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Oakland Launches Downtown Plan 2.0

(Photo by Rich Johnstone on flickr)

Last year, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf announced that her administration would add 17,000 units of affordable and market-rate housing by 2024, and protect another existing 17,000 affordable homes. At the time, she said protecting residents from displacement was her administration’s highest priority.

Dovetailing with that effort, which has not been without bumps, city officials said Monday that they’ll be re-launching and expanding the city’s downtown plan to include an equity framework. The plan was kicked off in 2015 and covers land use and development, transportation, housing and economic development, CBS San Francisco reports. The team behind it hit pause last year “in response to community requests that the plan address racial disparities and the displacement of residents, services and culture,” according to the news channel.

The city has hired a consulting team led by the Institute for Sustainable Economic, Education and Environmental Design to supplement the work of the existing team led by Dover, Kohl & Partners. The consultants will “apply a social and racial framework to the process of developing a plan for downtown Oakland and deepen the engagement of communities that historically have been under-served,” according to CBS.

“Equity” can be something of a buzzword (like its good friend “resilience”) in city planning circles. But it still describes an essential framework for challenging racism in the built environment — and as Oscar Perry Abello wrote for Next City in 2015, dense downtown areas tend to be best suited for equity-driven policies.

“Sprawl was inherently not concerned about equity. In many ways sprawl was the opposite,” Chris Zimmerman, vice president for economic development at Smart Growth America, told Abello at the time, adding that equitable development should inherently be easier in downtown settings with city services and public spaces more easily shared among diverse racial and income groups — though it’s certainly no guarantee.

Oakland has also been addressing equity in numerous other aspects of the cityscape and business community, including the public health work of its DOT and its financial support of the legal cannabis industry.