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Kaid Benfield’s Blog

"Equity is the way forward" - discussions on race and America's future

Kaid Benfield

Posted November 4, 2010 in Environmental Justice, Living Sustainably, Solving Global Warming

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Not long ago I had the honor of appearing on a panel with Angela Glover Blackwell, the founder and CEO of PolicyLink.  I think we had met briefly before, and I had long been a fan, but we really hadn’t had a chance to get to know each other.  I was impressed.

What I have especially liked about PolicyLink’s work is that it is very constructive and positive, very forward-looking.  It has also been very supportive of an inclusive smart growth and sustainable communities agenda.  Without a doubt, the organization is working on very serious problems related to grievances that need to be redressed, but it has always stressed solutions, “the way forward,” to invoke the subject line of Angela’s email yesterday to PolicyLink’s followers:

“Even as we navigate a difficult political environment, we must remember that equity is crucial to our nation’s fortunes in the decades ahead.

“To compete in the 21st century economy, we must create an America where all people are enlisted and empowered to push our economy forward.

“Just as our physical infrastructure is crumbling, so, too, is our community infrastructure — the people and places that make America.  We need investments in health and housing and education that strengthen all communities, especially the ones that have been left behind for decades.

“Simply, equity is the superior growth model.”

She will get nothing but support from me for that agenda, which also appears here.

  a diverse crowd enjoying Central Park, NYC (by: Christopher Titzer, creative commons license)

Angela is co-author of a new book, Uncommon Common Ground: Race and America’s Future.  I have not read it yet, but there is a very provocative series of excerpts on PolicyLink’s web site, In conjunction with a six-week “virtual book club” discussion.  This is the final week.  There are six topics framing the conversation:

  1. Are we post-racial yet?
  2. Growing and accepting diversity
  3. Race and the economy
  4. Immigration, incarceration and climate change
  5. New leadership for now and 2050
  6. Equity is the superior growth model

Readers of this blog may be particularly interested in what Angela and her co-authors have to say about climate change, and they do not disappoint:

“Communities of color have long been disproportionately impacted by airborne toxics emitted from diesel trucks, refineries, and power plants.  These emissions have contributed to poor air quality in their neighborhoods and asthma in their children, such communities may also be most at risk for climate change (Lin, 2008).  The harms of climate change will.affect everyone, but not equally. Under-resourced communities that are least equipped to respond to large-scale climate events will be the ones bearing the brunt of the impact . . .  

“The climate challenge helps illustrate how the issues of racial equity facing America in the twenty-first century may be different, deeper, and more complex than the questions of overt discrimination that occupied attention in an earlier era.  We need to look for universal gains and principles—such as everyone’s right to a clean environment or the common interest in metropolitan economic sprawl—but we must also understand and address the specific issues affecting different ethnic groups. Policy recommendations will require serious research and honest debate, rather than a simple attachment to old remedies.“ 

The Virtual Book Club for Uncommon Ground, including the archives and comments (over five thousand) may be accessed here.

Each installment of the book club includes a video introduction (in HD).  You can access them all on the site, of course, but I’m torn between giving you here the introduction presented in the first installment - when Angela frames the subject, talks about her upbringing and discusses how diversity is not necessarily the same thing as equity – and the last, in which she emphasizes how equity is critical not just to people of color but to everyone if America is to succeed, and alludes also to how equity relates to more sustainable communities.  I recommend them all, but here’s the one for week six, which came out yesterday:

   

    Week 6: Equity is the Superior Growth Model from PolicyLink on Vimeo.

Move your cursor over the images for credit information.

Kaid Benfield writes (almost) daily about community, development, and the environment.  For more posts, see his blog's home page

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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