Great Places With an Eye for Equity

Thoughtful planning revitalizes urban spaces and brings renewed sense of spirit to an area. However, redevelopment often comes with the unintended consequence of pushing out and isolating existing communities.

This month, APA is considering key trends, vital programs, and local successes as we elevate the role planners play in building inclusive communities that work for everyone.

From our annual list of Great Places in America, here are five places that exemplify the power of planning with an eye for equity and the future of the communities in mind:

Arbor Hill

Albany, New York

Great Neighborhood 2014

Arbor Hill Clean Up Day and tulip planting. Photo courtesy City of Albany.

Arbor Hill has a history of fighting for equality. Abolitionists Stephen and Harriet Myers used their Albany home as one of the stops of the Underground Railroad in the 1850s. The Stephen and Harriet Myers house, which is under restoration by the Underground Railroad History Project of the Capital Region, is a standing symbol of Arbor Hill's commitment to an inclusive future.

In 2003, the acclaimed Arbor Hill Neighborhood Plan emphasized the preservation of local culture and history, job development, and quality of life when redeveloping the area. The refurbished Ten Broeck Mansion houses two one-bedroom apartments rented as public housing.

A partnership between the Albany Housing Authority, the City of Albany, and the Albany Barn led to the redevelopment of the former St. Joseph's Academy to include 22 low-cost live/work residences for artists, and 13,500 square feet of multi-tenant creative arts incubator space. The Arbor Hill redevelopment was so successful at engaging the community in the neighborhood's revitalization that the city's first comprehensive plan, Albany 2030, includes some of the same action items identified in the Arbor Hill Neighborhood Plan.

Washington Street

Boston, Massachusetts

Great Street 2008

Washington Street is in the midst of an astonishing small-business and real-estate revival that is bringing new life and vitality to this historic part of the city. Photo courtesy the Boston Redevelopment Authority.

A 1.4-mile stretch of Washington Street in Boston exemplifies how planning can embrace the accessibility and affordability of an area's storied past.

In 1891, the city built its first settlement house on Washington Street to serve the diverse community of Jews, Syrians, Greeks, Italians, Portuguese, Chinese, West Indians, and African Americans living in the city's South End. After decades of neglect, the street underwent major redevelopment.

In 1995, the Washington Street Task Force was established and charged with the task of revitalizing the area without stripping its historical diversity. To prevent the displacement often associated with gentrification, planners focused on creating housing opportunities for a range of family household incomes. As a result, nearly 60 percent of the 1,750 new and renovated housing units are affordable, with an emphasis on owner-occupied housing to shield against rising rents.

Flint Farmer's Market

Flint, Michigan

Great Public Space 2015

The newly renovated market has a large open-air space for vendors and merchants to sell their wares and for shoppers to sit, mingle, run errands, and meet friends and neighbors. Photo Flint Farmers' Market.

The Flint Farmers' Market is a beacon of hope in a city that has suffered the economically devastating exodus of manufacturing and a crisis of contaminated drinking water.

Starting in the early 2000s, Flint's Uptown Reinvestment Corporation began a 10-year-long project to revitalize downtown Flint. The plan included rebuilding the reputation of the market, the success of which hinged on the faith of the local community in the planners. Now, it aims to return the favor.

The Flint Farmer's Market provides many people in the nearby Genesee County unprecedented access to fresh and locally grown foods. Twenty-five vendors at the market accept the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) Bridge Card, and the Double Up Food Bucks program allows patrons to double the value of their purchases.

The market also invests in its future with Flint Food Works, which provides food-based business with low-cost, full-service kitchens for rent to help them establish their products and develop their businesses.

Lower Downtown Denver

Denver, Colorado

Great Neighborhood 2010

St. Patrick's Day in LoDo. Photo by Flickr user Kent Kanouse (CC BY-NC 2.0).

Lower Downtown Denver, or "LoDo" as it is called by locals, is a bustling cultural hub that rose like a phoenix from the ashes of a derelict warehouse district. A combination of exceptional planning and political leadership allowed the area to successfully redevelop without losing sight of the values of the existing community.

In 1989, a $240 million voter-approved bond issue enabled the city to tear down the area's unsightly viaducts and dramatically improve the streetscape.

Despite its quick transition into a desirable living area, LoDo planners preserved the neighborhood's character and ensured the area's affordability. Nearly all LoDo housing is multi-family, and inclusionary zoning introduced in 2002 requires 10 percent of new owner-occupied developments of 30-plus units to be designated for affordable housing. The iconic Barth Hotel was restored to house more than 60 low-income and disabled seniors.

Housing options in vibrant LoDo range from stunning, million-dollar lofts to handsome, below-market-rate apartments for families, young professionals, and empty nesters alike.

Chicago Botanic Gardens

Glencoe, Illinois

Great Public Space 2012

Bicycling along the Chicago Botanic Garden's East Road is a pleasure in any season. On this chilly spring day, cyclists pass in front of the 'Garden of Three Islands.' Courtesy Chicago Botanic Garden.

Once the site of degraded land polluted for four decades by highway construction, the Chicago Botanic Gardens is now a 385-acre living museum with 2.5 million plants and 26 distinct display gardens.

But the Gardens take pride in more than just their flowers — an extensive public outreach program ensures that the stunning, architecturally innovative space benefits the whole community. The Windy City Harvest program annually distributes 45,138 pounds of fresh food reaching 398,000 people, totaling 70 percent of all community market sales to low-income Chicago families.

The College First program offers paid field ecology internships, college preparation, and career mentorship each year for 20 high school students from the Chicago Public Schools, training the next generation of community leaders to appreciate the power of great spaces.

About the Author

Samantha Schipani is APA's Great Places in America communications intern.

Top image: Shoppers at the Flint Farmers Market. Photo by Michigan Municipal League (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

June 16, 2016

By Samantha Schipani