middle-income neighborhoods, and attend middle class schools.[11]

Children from predominately poor neighborhoods, who attend very low income schools, face many barriers to academic and occupational achievement, even if they themselves are not poor. Studies show that they are far more likely to drop out of high school or to become pregnant as teenagers.[12] Long-term racial and social isolation in neighborhoods with high percentages of single parent families also leads to the formation of gangs and other forms of “oppositional culture” and a form of linguistic isolation, which limits employment opportunities later in life.

The vicious cycle of concentrated poverty with its high violent crime rate, huge health disparities (from a concentration of environmental hazards and poor diet), inadequate health care, and overall existential stresses, ultimately makes it even more difficult for teachers to do their jobs in public schools.[13]

The Benefits of Racial/Economic Integration

All individuals—including poor people of color—benefit from living in affluent and opportunity-rich neighborhoods with large tax bases and abundant entry-level jobs. Overwhelmingly, these are majority-white neighborhoods. The facts and outcome of Hills v. Gautreaux, show the effects of exposure to concentrated opportunity rather than concentrated poverty, on poor black families. A remedial program allowed largely low-income black households to live in three types of neighborhoods: poor and segregated, revitalizing white (with poor segregated schools), and affluent.

Researchers found that: (a) Women with low incomes who moved to the largely white, opportunity rich suburbs clearly experienced improved employment and earnings, even in the absence of job training and placement services.[14] (b) Individuals who lived in affluent white suburbs, as opposed to predominantly black city neighborhoods, were about 14 percent more likely to be employed; (c) Interviewed families found the suburbs to be much safer; and (d) The Gautreaux children performed significantly better in school after moving to more affluent areas.[15] Children who moved to the suburbs dropped out of high school less frequently than those who moved to the city (five percent versus 20 percent), and maintained their grades despite the higher standards at suburban schools. These children were also much more likely to be on a college track (54 percent), compared with the children who remained in the city (21 percent). Moreover, 75 percent of the suburban youth had jobs, compared to only 41 percent in the city.

The families in “revitalizing areas” made some gains but not as substantial as the families who moved to the suburbs. Schools in the revitalizing neighborhoods differed from the racial and socioeconomic makeup of their neighborhoods and were either segregated or in the process of rapid segregation. The evidence showed that these children did not experience the same level of opportunity as their suburban counterparts. Nor did the parents experience much more economic opportunity.

The findings from Gautreaux and other research bear out the consensus among social scientists that integration has long-term benefits. All children from desegregated elementary schools are more likely than their counterparts from segregated schools to attend a desegregated college, live in a desegregated neighborhood, work in a desegregated environment, and possess high career aspirations.[16] A study of some of the nation’s most selective law schools showed that the vast majority of the students had attended desegregated colleges. At the least, diverse educational settings contribute to a student’s ability to participate in a pluralistic society. Picket line at the Mid City Realty Company, Chicago Illinois, July 1941 © John Vachon, FSA-OWI Collection

The Clear Hope of Housing

Without serious policy changes, the rolling pattern of suburban resegregation caused in part by building government-supported low-income housing in segregated or resegregating neighborhoods, will continue to deeply hurt hundreds of communities. These communities could be strong and vital if our housing markets were fair and if the government affirmatively furthered fair housing. This disinvestment will not only destroy the wealth-building ability of middle class black and Latino households, it will reinforce the white prejudice that creates this pattern. Crucial to the goals of ending racial bias and supporting racial opportunity is a knowledge and understanding of another race that lives in a different world and experiences a different America.

The Civil Rights Act of 1968, which includes Title VIII, is one of the most hallowed accomplishments of American law and shows Congress’s clear objective to integrate American society. Yet, as history has shown, without persistent advocacy, even the clearest legislative pronouncements will not enforce themselves. Advocates need to pursue other remedies to further an integrated society, using the FHA and state statutes and constitutions, together with a coherent multi-front legislative strategy. This strategy must involve long-term metropolitan integration, principles of opportunity-based housing, and the stabilization of integrated and gentrifying neighborhoods. Housing must be viewed as a clear path toward racial and economic opportunity that holds a real hope for revitalizing cities and older suburbs. 


1. Massey, Douglas S. and Denton, Nancy A. American Apartheid (1993), 12-38. Racially restrictive covenants were declared unconstitutional in the 1940s. Shelley v. Kramer, 334 U.S. 1, 13 (1948).

2. Turner, Margery Austin et al., Urban Inst., Discrimination in Metropolitan Housing Markets 3-1 to 3-19, 6-1 to 6-13 (2002), available at www.huduser.org/ Publications/pdf/Phase1_Report.pdf (discrimination data from 2000)

3. Yinger, John. Closed Doors, Opportunities Lost 51-61 (1995) (examining racial and ethnic steering phenomena); see generally George C. Galster, “Racial Steering in Urban Housing Markets: A Review of Audit Evidence,” 18 Rev. Black Political Economy 105 (1990) (Same).

4. Yinger, John. “Cash in Your Face: The Cost of Racial and Ethnic Discrimination in Housing,” 42 Journal of Urban Economics 339, 340 (1997).

5. Stuart, Guy. Segregation in the Boston Metropolitan Area at the End of the 20th Century, The Civil Rights Project, Harvard Univ., (2000) available at www.civilrightsproject.harvard.edu/research/metro/housing_boston.php (referring to evidence presented in the report’s unpaginated executive summary).

6. Gray, Robert and Tursky, Steven. Local and Racial/Ethnic Occupancy for HUD Subsidized Family Housing in Ten Metropolitan Areas, in Housing Desegregation and Federal Policy 235, 239 (John M. Goering Ed., 1986). Schill and Wachter, supra note 23, at 1295; Roisman, supra note 23, at 1357.

7. Orfield, Gary. “Metropolitan School Desegregation: Impacts on Metropolitan Society,” 80 Minn. L. Rev. 825, 854 (1996).

8. Making the Best Use of the Low Income Housing Tax Credit 19-22 (2004); Rusk, David. Inside Game Outside Game (1999); Taylor, Henry Louis Jr. and Cole, Sam. “Structural Racism and Efforts to Radically Reconstruct the Inner City Built Environment,” Address at the Association of Collegiate Scholarship of Planning Conference 3 (Nov. 8-11, 2001).

9. Galster, George. et al., “Identifying Neighborhood Thresholds: An Empirical Exploration,” 11 Housing Policy Debate ,701 (2000); Quercia, Roberto and Galster, George. “Threshold Effects and Neighborhood Change,” 20 Journal of Planning Education and Research, 146, 154 (2000). Some have argued that the “invasion-succession” model may be less applicable in contexts involving Hispanic and Asian residents. David Fasenfest, et al., “Living Together: A New Look at Racial and Ethnic Integration” in Metropolitan Neighborhoods, Living Census Series, Apr. 2004, at p.1, 15, Available at www.brookings.edu/dybdocroot/urban/ pubs/20040428 _fasenfest.htm.

10. Farley, Reynolds. et al., “The Residential Preferences of Blacks and Whites: A Four- Metropolis Analysis,” 8 Housing Policy Debate 763, 794 (1997) (summarizing statistics showing tolerance of integrated neighborhoods). The district court relied on an earlier study of Detroit by Reynolds Farley. Id. at 768-73 (citing Reynolds Farley, et al., “Chocolate City, Vanilla Suburbs: Will the Trend Towards Racially Separate Communities Continue?,” 7 Social Science Research 319 (1978).

11. See Jargowsky, Paul A. Poverty And Place: Ghettos, Barrios, And The American City 135-36 (1997). While there are some very high-poverty white neighborhoods in Appalachia and in some older rust belt cities, more than 95 percent of poor whites in the United States live outside of high-poverty neighborhoods. By contrast, approximately 25 percent of poor blacks and Latinos live in neighborhoods of high poverty.

12. Balfanz, Robert and Legters, Nettie, Locating The Dropout Crisis, Johns Hopkins Center for Social Organization of Schools 2-3 (2004); Swanson, Christopher B. Who Graduates? Who Doesn’t? A Statistical Portrait of Public High School Graduation Class of 2001 The Urban Institute Education Policy Center, 4-9 (2004).

13. Orfield, Gary. “Urban Schooling and the Perpetuation of Job Inequality in Metropolitan Chicago,” in Urban Labor Markets and Job Opportunity (George E. Peterson and Wayne Vroman, eds., 1992).

14. Rosenbaum, James E. and Popkin, Susan J. “Employment and Earnings of Low-Income Blacks Who Move to Middle-Class Suburbs,” in The Urban Underclass (Jenks, C. and Peterson, P. , eds., Brookings Institution,Washington D.C. 1991.)

