Comprehensive Planning Key to Achieving Racial Equity

Cities need to take a wider view of their programs and services to ensure they reach all populations.
by | May 9, 2018 AT 4:00 AM
Louisville is looking at homicide rates and mental health issues along race, income and neighborhood lines to inform policymakers on closing health disparities. David Kidd
Dynamically Planned Race-Informed

The most recent Equipt to Innovate survey results found racial equity strategies in cities across the country are growing but often limited to a particular program. Cities are focusing on major gaps in educational achievement, as well as ways to improve race relations between police departments and minority populations.

Cities citing progress in this area have a more comprehensive, city-wide approach and work closely with residents to ensure planning and activities meet the needs of underserved communities. These cities also tend to seek and leverage outside resources to enhance their efforts.

The need for more, better and comprehensive racial equity plans is evident in a recent study by 24/7 Wall St., a financial news and opinion website. The group created an index of measures to highlight disparities between Hispanic and Latino Americans and whites, including unemployment, educational attainment, homeownership and incarceration rates.

Nine of the 10 states with the lowest disparities also had Hispanic populations that represented 10 or less percent of the overall population, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a correlation. In Hawaii, there are 415 Hispanics per 100,000 incarcerated people, compared to 412 whites. In North Dakota, there are 1,032 Hispanics compared to 245 white people incarcerated per 100,000.

Higher Hispanic incarceration rates, as well as larger gaps in homeownership and employment, appear to be more linked to gaps in poverty and income than in population size. Massachusetts, listed as having the worst inequality on the list, also has the highest household income gap, which is triple the national average at a difference of $42,000 between Hispanic and white households.

With the Hispanic population set to continue to grow, solutions to the problems are urgently needed. Success in one area does not always translate into success in others, so cities and states need to combat the problem in multiple areas. In addition to education and policy, here are some other keys areas to include in comprehensive and proactive racial equity planning.

Public Health

Limited access to primary care health services, dental care, surgical facilities and OB-GYN services all contribute to major health disparities. Louisville, Ky., -- a city that has seen its Hispanic population triple over the past decade -- is also looking at homicide rates, mental health, asthma, and drug and alcohol abuse along race, income and neighborhood lines to inform policymakers on closing health disparities.


Nearly one in two residents in New Mexico are Hispanic, and roughly a third of households speak Spanish. All ballots and voting materials are printed in English and Spanish, and the inability to speak English does not prevent someone from being elected to a government office. However, voting rates among Hispanics is low across the country. Groups like NALEO have done some in-depth reporting on this issue and have recommended policy solutions to increase Latino access to the ballot box. 

Economic Development

JP Morgan Chase came out with the article, “Latino-Owned Businesses May be the U.S. Economy’s Best Bet,” which cites a study by the Stanford Graduate School of Business that found Latino-owned businesses could add $1.4 trillion to the U.S. economy. However, more than 40 percent of non-citizen Latino business owners, who are in the U.S. legally, are rejected when applying for their first business loans. San Antonio, Texas, has been tracking data to understand disparities and passed an ordinance eliminating disparities in city contracting back in 2010.

All of that and more is what you see when you look at the complexity of urban life and urban planning through what is now called a racial equity lens. And now that cities can see and document the inequality, they can join the movement to narrow the gap.

Lisa Wong | Senior Fellow, Governing Institute