President Trump's Opportunity Zone program, Jay-Z's "Buy the Block" mantra, and Black Lives Matter's rallying cry to "defund the police" all have something in common: they reflect the growing concerns around how best to generate the capital necessary to revitalize inner-city neighborhoods. If these neighborhoods are to be revitalized in ways that benefit the people who live there, much more is required than offering tax credits for the wealthy or even Black entrepreneurship. If local governments are to redirect resources, there must be specificity about where those resources should go and their purposes. All of this must happen in accord with the principles of equitable development. This requires, among other things, new approaches to old institutional models. Redevelopment authorities and land banks offer a pathway forward.
Equitable development refers to an approach to community economic development that ensures everyone participates in and benefits from the spatial and economic transformation of communities--especially low-income residents; Black, Latinx, and immigrant communities; and others historically at risk of discrimination, exploitation, and being left behind. (1) This approach intentionally focuses on both eliminating inequities and making accountable, catalytic investments to ensure that historically marginalized residents can "live in healthy, safe, opportunity-rich neighborhoods that reflect [and affirm] their culture," prevent their displacement, "connect to economic and ownership opportunities," and provide them with influence in "the decisions that shape their neighborhoods" and lives. (2) Equitable development has emerged as an oft-used shorthand for redeveloping disinvested communities (3) and is part of a growing and expansive discourse concerned with affordable housing, gentrification and anti-displacement policies, environmental justice, placemaking, spatial inequality, and the persistence of structural white supremacy. It is related to the growing academic and public interest in cities, urban revitalization, and urban policy.
Disinvested communities not only reflect the resource mal-distributions undergirding racial and spatial stratification in cities, but they also represent the spatial dimensions of the United States' racial caste system. (4) The deeply entrenched nature of our nation's racialized urbanism renders equitable development much easier to define than to actualize. Transforming neighborhoods that were intentionally and systematically disinvested over decades in ways that include existing residents and improve their life chances continues to bedevil the most well-intentioned and well-resourced urban development efforts. The prospects for truly equitable development are challenged by the ongoing displacement of Black, Latinx, and other historically marginalized residents from gentrifying urban spaces, the affordable housing crisis, and the acceleration of inequality wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Concurrently with the growing conversation around equitable development is the rise of social impact investing and new tax credit policies to incentivize investment in marginalized and disinvested communities. (5) While there is cause for optimism, scholars have highlighted the limits of these approaches and their market-based orientations for producing lasting and systemic disruptions of the cycles of...