15. Rubinowitz, Leonard S. and James E. Rosenbaum, “Crossing the Class and Color Lines: From Public Housing to White Suburbia” 164-66 (2000); see John Goering, “Political Origins and Opposition, in Choosing a Better Life: Evaluating The Moving to Opportunity Social Experiment” 37, 40 (Goering, John and Feins, Judith D., eds., 2000)

16. Crain, Robert and Wells, Amy Stuart. “Perpetuation Theory and the Long-Term Effects of School Desegregation,” 64 Review of Education Research 531, 541-52 (1994); Braddock, Jomills Henry. “More Evidence on Social-Psychological Processes that Perpetuate Minority Segregation: The Relationship of School Desegregation and Employment Desegregation” 3 Center for Johns Hopkins Social Organization of Schools, (1983).

Myron Orfield is an associate professor of Law and director of the Institute on Race and Poverty at University of Minnesota Law School, and a non-resident senior fellow at The Brookings Institution. This article is excerpted from "Racial Integration and Community Revitalization" (Vanderbilt Law Review, Fall 2000). 

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Our Educational Apartheid


Many Americans who live far from our major cities and have no firsthand knowledge of urban public schools harbor a vague notion that racial isolation—a matter of grave national significance some 35 years ago—no longer exists in any serious form. The unhappy truth, however, is that schools that were already deeply segregated 30 years ago are no less segregated now, while thousands of other schools that had been integrated (either voluntarily or by the force of law) have since been rapidly resegregating. You only need look at public school enrollment figures in most major cities. For example in the academic year beginning 2002, segregation rates of black or Hispanic students ranged from 75 percent in New York city to a more typical 84 percent in Los Angeles to a nearly total segregation rate of 94 percent in Washington D.C.


Stark as they are, even these statistics cannot begin to convey how deeply isolated children in the poorest and most segregated sections of these cities have become. In the typically colossal high schools of the Bronx, for instance, 90 to 95 percent of students are black or Hispanic. For the year 2003, only 3.5 percent of the more than 4,000 students at John F. Kennedy High School were white; at Harry S. Truman High School, only two percent of the 2,700 students were white; and at Adlai Stevenson High School, a mere eight-tenths of one percent of 3,400 students were white.

A teacher at P.S. 65 in the South Bronx once pointed out her sole white student to me with the remark: “I’ve been at this school for 18 years. This is the first white student I have ever taught.”

There is a well-known high school named for Martin Luther King Jr. in New York City. It was located in an upper-middle-class white neighborhood in the hope that it would draw large numbers of white students from the neighborhood. When the school opened in 1975, less than a block from the Lincoln Center, “It was seen,” according to The New York Times, “as a promising effort to integrate white, black, and Hispanic students in a thriving neighborhood that held one of the city’s cultural gems.” Right from the start, however, parents in the neighborhood showed great reluctance to enroll their children at the school and, despite “its prime location and its name, which itself creates the highest of expectations,” notes the Times, the school eventually became a destination for black and Hispanic students who could not obtain admission into more successful schools. It stands today as one of the nation’s most visible and problematic symbols of a legacy substantially betrayed.

Call it Anything but Segregation

Perhaps most damaging to any serious effort to address racial segregation openly is the refusal of most major arbiters of culture in our northern cities to confront, or even clearly name, an obvious reality that they would have castigated with a passionate determination in another section of the nation 50 years ago. And which, they still castigate in retrospective writings that assign it to a comfortably distant and allegedly concluded era. There is, indeed, a seemingly agreed-upon convention in much of the media today not even to use an accurate descriptor like “racial segregation“ in a narrative about a segregated school.

Linguistic sweeteners, semantic somersaults, and surrogate vocabularies are constantly employed. Schools with majority black and Hispanic students (95 percent and higher) are called “diverse” if a mere three or four percent of the students are white, or Southeast Asian, or Middle Eastern. It does not take long for visitors to these schools to discover the eviscerated meaning of the word “diverse”,which is not an accurate adjective but a mere euphemism for a plainer word that has apparently become unspeakable.

High school students in deeply segregated neighborhoods and public schools, however, are less circumspect and more open to confronting these issues. “It’s more like being hidden,” said a 15-year-old girl from Harlem in explaining to me the ways in which she and her classmates understood the racial segregation of their neighborhoods and schools. “It’s as if you have been put in a garage where [they put something] they don’t have room for but aren’t sure if they should throw it out… they put it where they don’t need to think of it again.”

Did she truly believe that America did not “have room” for her and other children of her race?

“Think of it this way,” quipped her 16-year-old companion, “If people in New York woke up one day and learned that we were gone, that we had simply died or left for somewhere else, they’d be relieved!”

Equality, it seems, is the sole article of faith to which most principals of inner-city public schools subscribe. The more realistic among them don’t even dare ask for, or expect, complete equality, which is beyond the realm of probability for many years to come. They look instead for a sufficiency of means—”adequacy” is the legal term most often used—by which to win those practical and finite victories within their reach. Higher standards, higher expectations, are repeatedly demanded of these urban principals, their teachers, and their students. But far lower standards—certainly in ethical respects—are expected of the dominant society that isolates children in unequal institutions.

In Good Times and in Bad

In 1970, when substantial numbers of white children still attended New York City’s public schools, there were 400 doctors to address the health needs of the children. By 1993, the number of doctors hired by the school system was down to 23—most of them part-time—a cutback that most severely affected children in the city’s poorest neighborhoods, where medical facilities are most deficient and health problems most extreme. Teachers told me of asthmatic children who came to class with chronic wheezing, but the schools had no doctors to attend to them.

Political leaders in New York generally point to shifting economic factors, such as the budget crisis of the mid 1970s, to explain the decline in student services. But the fact is, the city’s students have been shortchanged routinely, in good economic times and bad. The bad times were used politically to justify the cuts, but the money was never restored when the crisis passed.

“If you [ignore] the changing racial composition of the schools and look only at budget actions and political events,” says Noreen Connell, director of the nonprofit Educational Priorities Panel in New York, “you’re missing the assumptions that are underlying these decisions.” When minority parents ask for something better for their kids, she says, “the assumption is that these are parents who can be discounted. These are kids who just don’t count—children we don’t value.”

In the school year 1997–98, New York’s Board of Education spent about $8,000 to educate a third-grader in a New York City public school. At the same time, the board was spending about $12,000 per third-grader in a typical white suburb of New York, and $18,000 per third-grader in New York’s wealthiest white suburb where teachers typically made approximately $30,000 more than their counterparts in the Bronx.

The dollars on both sides of the equation have increased since then, but the discrepancies remain. In 2004, per pupil spending in New York City schools was $11,700, almost exactly the amount that Manhasset, Long Island, was spending in 1987. (In 2004, it spent over $22,000 per pupil.) In inflation-adjusted dollars, New York City has not yet caught up with its wealthiest suburbs of over a quarter-century ago.

Gross discrepancies in teacher salaries between the city and its affluent white suburbs have remained persistent as well. In 1997 the median salary for teachers in the Bronx was $43,000, compared with $74,000 in suburban Rye, $77,000 in Manhasset, and $81,000 in Scarsdale, just about 11 miles away. In 2002, salary scales for New York City’s teachers rose to levels that approximated those within the lower-spending districts in the suburbs, but the scale does not reflect actual salaries paid, which are dependent upon years of experience and advanced degrees earned. The overall figure for New York City in 2002 was $53,000, but it had climbed to $87,000 in Manhasset and exceeded $95,000 in Scarsdale.

Buying an Education with Money

It’s an oddity with many people with money—no matter how well educated and sophisticated—that while they do not doubt the benefit of making very large investments in the education of their own children, they somehow feel that there are better ways to make dysfunctional and failing schools work than “throwing money” at them.

“Can you really buy your way to better education for these children?” “Do we know enough to be quite sure that we will see an actual return on the investment we make?” The arguments are posed as questions but the answer seems to be decided in advance. Some of the people who ask these questions live in wealthy districts where the schools are well funded but they choose to send their own children to expensive private schools, some of which can cost up to $30,000 per year. Clearly, there is a double standard here or a reluctance to recognize the problem for what it really is.

As racial isolation deepens and the inequalities in education remain unabated, the principals of many inner-city schools have been forced to make choices that few principals in predominantly white public schools ever have to contemplate. Many have been dedicating vast amounts of time and effort to creating adaptive strategies that promise incremental gains within the limits of inequality.

