“As local municipalities, we should have the goal that every one of our residents succeeds,” declared Tukwila City Councilmember D’Sean Quinn during the opening public lecture of CNU25.

This year’s 25th Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) in Seattle has included a strong theme on equity and inclusion, on ensuring that new urbanism is living up to its principles for all people as it enters its second quarter century.

Throughout the Congress, various speakers have emphasized that equitable placemaking needs to look both the benefits and opportunities offered to diverse members of a community, and also across the various communities within a county or region. Great places cannot be a luxury afforded only to certain groups.

King County’s Targeted Universalism

Quinn spoke in the public lecture on the suburbanization of poverty in his role as an elected official in Seattle’s most diverse suburb, but also appeared in his role as a King County employee in a session on that county’s equity and social justice policies. The county passed an equity and social justice ordinance in 2010, identifying 14 determinants of equity against which to measure their progress towards a fair and just community

The County describes their approach as “targeted universalism”: the 14 factors outline things that should be universal to all in the community–things like “quality education” or “affordable, safe, quality housing”–and then targets efforts to the people or communities who are not yet enjoying those universal benefits.

The nuts-and-bolts application of this principle include an equity impact review for county policies or programs, to make explicit who will experience positive or negative impacts. The county has also incorporated equity standards into their sustainable infrastructure scorecard, an internal accountability document that all capital improvement projects must complete.

Project for Code Reform

One Congress effort I’ve personally been involved in is the Project for Code Reform, an initiative to support local municipalities in targeted, tactical fixes to their development codes that enable the creation of better places.

As the Congress’ CEO Lynn Richards explains,

“The Project for Code Reform is centered on incremental change. Many code reform processes seek to overhaul the entire code. The all-or-nothing approach has significant potential to morph into a contentious and arduous process for all involved … Our approach focuses instead on smaller, achievable changes. This incremental approach lays the foundation for creating great places by addressing the most problematic coding issues.”

The result is not necessarily codes that ensure good place–but codes that have had the worst barriers to good placemaking removed, offering the opportunity for improvement.

From a municipal perspective, this is significant because it offers an alternative approach to potentially pricey and time-consuming efforts like full form-based code rewrites: most of the League’s communities have the capacity to tweak, but not overhaul.

But this is also an equity issue.  Traditional development codes require high levels of expertise and bureacracy-navigating skills by a potential developer, skewing the playing field towards large firms with access to financing and professional resources. Through the project for code reform’s incremental appraoches, we not only hope to expand applicability to smaller communities, but to smaller developers.

Cleaner, clearer codes that provide the by-right ability to develop small projects put development in reach of many more of our residents. By allowing people the opportunity to invest in and shape their own neighborhoods and communities, we both help deepen their ties to each other and our municipalities but also expand access to the upside of neighborhood revitalization and the secure tenure that developer-ownership can provide in the face of potential displacement.

The project for code reform fits well with our existing support of Redevelopment Ready Communities, and our work to expand crowdfunding as a means of participatory placemaking, and we’re interested in hearing from communities that want to road test some of the tools we’ve created.

In the meantime, back in for day 4 of the Congress.

I have the privilege this week of attending the Hometown Summit, a new national conference focused on sharing lessons and best practices from small and mid-sized cities. The organizers describe it as a “convening and celebration of leaders in small and mid-sized cities who have spearheaded some of the nation’s most creative and successful initiatives for community problem-solving.” 

This is the first of what will hopefully be a series of quick-hit thoughts from some of the best conference content.

One of the morning sessions, with the provocative title “Does Your City Seduce Talent?”, featured entrepreneurs from four cities – Charlottesville, VA, Syracuse, NY, Durham, NC and Milwaukee, WI – testing different ways to attract and retain the creative community. I gleaned the following lessons that cities of any size can pursue:

  1. Speed up your decisionmaking & approval processes – All the panelists spoke to the need to cycle through ideas and try things quickly. They need a host city that can enable that speed.
  2. Make people feel welcome – Customer service and a welcoming vibe, both when dealing with visitors and potential non-profit/business startups, are crucial to attracting and keeping people who might be the future changemakers.
  3. Celebrate and cultivate your grit – None of the entrepreneurs were interested in moving to a city that had it all, rather they wanted to be somewhere that had gaps and was interested in taking them on.
  4. Don’t get hung up on buzzwords – None of the leaders in the room started out to be “talent attraction initiatives” or “civic entrepreneurs.” Rather, they started a project because they loved a place and wanted to make it better. So go find those people and the rest will take care of itself.

For several years, MML has talked about the importance of eight asset areas that help communities succeed and prosper in the 21st century.  One of those critical assets is being a “welcoming” community; recognizing that our global economy is fueled by the talent and ingenuity of people not only born here, but from around the world.  Last year’s research by Public Sector Consultants on behalf of the League found that:

  • Foreign-born workers and students have positive effects on “local employment, levels of educational attainment, populations, and incomes”
  • Communities with more foreign-born residents see greater capital investment;
  • Communities with more foreign-born workers—whether permanent or temporary—see higher employment for native-born workers as well; and
  • Foreign-born students attending Michigan colleges are three times as likely to stay in Michigan post-graduation as out-of-state students, creating long-term economic benefits for the communities they locate in.
From Corktown to Mexicantown, southwest Detroit shows off its residents' origins.

From Corktown to Mexicantown, southwest Detroit shows off its residents’ origins.

The question of being welcoming to immigration is also a factor in statewide economic prosperity. In his State of the State address, Governor Snyder laid out a goal of returning Michigan to 10 million people by 2020. Michigan Radio has noted that we’re on track to hit that target, but that our state’s economy depends on adding people in the labor force, not just to the total—if our population growth is only among retirees, parts of our state risk stalling out their economic recovery as they run out of workers, while others continue to miss out on any recovery altogether.

