The Race to Race-Informed

Creating a race-informed city requires a broad range of approaches
April 2, 2019 AT 11:00 AM
The city of Austin’s strategic plan is a clear-cut way of dynamically planning to be substantially more race-informed. Shutterstock
Barrett and Greene
By Katherine Barrett & Richard Greene  |  Columnists
Government management experts. Their website is
Data-Driven Race-Informed Broadly Partnered Resident-Involved Smartly Resourced

While all seven elements of a high-performing government identified by the Equipt to Innovate framework are of great consequence to the future of American cities, one that stands out as particularly significant is “race-informed.” With all the news about racial divides in local police and fire departments, and the outrageously high percentage of young black men who find themselves in prison, we can hardly think of another topic that calls for more exploration.

As the Equipt survey instrument puts it, in order to effectively serve diverse communities, “jurisdictions must be intentional about confronting the dimension of race in addressing social issues such as poverty, public safety and health.”

This may well be one of the most cross-cutting areas covered by Equipt. It’s clearly difficult to be race-informed if a city doesn’t dynamically plan, partner broadly, involve residents and so on.

It’s no surprise that one of the high performers in the race-informed category, Fayetteville, North Carolina, also performed well in the 2018 survey in its capacity to partner broadly and keep residents involved. For example, the Fayetteville-Cumberland Human Relations Department holds an awards reception to recognize multiple residents who promote race and human relations throughout the year. And although it didn’t make the list of top performers in its data-driven approaches, the City Council requested that the police and fire departments add specific performance measures and targets relating to the gender and ethnic diversity of employees.

Or consider Louisville, home of the Kentucky Derby, which was the top performer in the 2018 Equipt survey in the race-informed category. It was also a high performer in its use of data-driven analysis and ability to partner broadly. To further all these efforts, it pointed out its design of a Health Equity Report as a tool for policymakers and residents to understand how they can create more equitable policies and practices. The report reviews 21 health outcomes such as infant mortality, homicide and heart disease and examines 11 root causes for those.

When it comes to the connection between dynamic planning and race, Austin is the quintessential example of a city in which its dynamic planning has led its race relations in two separate directions over the course of time. One of the main issues in the city’s 1928 master plan stated that if you were a person of color you were only provided city services in a ghettoized portion of the city. Although the city stopped strictly adhering to the master plan as the years passed, it continued to be a dark cloud over the city for an indefinite period.

“It's not such a pretty aspect of our (history),” says Kimberly Olivares, chief performance officer in Austin. “Until we are open, honest and direct, how can the community know we’re doing anything that they can respect?” That master plan caused (long-standing) segregation in the community and “its direct aftermath was that certain areas of the town simply didn’t get city money in the years that followed,” she told us.

Now, however, in the city’s most recent strategic plan, it’s forthright about moving in a diametrically opposite direction. “The City of Austin is leading with a lens of racial equity and healing,” according to the plan. “Race is the primary predictor of outcomes and it is time to recognize, understand and address racism at its various levels: personal, institutional, structural and systemic. Equity is the condition when every member of the community has a fair opportunity to live a long, healthy and meaningful life. Equity embedded into Austin’s values system means changing hearts and minds, transforming local government from the inside out, eradicating disparities, and ensuring all Austin community members share in the benefits of community progress.”

While the city still hasn’t achieved its goals for equity city-wide, there’s no question this strategic plan is a clear-cut way of dynamically planning to be substantially more race-informed.

Yet another strong correlation between a race-informed community and other attributes can be found in San Antonio, which also got plaudits for being a top performer in its capacity to be resident-informed and smartly resourced.

All this makes good sense to us. During our childhoods, during the race riots of the late 1960s, we experienced what can happen when lack of concern about race reaches its nadir. Benefits accrued by a race-informed city may easily be minimalistic if, for example, a city does not plan to gather race-related data, involve its residents and partner broadly with other entities. These necessary attributes can spell the difference between talking a good game about being race-informed and actually using that information.

These monthly columns, authored by Katherine Barrett and Richard Greene, are in support of Equipt to Innovate, a framework for creating high-performance government, jointly created by the nonprofit Living Cities and Governing.