The achievement gap between black and white children, which had steadily narrowed for three decades—the period in which school segregation decreased—until the late 1980s, started to widen once more in the early 1990s when the federal courts began the process of resegregation by dismantling the mandates of the Brown decision. Since then, the gap has continued to widen or remains essentially unchanged. Recently, there has been a modest narrowing of the gap in fourth-grade reading scores but the gap at the secondary level remains as wide as ever.

In 48 percent of high schools in the nation’s 100 largest districts—which also happen to have the highest concentrations of black and Hispanic students—less than half the entering ninth-graders graduate in four years. Between 1993 and 2002, the number of high schools graduating less than half their ninth-grade class in four years increased by 75 percent. In New York state school districts where white children make up the majority (about 94 percent of them), nearly 80 percent of students graduate in four years, but in the six percent black and Hispanic majority districts, only 40 percent do so. There are 120 high schools in New York with a minority enrollment of nearly 200,000, where less than 60 percent of entering ninth-graders even make it to twelfth grade.

Whether the issue is inequity alone or deepening resegregation or an intertwining of the two, it is well past time for us to change things. If it takes people marching in the streets and other forms of civil disobedience, if it takes more than litigation, more than legislation, and much more than resolutions introduced by members of Congress, these are prices we should be prepared to pay. “We do not have the things you have,” writes a child from a school in the South Bronx. “Can you help us?”

Jonathan Kozol is the author of many books, including Savage Inequalities and Amazing Grace. This article is adapted from "Still Separate, Still Unequal: America's Educational Apartheid" published in Harper's Magazine,September, 2005 and is based on The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America, Crown Publishing Group, New York, 2005.

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Metrics of Regional Equity

How do we measure success? As regional equity takes root in the next generation of practice, techniques and tools for measuring progress are critical to building momentum and gaining traction. Basic numerical analyses—whether counting a decreasing number of vacant properties in a neighborhood over a decade or comparing the number of jobs obtained through various CBAs in a year—bring precision and provide “hard data” to bolster arguments for regional equity policies. More subtle qualitative measures are also being developed. For example, we can now look at housing as not merely “affordable” but as existing within matrices of opportunities that include transportation to quality jobs, access to green public space, and proximity to healthful food.

A pioneer in the application of regional equity metrics for measuring and analyzing human activity and settlement patterns, urban expert and former Albuquerque Mayor David Rusk advocates using metrics to offer community leaders not only statistical indicators but also a means to interpret data. Rusk is not alone in this view. Redefining Progress (based in Oakland, California), Manuel Pastor (at the University of California at Santa Cruz) and john powell (with the Kirwan Institute)—among many others—are also part of this growing movement to establish community-defined indicators that “expose obstacles to a healthy quality of life, and illuminate economic, environmental and social trends.”[1]

Metrics also offer a way to keep multiple stakeholders committed to a plan of action without requiring congruence of motivation. Comparisons between regions that enable state or nationwide assessments are also possible with metrics. For example, Myron Orfield’s analysis of the fiscal capacities of jurisdictions illustrates compelling measurable disjunctions between affluent suburban communities and at-risk suburbs.


Racial segregation continues to be a significant factor that limits access by people of color to good jobs, good schools, increasing home equity, and many other economic goals. In his 2004 paper titled, “Regional Equity Metrics,” Rusk outlines specific regional equity goals and their corollary indices, which are based on measurements of both racial and economic segregation.[2]

Rusk writes that residential segregation indices are commonly measured in three ways: using dissimilarity indices, using isolation indices, and using exposure indices. “Dissimilarity indices measure the degree to which a minority population (e.g. blacks, Hispanics, poor persons) is set apart from the majority population (e.g. ‘whites,’ non-poor persons),” Rusk explains. “On a scale of zero to 100, an index of zero would indicate an even distribution of a minority group across all neighborhoods (census tracts) of a region; an index of ‘100’ would indicate total racial or economic apartheid. At an index of 100 for blacks, for example, all blacks and only blacks would live in certain neighborhoods and all whites and only whites would live everywhere else.”

Rusk’s use of segregation indicators in constructing a metric is a groundbreaking approach. In addition, a community’s voice, or lack thereof, can also be seen as a metric. One example of this can be seen in Thomas W. Sanchez’s study that quantifies the composition of metropolitan planning organization boards as a contributor to potential bias in allocating state and federal transportation funds nationwide.[3] (Also see Sanchez article on page 72 of this issue.) And the well-known Gini coefficient, an index that is a measure of inequality of distribution, has been used to quantify disparities in income distribution and has influenced the development of other useful metrics, including the Robin Hood index.[4]

Highly specialized and expensive research is not always required. Rusk has demonstrated this by developing metrics from United States census data collected from all jurisdictions across the country. At the Brookings Institution, 2000 census data has been the basis of several important studies, including Redefining Urban and Suburban America: Evidence from Census 2000, a three-volume study outlining the demographic trends defining our metropolitan regions.[5]

The Power of Images

Regional equity advocates like Myron Orfield, executive director of the Institute on Race and Poverty at the University of Minnesota, are using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping tools to increase their impact. A GIS map explains a region’s complex social patterns in a way that is easy to grasp. While columns of numbers are mind numbing, a map illustrating impacts across a whole region helps people to understand key regional social and economic trends that affect their lives. GIS maps can be used to show economic inequalities among communities, or how new growth at a region’s edge undermines the inner city. Assisted by such maps, communities have achieved important gains in such areas as fair housing, more equitable school financing, reform of transportation spending, and brownfield remediation.

The forces of segregation and inequality are too large to confront in isolation. Activists tackling inner-city poverty often focus on one neighborhood at a time. Yet, the power of racial discrimination and fiscal inequality in a region undermines their efforts. Maps make larger patterns of inequity visible, both to citizens and to decision-makers.[6]

In the years ahead, metrics will play an increased role in defining outcome goals and will focus efforts to achieve greater regional equity for economically isolated and racially segregated residents. By using presentation strategies illustrated effectively with metrics, advocates will be in a better position to create compelling arguments to help reduce inequalities within regions and address the isolation of the poor from the rest of society.


1. See Rusk, D. Regional Equity Metrics, a report for the CORE group at the Ford Foundation, 2004.

2. Rusk notes that, statistically, the isolation and exposure indices are highly correlated with dissimilarity indices. Change the dissimilarity indices and the isolation and exposure indices will automatically follow.

3. Sanchez, T.W. An Inherent Bias? Geographic and Racial-Ethnic Patterns of Metropolitan Planning Organization Boards. Transportation Reform Series. Washington, D.C., Brookings Institution, 2006.

4. The Robin Hood index measures income inequality. The higher the index, the greater the inequality in income distribution.

5. Katz, B., Lang, R. and Berube, A. Redefining Urban and Suburban America: Evidence from Census 2000 (3 Volumes). Washington, D.C., Brookings Institution Press, 2006.

6. For more information, see page 27 of the summer 2005 issue of Yes! A Journal of Positive Futures. Issue includes “Social Patterns,” an article by Myron Orfield addressing the effectiveness of GIS Mapping. Bainbridge Island, Washington: Positive Futures Network.

This article is adapted from Breakthrough Communities: Sustainablility and Justice in the Next American Metropolis edited by M. Paloma Pavel, to be published in June 2009 by the MIT Press. © 2009 Massachusetts Institute of Technology. All rights reserved. (See page 32 for more information on the book).

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An Equity Analysis of Transportation Funding

The primary function of Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) is to adopt long-range transportation plans that govern the use and allocation of hundreds of billions of public dollars. The equity impact of their actions and decisions is a matter of great importance to low-income communities and communities of color.

Decisions about community and regional development are most successful within a democratic framework. Effective outcomes are achieved when those participating have “a full awareness of their interests and have sufficient power to assure representativeness and equity in outcomes.”[1] However, in order to express those desires and preferences in a meaningful way, the public must be provided with the capacity to participate. A crucial component of any democratized planning process is the demystification of the decision-making process and transparency in communication of alternatives to and consequences of proposed policies.

Legal mandates related to environmental justice (EJ) and social equity in the activities of MPOs are included in Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the 1994 Executive Order 12898, which states, that “…each Federal agency shall make achieving environmental justice part of its mission by identifying and addressing, as appropriate, disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of its programs, policies, and activities on minority populations and low-income populations.” Meaning, MPOs must not only treat EJ communities equally in terms of the opportunities afforded them for meaningful public participation, those opportunities must equal those offered to the most “important” stakeholders.