As it stands, Michigan Radio cited Lou Glazer of Michigan Future Inc. as explaining,

[under the status quo] that growth will largely be in older Michigan citizens who are retiring. “The challenge is growing the working age population – that’s really where we’re going to have trouble at the moment. We’ve got more people leaving the labor market than entering the labor market, so if we’re going to focus on population it really needs to be focused on working age population,” Glazer explained.

There are basically two ways to do that. The first: attract young career starters. The second: immigrants from other countries settling here.

 

The League’s own placemaking work has most vocally focused on the first of these two factors, stemming the “brain drain” rate of young residents with college degrees leaving the state. But recognizing the economic importance of this global diversity, many of our communities have passed policies or implemented programs over the years to help make their communities more welcoming to all people.

In recent weeks and days, the conversation around these policies has picked up as communities are evaluating how their local policies intersect with their residents’ immigrant status, and there has been increasing media coverage of some of the policies our cities and villages have adopted or are considering related to being a welcoming community, particularly to immigrants.

Communities prioritize local public safety over immigration status

Most recently, the city of Ypsilanti has made headlines for a “don’t ask” ordinance under consideration that would “bar city officials and police from asking about a person’s immigration status. Exceptions would include hiring processes, or when immigration status is relevant to a criminal investigation or government program eligibility,” as Michigan Radio summarizes. Ann Arbor has a similar ordinance dating to 2003, and Detroit and Hamtramck have ordinances from 2008 to this effect.

An Ypsilanti mural by teens from the Washtenaw Interfaith Council on Immigrant Rights  illustrates their experiences and struggles. (Photo by A2 Awesome Foundation)

An Ypsilanti mural by teens from the Washtenaw Interfaith Council on Immigrant Rights illustrates their experiences and struggles. (Photo by A2 Awesome Foundation)

In each case, the cities have cited the contributions that foreign-born residents make to their communities. But, in addition, they say that having city officials focus on immigration status during unrelated interactions can create an atmosphere of distrust or fear that actually worsens public safety—even visa or green card holders can feel intimidated or threatened by having their status brought up without cause.

Washtenaw County Sheriff Jerry Clayton explained his own department’s policy this way to MLive,

“Our mission is to help keep a safe and secure community, so we believe we most effectively do that by identifying criminal behavior,” he said…

The Sheriff’s Office’s policy of not worrying about immigration status, similar to the city of Ann Arbor’s policy, is intended to foster cooperative relationships between local law enforcement and immigrants who otherwise might be reluctant to report crimes if they had to fear their own legal status might be questioned.

When local law enforcement decides to get involved in federal immigration matters, Clayton said, it tears at the relationship to the community, and immigrants go deeper into the shadows and become more susceptible to predators who might also prey on other citizens.

Whether it’s in encouraging witnesses to report crimes, or making sure properties meet building and fire safety codes, these local governments believe asking about immigration status is both irrelevant and could have a chilling effect that hurts the community. Even legal residents, they say, could be discouraged from coming forward if they fear being profiled as immigrants.

With regards to federal and state actions regarding “sanctuary cities,” however, several of these cities have specifically denied that label, saying that term suggests a disobedience of federal laws that their local policies neither promise nor deliver.

Tools available to local governments

The League has received several inquiries from members about policies related to diversity, welcoming and immigration.  In response to these requests, we have compiled these examples of policies from several Michigan communities that may be of interest to members:

We have not evaluated the merit of these types policies or the impacts relative to state or federal law. Each community has different needs and should consider what policy and program options best help them become welcoming places.  As always the League encourages our members to consult their municipal attorney when considering adoption of any local ordinance.

mlppOn October 10, the Michigan League for Public Policy hosted a half-day forum, Race, Poverty & Policy: Creating an Equitable Michigan. We were blown away by many of the speakers and resources so we wanted to share a few with our members:

  • What is racial justice? – Keynote speaker and Race Forward President and Executive Director Rinku Sen defines racial justice as the “systematic fair treatment of people of all races that results in equitable opportunities and outcomes for everyone.” She also gave some great pointers on how to talk about race by shifting the focus from an individual’s prejudice or intentions to the bigger question of what’s causing inequality and how are people impacted? Learn more from her presentation.
  • What’s the government’s role in achieving race & equity? – MLPP hosted an entire breakout session on this question and there’s still way more to talk about. The entire presentation was impactful, but we were most excited to share the work Ottawa County Administrator Al Vanderberg is doing in his community with Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance and the Government Alliance on Race & Equity. LEDA is leading an organizational system review of equity in Ottawa County’s HR policies and practices, as well as getting all 900 employees trained in cultural intelligence. View the session’s Powerpoint slides here and see Vanderberg’s portion towards the end.
  • Racial Equity Impact Assessment – Sen shared this important equity tool communities across the country are using to evaluate how government decisions and actions will impact racial and ethnic groups. For example, the Minnesota School Board requires an equity impact assessment to be performed before every policy and program is implemented. Similarly, the Oregon State Senate passed legislation in 2013 requiring the Criminal Justice Commission to issue a racial impact assessment when requested by a state legislator.

There’s so much more to say, and equity and inclusion is an area in which we should all be focusing our attention. Here at the League, we plan on bringing you more tools, speakers, discussion groups, and resources on this topic in the coming months and at future events. For now, check out our Review issue on equity from late 2015. Please also let us know what tools you’re looking for, topics you want help exploring, or discussions you want to host in your community. Feel free to comment below or email me directly at scraft@mml.org.