Federal regulations recognize that MPOs must give EJ communities the extra assistance they need to take full advantage of those opportunities. As a consequence, MPOs are expected to provide EJ and other participating communities with:

  • Sound information and analysis that may be reasonably required to articulate the actions that best respond to their needs, preferences, and desires.
  • Continuous, rather than intermittent, engagement for more effective participation in the decision-making process. Lapses in communication and engagement between planners and stakeholders inevitably lead to substantive gaps in knowledge, especially when the decisions at stake are long-term and span multiple years.
  • A continuous and accessible flow of information to facilitate transparency. Well-documented practices that are open to checks on accountability are vital for stakeholders to understand processes leading to decision-making.

The literature on public participation shows that bottom-up approaches, which involve and respond to initiatives from EJ communities are more likely to result in active, meaningful participation by the communities because of their greater investment and ownership in the process.


Democratic Input Through Democratic Structures

Voting members of MPOs are instrumental in programming federal and state transportation funds and should ideally reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of their constituents, so that every citizen is seen to have an equal chance of providing input.[2] A survey of the 50 largest MPOs, as ranked by population, showed that the size of the MPO board does not always correlate with the size of its jurisdiction. While the average was about 26 voting members per MPO, the range was between seven (Greater Buffalo and Portland Metro) and 76 (SCAG in Los Angeles). Participation by non-local (regional, state, and federal) representatives on each board also increased the number of voting members. The outliers among the MPOs were Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles, each of which had low per capita levels of board representation relative to their population sizes of eight, 11, and 15 million respectively.

Gender. Females represent about 25 percent of voting members among MPOs surveyed and averaged over six per board. No MPO board was without females. San Diego AOG, Denver Regional COG, Southeast Michigan COG, Hillsborough County MPO, and the Metropolitan Council of Twin Cities had the highest proportion (over 40 percent each) of females. Additional research could examine whether policy emphases are affected by higher levels of female leadership.

Race and Ethnicity. The voting members of the selected MPO boards were predominantly white (approximately 88 percent) with about seven percent African Americans, three percent Hispanics, and one percent Asian/Pacific Islanders. Native Americans and “other” (combined) groups represented less than one percent of all voting members. By comparison, in 2000, the overall racial/ethnic composition of these MPOs was 61 percent white, 15 percent African American, six percent Asian, and 17 percent Hispanic.

In addition, 13 of the 50 MPOs in the study had all white members and only 10 had greater than 20 percent non-white members. The most racially and ethnically diverse group was the Oahu MPO (only 31 percent white) and the Miami Urbanized Area MPO (only 46 percent white). The MPO boards with the largest number of African Americans were in Miami (32 percent), Washington, D.C. (22 percent), and Philadelphia (17 percent). Overall, there was only a slight correlation between the racial/ethnic composition of the MPO boards and the race/ethnicity of their jurisdictions.


The Urban-Suburban Tug-of-Wars

Many MPO boards are overrepresented by suburban interests because of a “one-area, one-vote” system. District boundaries for MPO board representatives and planning units are drawn in approximately equal-sized geographic areas, so urban core areas that have denser populations than suburban zones end up being underrepresented. This system influences the level of involvement and participation of persons based on residential location—negatively so, in the case of low-income, neighborhoods of color in urban core areas.

For the MPOs in this analysis, no correlation was seen between racially diverse MPO boards and the number of EJ planning activities.. This suggests that board representation may not necessarily lead to particular planning actions, such as the performance of EJ oriented planning analyses. Other research suggests that MPO board and voting structures have a significant effect on the outcomes of transportation investment decisions—especially those related to public transit.[3] In particular, they found that for each additional suburban voter on an MPO board, one to seven percent fewer funds were allocated to public transit in MPO budgets.

Although specific information about the racial and ethnic composition of MPO boards was not previously collected, we expected minorities to be underrepresented relative to the demographic characteristics of their constituents. This was the situation recently with the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments when constituents challenged the representativeness of voting board members.[4] In particular, constituents were dissatisfied with expenditure levels for transit compared to highways in the Detroit metropolitan region, which they saw as skewing investments toward sprawl and consumption of rural land. The case has increased the visibility of MPO board structures and procedures regarding decision-making.


The Charms and Challenges of MPOs

It is difficult to gauge the level of commitment of MPOs to transportation equity principles simply by describing the types of planning activities that they undertake. Moreover, the racial and ethnic composition of voting members is only an indirect measure of adequate public participation and representation, although it may serve as an indicator of the degree to which minorities have a stake in regional policy making.

Planning analyses directed at equity concerns and adequate representation are two visible factors affecting MPO planning outcomes, which have both practical and symbolic importance. Data collection, analysis, and system evaluation regarding fairness at least signal an awareness of potential weaknesses and corrections. Follow through and implementation, however, are the ultimate sign of organizational commitment. In addition, a diverse set of representative policy-makers would ideally reflect the range of constituent preferences.

An interesting question is whether planning analysis and representative boards are substitutes for or complements within the MPO structure. Is it sufficient to have thorough data collection, analysis, and monitoring of equity outcomes at the metropolitan scale despite unrepresentative board members, or do representative boards (and their consequent voting) more directly influence policy and decision-making that affect distributional equity? Finally, does the combination of planning analyses and representative boards have synergistic effects that provide a greater potential for addressing the needs of traditionally underserved populations?

Specific challenges remain in regard to greater public participation and involvement in transportation decision-making by state departments of transportation and MPOs.[5] Community-based groups that assist transportation agencies should be encouraged to improve outreach processes and strategies to identify culturally diverse groups and facilitate their involvement. Such efforts are greatly needed to support information dissemination about transportation and related land-use impacts. Mechanisms are needed that allow formal recognition of coalitions of community representatives on MPO advisory committees and decision-making boards. In addition, MPOs, local governments, researchers, and community-based organizations need resources for more data collection and analysis about transportation access to basic needs, such as healthcare, jobs, affordable housing, and public education.[6]


1. Kaiser, E., Godschalk, D. and Chapin F., Urban Land Use Planning. 4th edition. Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois Press,1995.

2. Nelson, L., Robbins, M. and Simonsen, B. 1998. “Introduction to the Special Issue on Governance.” The Social Science Journal, 35(4): 478-491.

3. Nelson, A.C., Sanchez, T.W., Wolf, J.F., and Farquhar, M.B. “Metropolitan Planning Organization Voting Structure and Transit Investment Bias: Preliminary Analysis with Social Equity Implications, Transportation Research Record (TRR),” Journal of the Transportation Research Board, 2004.

4. Brooks, J. “Unrest plagues regional board,” The Detroit News, January 25, 2004.

5. Sanchez, T.W., Stolz, R. and Ma J.S. Moving to Equity: Addressing Inequitable Effects of Transportation Policies on Minorities. Cambridge, Mass: The Civil Rights Project at Harvard University, 2003.

6. Surface Transportation Policy Project. Stay the course: How to make TEA-21 even better. Washington, D.C. 2003.

Thomas Sanchez is chair of the City and Metropolitan Planning Program at the University of Utah and Nonresident Senior Fellow with the Brookings Institution. He is the author (With Marc Brenman) of The Right to Transportaion: Moving to Equity (Planners Press, 2007). 

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Does the Marin Transportation System Shut Out People of Color?

A recent Texas Institute of Transportation study confirms what many rush hour commuters in the Bay Area have long suspected—traffic congestion here is the second worst in the nation, Los Angeles being the worst.[1] Specifically, in the North Bay, Marin County has logged the largest percent increase in traffic in the Bay Area between 2005 and 2007; up 20 percent from 2004.[2]

A boom in Marin County employment has a great deal to do with the traffic crunch. As jobs in Marin grew by 8.5 percent, the number of commuters from outside the county rose to 40 percent.[3] Since the growth in employment opportunities was not paralleled by an increase in affordable and subsidized housing in the county, a large part of Marin County’s workforce is forced to live in neighboring counties and commute to work.

There are also other, historical reasons for the county’s traffic predicaments. In 1961, a plan to run BART (Bay Area Rapid Transport) through Marin County was turned down owing to the county’s population being too small to support the tax base needed for the project. Since then, although the tax base has grown considerably, county residents have turned down three other transportation measures (in 1990, 1998 and 2006) out of a reluctance to pay for public transit.[4] The implication being, Marin residents want to keep their community isolated. Additionally, there was a fear that if BART went through the North Bay, property values would deteriorate, the county’s economy would weaken, and minorities from “undesirable” neighborhoods would enter Marin more freely, leading to a potential rise in crime. Today, Marin’s failure to deal with transit-related issues has given rise to serious problems around transportation, both within and to and from the county.

The Marin-East Bay Divide

There is no light rail, ferry, train, bicycle path, or cable car that connects East Bay neighborhoods to anywhere in Marin. So, commuters from the East Bay have two choices: drive a car across the Richmond/San Rafael Bridge, or take a bus.

Golden Gate Transit, the only major bus line in Marin County, runs two bus routes—40 and 42—from the Del Norte BART station in Richmond to the transit hub in San Rafael. The routes were launched in 1991 to connect the under-utilized work force in Contra Costa County with employment opportunities in Marin County.[5] Routes 40 and 42, however, are not a commuter’s ideal option as the buses snail through Richmond neighborhoods instead of using the freeways, or the much faster Richmond Parkway.

A one-way trip from Del Norte to San Rafael on Route 40 or 42 can take 45 minutes to an hour even without the rush hour traffic. By comparison, a car commute from Richmond to San Rafael takes around 25 minutes. What’s more, the buses run approximately once every 40 minutes and service stops at 8:00 PM. This is not very convenient for the low wage workers, such as housecleaners, nannies, cooks, and gardeners, who use Golden Gate Transit the most but do not work the usual nine-to-five day.

Nearly 658,500 people rode Golden Gate Transit buses in July 2008—about 9.6 percent more than in July 2007—and 80 percent of this ridership was during peak commuting hours.[6] A majority of the bus riders are minorities and/or low wage workers and nearly 45 percent are persons of color.[7] In fact, 25 percent of Golden Gate Transit riders make less than $25,000 per household annually.[8] The projected job growth in the North Bay, 30 percent, is in occupations that pay at or just above the minimum wage of $6.75 per hour.[9]

Getting Around (or not) Within Marin

Traveling within Marin County is not that much better than traveling to and from it. Golden Gate Transit is the main bus line, heavily utilized by the Canal neighborhood, which is isolated from the rest of Marin by a waterway and the interconnecting freeways of Highway 101 and Interstate 580.

Demographically, the community is 70 percent Hispanic and over 15 percent of Canal residents live below the poverty line, compared to less than eight percent for the rest of the county. The number of households in the Canal without access to a car is dramatically higher than in the rest of Marin County, so Canal residents are twice as likely to use public transit than the rest of Marin.[10] At the same time, the neighborhood has very limited resources, such as grocery stores, banks, hospitals, and schools, which makes it extremely inconvenient for residents of this isolated segment of Marin to access essential services and goods in a timely and practical manner like any other resident of Marin County.

Routes 35 and 36, the two bus lines that operate through the Canal, are the most heavily used in Marin.These buses are often crowded and late, come too infrequently and do not operate early in the morning or late at night.The disparity in transportation access between the low income and more affluent regions of Marin are more than apparent and should be rectified.

Transportation as Basic Right

Traffic congestion and accessibility have become central issues affecting Marin today. The Metropolitan Transportation Committee recently released funding to Golden Gate Transit to improve Routes 40 and 42. The service is now expected to run until midnight, seven days a week, and offer several limited-stop buses. This new and improved bus route from the East Bay to Marin will be a more streamlined commute and the expanded hours will benefit low-wage workers who commonly work late at night. It is hoped that service funding will be allocated to help expand the bus line over the next three years, including an increase of 28 to 33 roundtrips during peak commute hours.[11]

The funding to Routes 40 and 42 is a good start but more needs to be done. Extra buses are needed from other cities in the East Bay as well. Traveling from Berkeley or Oakland to the Del Norte Bart Station to catch a bus into Marin can be a long and arduous task. There is a serious need for direct bus lines from Berkeley and Oakland to Marin for workers commuting from those cities. Moreover, since these cities connect to BART and other fully functional bus lines, like the AC Transit, Marin County would then be connected to the Bay Area at large through a network of transit services.

Future funding should also be directed towards offering more incentives for car commuters to ride the bus. A dedicated bus only lane on the Richmond/San Rafael Bridge, for example, would make the trip dramatically shorter. Making the buses themselves more commuter friendly with Wi-Fi connections and plush seats would also attract more riders. A good start in this direction would be to use Marin voter-approved Measure A funds primarily for local transit systems—within Marin in districts like the Canal, and to East Bay cities.

It’s time for Marin County and transportation experts to take serious steps towards resolving the conundrum of the county’s traffic nightmare. Available transportation obviously has become insufficient to meet the needs of commuters and residents. Adding more bus lines through communities like the Canal and from the East Bay is imperative not only to alleviate traffic congestion but also to meet the basic needs of these individuals who make up Marin’s primary workforce.


1. Texas Transportation Institute, Urban Mobility Study, 2001.

2. Metropolitan Transportation Commission, “Facts and Figures: Traffic Slows Down as the Bay Area Economy Speeds Up.” July/August 2006.

3. “Moving Forward: A 25-year Transportation Vision for Marin County,” Nelson/Nygaard Consulting Associates.

4. Prado, Mark. “SMART Rail Plan’s Price up $200 million,”?Marin Independent Journal,?May 6, 2008.

5. “Bus Service Bridges East Bay-West Bay Gap,” www.mtc.ca.gov, April 14, 2008.

6. Golden Gate Transit. “Recent Trends in Bridge Traffic & Transit Ridership” www.goldengate.org/news, April 23, 2008.

7. Metropolitan Transportation Commission: Transit Passenger Demographic Survey, 2006-07. www.mtc.ca.gov.

8. Ibid.

9. Rhee, Nari and Acland, Dan. The Limits of Prosperity: Growth, Inequality, and Poverty in the North Bay, New Economy, Working Solutions, Santa Rosa, 2005.

10. Transportation Authority of Marin, City of San Rafael: Canal Neighborhood Community-Based Transportation Plan, September 2006.

11. Ibid.

Ericka Erickson is the associate director of the Marin Grassroots Leadership Network.

Race and Regionalsm | Vol. 15, No. 1 | Fall 2008 | Credits

Traffic Causes Death and Disease in San Francisco Neighborhood

There is an environmental and health crisis brewing in the inner city and working class barrios of the San Francisco Bay Area. Their residents—primarily working class communities of color and immigrants—are dealing with the health impacts of heavy local and regional traffic that has been disproportionately channeled through their neighborhoods. Thanks to the transportation planning decisions made over the last generation, families looking for housing are often faced with the “choice” of an affordable but unhealthy community vs. a healthy but unaffordable neighborhood.

A Community Overwhelmed by Traffic

Southeastern San Francisco’s Excelsior District is a vibrant, working class community, home to many families of color and immigrants. It is also a community cradled by Highway 280 and the large, busy thoroughfares of Alemany Boulevard, Mission Street, and San Jose Avenue. So, there is a constant flow of traffic—particularly fast-moving trucks and buses on residential streets.

Concerned about the health impacts of the inordinately heavy traffic with its concomitant air pollution, noise, and safety hazards on the largely immigrant and working class communities of the area, PODER (People Organizing to Demand Environmental & Economic Rights), along with researchers from the San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH) and the University of California Berkeley School of Public Health (UCB), developed a community-based Health Impact Assessment (HIA).[1]

PODER, community residents, and allies conducted door-to-door surveys in Spanish, English, and Chinese; counted traffic on street corners; took pictures of the neighborhood; and interviewed local residents to gather first-hand experiences and document the voices and ideas of the community within the HIA. The participatory approach brought together people of all ages and immigrant backgrounds to share their knowledge and experiences.

SFDPH helped to assess local air quality and monitor air and noise levels; and to model air quality and noise exposures based on community traffic counts. PODER also worked with students from a UCB Environmental Justice class to evaluate the walking environment and reviewed historical documents on the construction of Highway 280. Finally, they compiled and analyzed publicly available community health data, including death, hospitalization, and traffic-related injury data and demographics from the United States Census.

Traffic: An Environmental Justice Concern

Disturbingly, more people—particularly children—are living closer to the freeway than in the past. And a historical analysis of census data reveals that the freeway has become a “color line” through the community, with the racial composition of communities on either side notably different. Also, more people of color live in the area since the freeway was built.

Traffic permeates the home lives of the people in the study area. Residents report seeing, feeling, hearing, and smelling traffic and its negative by-products on a regular basis. They smell traffic exhaust on the sidewalk, at the bus stop, and even in their homes; their sleep is disturbed by traffic noise; and they worry about speeding cars and trucks on residential streets and the safety of children at play. These community experiences were also reflected in the air quality and noise modeling and measurement. The combination of intense freeway traffic coupled with focused local diesel truck and bus traffic creates neighborhood “hot spots” that exceed SFDPH’s recommended action levels for roadway exhaust exposures.

The Excelsior neighborhood had the highest overall number of asthma hospitalizations of all San Francisco zip codes from 2001 to 2006.[2] Furthermore, ischemic heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, and lung disease, all of which have an increased risk from long-term exposure to air pollution and noise, top the neighborhood list of illnesses and causes of death. Traffic collisions also are among the top 10 causes of death and injury.[3] (For a detailed summary of these and additional project findings, visit www.podersf.org).

Educating the Community

Informed by local knowledge and the HIA, PODER and community members used various methods to share the findings within the community. PODER leaders wrote and performed a skit about how traffic pollution–especially from diesel trucks and buses—affects community health. Many workshops and trainings were held for community residents, and popular education materials, including a comic strip, were created. PODER also created a folleto, or pamphlet, which documents the findings of the HIA and celebrates the community’s unsung heroes who live on the frontlines of heavy local and regional traffic.

PODER worked closely with the Excelsior community to advocate for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to:

  • prioritize hybrid electric buses in communities most impacted by traffic-related pollution;
  • minimize truck traffic on streets in front of homes, schools, playgrounds, and other sensitive areas; and
  • establish a network of truck routes (through a participatory process) to minimize the health impacts on surrounding residential neighborhoods, while fac­il­itat­ing the efficient flow of truck traffic.

PODER leaders presented the problems, along with the analysis and suggested solutions to decision makers at the Municipal Transportation Agency, which has committed to creating operations protocols to deploy hybrid electric vehicles on lines serving southeast San Francisco. Simultaneously, PODER is also working with the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to address the problem of concentrated traffic pollution from diesel trucks passing through the heart of the neighborhood.

The Lessons of Excelsior

The Excelsior study is remarkable for its collaborative, community-based approach to assessing the health impacts of traffic on a residential neighborhood. It draws on community members’ expertise and experiences in their local environment and combines it with the scientific knowledge and research tools made available by local universities and the city’s public health department—to generate solid evidence that can inform policy makers about the health consequences of their decisions. With this experience behind us, we look forward to a future in which the impacts of transportation policies and plans on environmental justice and community health are routinely considered and mitigated. 


1. Kemm J., Parry J., Palmer S. (Eds.) Health Impact Assessment: Concepts, Theory, Techniques, and Applications. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2004.

2. San Francisco asthma hospitalization and emergency room data by resident zip code obtained by request from California Breathing, a program in the California Department of Public Health’s Environmental Health Investigations Branch. Additional information on asthma data can be accessed at: http://www.californiabreathing.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=89&Itemid=270.

3. Data accessed from the San Francisco Burden of Disease and Injury website at http://www.healthysf.org/bdi/outcomes/index.html.

Charlie Sciammas works with PODER (People Organizing to Demand Environmental & Economic Rights); Tom Rivard, Megan Wier, and Rajiv Bhatia work with the San Francisco Department of Public Health; and Edmund Seto works with the University of California Berkeley, School of Public Health.

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The Race and Gender Wealth Gap

The economic justice movement has historically focused on income equality. To the extent that attention was given to assets, the assumption was that once families’ incomes are not consumed with basic needs, asset accrual will follow. While some gains have been made in narrowing the earnings gap, today wealth inequality is higher in the United States than any other industrialized country: the wealthiest one percent own one-third of the nation’s wealth. As with all inequality, it is important to recognize the racial and gendered elements of the disparity. In the United States, families of color own just one-tenth of what white families own.

Lack of wealth is both a cause and an effect of low income and poverty, and the two are highly correlated, creating a cycle of economic instability. Without adequate income, poor people—who are disproportionately people of color and women—are unlikely to acquire assets, whether purchasing a home or saving. Similarly, lack of asset ownership limits income opportunities, such as seeking advanced education or starting a business.

Asset ownership and wealth are in many ways a more elemental measure of economic well-being than income. Income is a short-term measure and is certainly critical for meeting daily living expenses. In contrast, wealth—which is more likely to be affected by previous generations—allows families to weather financial hardships, such as economic downturns and unexpected periods of unemployment. More profoundly, wealth creates opportunity and allows families to move from poverty to long-term prosperity.

If the accrual and maintenance of assets are critical to measuring economic well-being, asset poverty describes the condition of families for whom a sudden interruption in income would immediately produce serious consequences. In California, asset poverty rates are approximately twice income poverty rates, as defined by the federal poverty guidelines. Nearly one quarter of California families are asset poor. The economic situation for women and people of color is even more dire with one quarter of female-headed households and one third of minority-headed households having zero or negative net worth.

Women and people of color fare worse across the board on all common measures of economic security. They are less likely to own a bank account, which increases their vulnerability to predatory check cashing practices. They are also less likely to own their own home—the second most commonly held asset in the United States after vehicles.

Wealth Through the Racial Lens

On every count, people of color own less wealth than white Americans, as revealed by the following data:

African Americans (31 percent) and Latinos (35 percent) are approximately two and a half times more likely than whites (13 percent) to have zero or negative net worth.

Three-quarters of whites own their own homes compared to 46.7 percent Latinos and 48.1 percent African Americans.

More than half of white families have retirement accounts and a majority own some stocks. By comparison only 30 percent of African American households own stocks and they are one-fifth the value of what whites own.

Furthermore, the data shows that even within a given class, white Americans have greater access to assets and removing the wealthy, predominantly white elite from calculations reveals that white working-class people have on average more assets than people of color. Current trends show that this racial wealth gap is continuing to grow. According to the Federal Reserve Bank, from 1995 to 2001, the average family of color saw their net worth fall seven percent to $17,100, while an average white family’s net worth grew 37 percent to $120,000 in the same period.

The severity and persistence of the racial wealth gap requires targeted and strategic attention.

Wealth Through the Gender Lens

The gender wealth gap is more difficult to measure because wealth is typically a household-level characteristic, often with people of different genders in the same household. Consequently, most data on wealth disparity between men and women looks only at non-married households, which comprise 47 percent of all households according to the 1998 census.

Women are less likely than men to own almost every type of asset. The median value of assets held by women is almost always lower than that of their male counterparts. A smaller percent of women own stocks, bonds, and other financial assets compared to men. Women are also less likely to hold retirement accounts and a woman’s pension is typically smaller than a man’s.

Married households are significantly wealthier than non-married households. However, marriage and divorce affect men and women in different ways. Marriage reduces a woman’s likelihood of participation in the labor market, whereas no such consequence is found for men. In addition, women’s economic status suffers more than men’s upon divorce. Even widowed women, who fare best of all non-married women, own only $0.59 for every dollar of wealth owned by widowed men. Never-married women have the least wealth of all household types, owning less than a quarter of the wealth owned by never-married men. Never-married women’s median net worth is just $2,500 compared to the $148,700 median net worth of married individuals.

Persistent Factors of Inequality in Wealth

Most private wealth in the United States is inherited, which perpetuates the racial wealth gap. Approximately 80 percent of assets come from transfers from prior generations. Whites are approximately five times more likely than people of color to inherit after the death of a parent and they inherit nearly three times the value. One quarter of white families received an inheritance averaging almost $145,000, but only one in 20 African American families inherited, with an average inheritance of approximately $42,000. In addition, whites are two-and-a-half times more likely than African Americans to receive modest gifts from living relatives, such as contributions to college tuition or a down payment on a home.

Another factor is that for nearly 150 years, the United States government has encouraged asset building through targeted policies, such as the Homestead Act (1862) and the GI Bill (1944). While the stated intention of most asset building policies is to benefit working and poor families, a deeper look shows that they have failed to benefit low-income families; in large part owing to the predominance of asset building policies that operate through the tax code.

Currently, almost $300 billion per year in federal tax expenditures goes to support asset building among individuals in the form of tax credits, deferments, or exemptions for investments, homeownership, and retirement accounts. These policies are of little benefit to many low-income individuals who do not have tax liabilities. Low-income families who cannot afford a down payment on a home do not qualify for a mortgage or the generous income-tax deductions for mortgage interest and property taxes. In fact, it is households earning over $50,000 a year that receive over 90 percent of the benefits of a home mortgage tax deduction.

A new look at asset policy is needed to address centuries of economic inequality. Policies must focus on the specific needs of and unique opportunities for lower-income families, women, and people of color.

Women’s Initiative: A Case Study

Since 1988, Women’s Initiative has been helping lower income women of color achieve economic security through microenterprise, which typically has very low start-up costs. Its culturally competent, wrap-around business and personal development training in English and Spanish is designed to help low income and low asset women facing multiple barriers transform their work experience and ingenuity into a growing asset, which can then be leveraged to acquire additional assets, such as real estate, vehicles, bank accounts, and retirement funds.

About 31 percent of program participants are at or below the federal poverty line at enrollment (average household net worth is $12,968) and about 83 percent are women of color. In addition, many report low credit scores, including one or more bankruptcies, and are unable to access formal banking relationships when they enter the program. Many face other economic obstacles, such as little formal education, physical disability, and a history of domestic violence.

In 2008, Women’s Initiative conducted a study of its client data collected between 1998 and 2007, which supports the hypothesis that microenterprise is a very effective way to move low income women and families toward lasting economic self-sufficiency. (For information on research methodology and comprehensive findings, see the full report Closing the Wealth Gap through Self-employment: Women of Color Achieving the American Dream at www.womensinitiative.org.

Women’s Initiative Client Research

Despite the financial risks often associated with business ownership, women in business have 40 percent higher average household incomes and 48 percent more household net worth than clients who have not yet started their businesses.

Participants in business management training reported an increase in the average value of the businesses from $914 (median: $0) before training to $6,352 (median: $300) two years after training.

More than three out of five clients (62 percent) reported gains in overall household net worth and home ownership doubled to one out of five (20 percent) after program participation.

African American clients reported the greatest average absolute growth (over 1,000 percent) in business equity two years after training, while Latina clients saw the largest relative gains (3,000 percent).

Latina clients experienced greater average gains in overall household wealth than non-Latinas. Moreover, clients who received services in Spanish reported higher average overall household wealth two years after training than clients who received services in English.

Microenterprise: A Possible Equalizer

The persistent income gap for women and people of color contributes to the wealth gap in the United States, as these families are unable to put away savings for investment and other asset building activities. Income inequality persists across generations as wealth is inherited. Government policy—which historically did not By equally benefit poor families and women and people of color—generated an initial inequality that has been perpetuated through subsequent poorly-targeted policies. Policies and programs to reduce the racial and gender wealth gap must provide culturally competent and targeted support for asset building.

Research conducted by the Women’s Initiative bolsters the case that microenterprise is an important tool for women seeking economic security. In addition to the significant income gains previously documented, there is now compelling evidence that on average, total household net worth rises dramatically after business training. The chance to leverage her skills, creativity, and hard work through business ownership allows a woman to create her own upward mobility. The relatively low start-up costs of microenterprises allows women to build an asset that in turn can be used to generate a safety net of personal wealth for the entire family.

Given the conclusions of the Women’s Initiative study, one can confidently argue that any new asset policies targeted at bridging the wealth gap must include culturally-competent, wrap-around business training for lower income women.


1. Lui, M., Robles, B., Leondar-Wright, B., Brewer, R. and Adamson, R. The Color of Wealth: The Story Behind the U.S. Racial Wealth Divide. New York: The New Press, 2006.

2. Nembhard, Jessica Gordon and Chiteji, Ngina (Eds). Wealth Accumulation and Communities of Color in the United States: Current Issues. (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 2006.)

3. Corporation For Enterprise Development (CFED): “Owing more than we own.” www.cfed.org, 2008.

Karuna Jaggar is director of research and public policy for Women's Initiative


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Predatory Lending and Foreclosure

Illustration: Foreclosures © 2007 Daryl Cagle politfcailcartoons.com

The Gonzales family wanted to purchase a home, but could only afford a mortgage of $2,700 per month. Although their conversations with the mortgage broker were in Spanish, their loan documents were entirely in English, which they could not read. It turned out that their mortgage cost them $4,700 monthly and carried an interest rate that adjusted up in six months. Before long, the Gonzales family was paying $5,000 per month, twice what they could afford, and without any hope of getting out of the mortgage because of a $16,000 prepayment penalty, which they had been unaware of.

Caroline Washington, an 83-year-old African American woman living in San Francisco, was induced by her broker to refinance her home three times in three years, causing her $52,000 loan balance to balloon to $240,000. Forced to make monthly payments of over $1,600, which represented nearly all of her fixed income, Ms. Washington lost her home to foreclosure.

The Gon
zales family
and Ms. Washington—both early victims of the foreclosure crisis that will last years and claim millions more victims—testified at a Federal Reserve hearing on mortgage practices on June 16, 2006.

Each day, about 1,300 homes go into foreclosure in California. Many of them are occupied by working families, seniors, immigrants, and people of color who were targeted by unscrupulous mortgage lenders and brokers. The impacts of these foreclosures have been devastating: lower property values for neighboring residents, blight, increased crime, less tax revenue to local governments to fund key services, and larger numbers of displaced tenants and foreclosed homeowners competing for limited affordable housing opportunities.

The Subprime American Dream Unravels

Much of the current foreclosure crisis is rooted in the subprime home loan market, where lenders make expensive loans to “credit-impaired” borrowers who are, or believe they are, otherwise unable to qualify for a conventional or prime loan. In 2006, subprime lending was a $600 billion industry that made its money by trapping borrowers, often people of color, in bad loans.

At the height of the subprime loan market, brokers pushed loans that in many cases were fraudulent, and lenders responded to growing competition by lowering underwriting standards and creating incentives to sell problematic option Adjustable Rate Mortgage (ARM) and stated income loans. These flawed products were then packaged and fed to Wall Street securitizers and investors who chose not to screen out the problematic products and were not compelled to do so by the so-called regulators. As more and more borrowers like the Gonzales family and Ms. Washington began to default on their unaffordable loan payments, subprime lenders started to go out of business by the hundreds. But the very risky loans they made remained in our neighborhoods and exploded into foreclosures that continue to harm communities.

An analysis by the California Reinvestment Coalition (CRC) and allies showed that neighborhoods of color in seven metropolitan areas throughout the country were much more likely to be saturated with loans made by subprime lenders who went out of business for making too many bad loans. In Los Angeles, the market share of these high-risk lenders was 9.5 times higher in neighborhoods of color than white neighborhoods.

Subprime Loans = Repackaged Redlining

In some ways, subprime lending changed the traditional lending paradigm for neighborhoods of color from one of redlining (where lenders avoided entire neighborhoods) to reverse redlining (where lenders targeted these neighborhoods for more costly and risky home loans).

Study after study has shown that people of color are far more likely to get stuck with higher priced subprime home loans than whites. In 2006, over 45 percent of loans to African Americans and over 43 percent of loans to Latinos in CaliforniaCalifornia were higher-priced subprime loans, compared with only 19 percent to whites. Overall, neighborhoods of color in were 2.7 times as likely to be stuck with subprime loans as white neighborhoods.

The CRC estimates that borrowers of color in California (many of whom could have qualified for prime loans) have lost billions of dollars of equity in their homes because of subprime loans.

Containing the Crisis: A Modest Proposal

Shockingly, there are virtually no rules, reporting obligations, or regulatory oversight which obligate loan servicers to work with borrowers seeking to avoid foreclosure. As such, it is not surprising that in four CRC surveys of home loan counseling agencies serving over 10,000 borrowers per month, the most common outcome for homeowners cited was foreclosure.

There are ways to alleviate the devastating impacts of foreclosures, and policymakers must act quickly to pursue solutions that match the magnitude of the problem, including:

  • Imposing a 180-day moratorium on all foreclosures to allow time for workouts to take place.
  • Requiring loan servicers to offer long term, affordable loan modifications to borrowers trying to stay in their homes, including reform of the Bankruptcy Code.
  • Imposing checks on loan servicers to ensure that they are truly working to keep borrowers in their homes for the long term, including requiring them to report data that show whether they are helping people or not.
  • Enforcing consumer protection, the Community Reinvestment Act, and fair lending laws to ensure that low-income and neighborhoods of color are neither targeted for abusive products, nor ignored by mainstream financial institutions.
  • Prohibiting predatory lending practices.

At their testimony, the Gonzales family and Ms. Washington hoped that the laws would change soon enough to help homeowners struggling to keep their homes. Two years and millions of foreclosures later, so do we.

Kevin Stein is the associate director of the California Reinvestment Coalition. To view a short documentary about the foreclosure crisis, and for more information, visit www.calreinvest.org


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Bay Area Health Inequities

The generation of Americans born at the beginning of the 21st century can expect to live, on average, 30 years longer than those born at the beginning of the 20th century. And at least 25 of those years are attributable, not to antibiotics, vaccines, and other medical advances, but to improvements in our physical and social environments, such as food and water sanitation, workplace and traffic safety, restrictions on the use of tobacco products, and housing conditions.[1]

Geographic distribution of poverty rates in Bay Area counties.

In fact, the odds of being healthy can depend very much on the community in which you live. In the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, people who live in West Oakland can expect to live on average 10 years less than those who live in the Berkeley Hills. Similarly, people in Bayview/Hunters Point can expect to live on average 14 years less than their counterparts on Russian Hill, and residents of Bay Point can expect to live on average 11 years less than people in Orinda.[2]

Life expectancy in the Bay Area—and around the nation—conforms to a pattern called the “social gradient.”[3] The more income and wealth people have, the more likely they are to live longer. This pattern can be seen in the graph “Bay Area Life Expectancy by Race/Ethnicity: Data from 1999-2001” (on page 85), which correlates life expectancy to the extent of poverty in specific areas (census tracts). People who live in places where there is the least poverty can expect to live, on average, 10 years longer than people in places with the most poverty.

An Old and Systemic Problem

If everyone in the Bay Area lived as long as people in areas with the lowest poverty, death rates in the poorest areas would be reduced by nearly half, and in the “middle class” neighborhoods, by 20 percent.[4]

Residential segregation into affluent, middle income, and poor communities contributes to the reasons why where we live can have a significant influence on how long we can expect to live. But beyond the effects of income distribution, there is growing evidence that racism itself is a factor in health, translating into persistent stress and associated illnesses.

Over the centuries, racism has taken its greatest toll on Native Americans and African Americans, who have the poorest health status. (See graph on page 85.) African Americans have the lowest life expectancy in general.[5] And although whites have lower life expectancy in the highest poverty areas, fewer than one half of one percent of whites live in those areas.



Asians and Latinos have overall longer life expectancies than both African Americans and whites, and are less likely to show the influences of poverty. While the issues are complex, a probable contributing factor is, in part, significant immigrant populations. Many studies have shown that, while the health of immigrants overall is comparatively good, their health status deteriorates the longer they live in the United States, with subsequent generations showing poorer health along a number of public health indicators.[6]

The influence of neighborhood on health is not only a matter of poverty and physical environment, but also of cultural factors, such as family, community, and diet, which can help or hinder people’s abilities to withstand the effects of poverty and environmental risks. Unfortunately, many of the cultural supports and practices that help immigrant populations maintain better health initially are subject to erosion over time as subsequent generations adopt new ways of life and environmental factors, both social and physical, take their toll.

Improvements in neighborhood living conditions can benefit those who are most vulnerable as well as those who are most resilient. 

Bridging the Chasm Between Rich and Poor

The United States today has a degree of income and wealth inequality not seen since the 1920s, thanks to the changes in the way income, estates, and capital gains have been taxed over the past few decades. In order to close the health gap between the ultra rich and the middle and lower income groups, we have to take some steps to level the economic playing field.

1. Create a more equitable tax structure through policies that shift some of the tax burden from the middle and working class to the wealthy.

2. Tie minimum wage policies to cost of living. The first minimum wage increase passed by Congress in this decade has not kept close to the rise in cost of living. Living wage campaigns, such as the one passed in San Francisco, provide additional financial and health benefits.

3. Introduce education policies—from early childhood development through college—that mitigate, rather than exacerbate, levels of inequality in society. Educational priorities, such as those recently announced by the California Superintendent of Public Instruction to reduce high school dropout rates among African Americans and Latinos, will be important for creating avenues out of poverty.

4. Create housing policies that enable more people to make secure investments, which can contribute to improvements in overall health. Improvement of living conditions in increasingly multi-ethnic, low-income communities will have to become a priority for public agencies and private business investment if we want to contribute to improving health. Building new alliances within communities to assure that neighborhood improvements do not mean displacement and gentrification will be an important corollary.

5. Revise land use, transportation, economic development, and redevelopment policies with an eye to creating equity and improving health. There is a growing recognition that the built environment has consequences for health, and public health departments and planning agencies are gradually beginning to work together to make health a consideration in land use and transportation decisions.

6. Encourage neighborhood living conditions that combine mixed income and mixed use facilities, public transportation, affordable housing, open space, and removal of blight without causing displacement.

Public Health in the 21st Century

After decades of urban sprawl resulting from bad development decisions that did not consider the needs or necessities of affected communities, there are, finally, new currents in land use planning. Smart growth and the new urbanism are consistent with many planning principles that support good health. However, we are still a long way from making the relationship between public health and planning a priority for achieving greater health equity. That, calls for wider political support.

One avenue for widening political support is through renewed national dialogues about race and racism. We certainly hope that the openings for such a dialogue emerging from the 2008 presidential election might yield new strategies for reducing the toll taken by racism on the health of poor and immigrant populations and contribute to improving the health of future generations.






1. See, for example, Kawachi I, Kennedy B.P., Wilkinson R.G., The Society and Population Health Reader: Income Inequality and Health, The New Press, New York, 1999;

Sieguistr J., Marmot M., Social Inequalities and Health: New Evidence and Policy Implications, Oxford University Press USA, 2006;

Hofrichter R, Health and Social Justice: Politics, Ideology and Inequity in the Distribution of Disease, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 2003;

Adler N, et al, Reaching for a Healthier Life: Facts on Socioeconomic Status and Health in the United States, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Socioeconomic Status and Health, 2008, www.macses.ucsf.edu

2. Life expectancy is calculated using deaths for census tracts aggregated by poverty level and/or race/ethnicity. While the census tracts do not conform precisely to the city or neighborhood boundaries cited, they are within those boundaries.

3. Life expectancy is the number of years someone born today can expect to live if exposed to current death rates throughout their life.

4. Death rates refer to the number of deaths per 100,000 population. They are adjusted to allow comparisons among populations with different age distributions. Death rates are used when groupings cause the numbers to be too small to calculate life expectancy reliably.

5. See Adler N., et al, op. cit. Reaching for a Healthier Life: Facts on Socioeconomic Status and Health in the United States, 2008,

6. See, e.g., Koya, K.L. and Egede, L.E. “Association Between Length of Residence and Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors Among an Ethnically Diverse Group of United States Immigrants,” Journal of General Internal Medicine, 22(6):841-6, June, 2007.

 Bob Prentice is the director of the Bay Area Regional Health Inequities Initiative (BARHII). Matt Beyers, an epidemiologist with the Alameda County Public Health Department, produced the data in this article, including the graphs and maps. A copy of the full report, as well as related information, can be found at: www.barhii.org

Race and Regionalsm | Vol. 15, No. 1 | Fall 2008 | Credits

Resources for Race and Regionalism

Bay Area Regional Health Inequities Initiatives
180 Grand Avenue, #750
Oakland, CA 94612
(510) 302-3367

Brookings Institute
1775 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20036
(202) 797-6000

Bus Riders Union
Labor/Community Strategic Center
3780 Wilshire Boulevard, #1200
Los Angeles, CA 90010
(213) 387-2800

California Reinvestment Coalition
474 Valencia Street, #230
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 864-3980

Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race
Columbia University
423 Hamilton Hall M.C. 2880
1130 Amsterdam Avenue
New York, NY 10027
(212) 854-0507

Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports
464 Lucas Avenue, #202
Los Angeles, CA 90017

Environmental Justice Resource Center
Clark Atlanta University
223 James P. Brawley Drive
Atlanta, GA 30314
(404) 880-6911

Gamaliel Foundation
203 North Wabash Avenue, #8078
Chicago, IL 60601
(312) 357-2639

Good Jobs First
1616 P Street, NW, Suite 210
Washington, DC 20036
(202) 232-1616

Kirwan Institute for The Study of Race and Ethnicity
433 Mendenhall Laboratories
125 S. Oval Mall
Columbus, OH 43202
(614) 688-5429

Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy
464 Lucas Avenue, #202
Los Angeles, CA 90017
(213) 977-9400

Marin Grassroots Leadership Network
30 North San Pedro Rd., #290
San Rafael, CA 94903
(415) 451-4350

Metro Equity/Earth House Center
5275 Miles Avenue
Oakland, CA 94618
(510) 652-2425

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
4805 Mt. Hope Drive
Baltimore, MD 21215
(877) NAACP-98

101 Broadway
Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 663-2333

San Francisco Department of Public Health
101 Grove Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 554-2500

Smart Growth America
1707 L Street, NW, #1050
Washington, DC 20036
(202) 207-3355

The Partnership for Working Families
2525 W. Alameda
Denver, CO 80219
(303) 727-8088

University of California,
Berkeley, Labor Center
2521 Channing Way
Berkeley, CA 94720
(510) 642-0323

WE ACT for Environmental Justice
271 West 125th Street, #308
New York, NY 10027
(212) 961-1000

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