Oakland, California is embedding social equity into its downtown revitalization plan

On July 31, 2017, the city of Oakland, California announced that they were re-launching and expanding their plan to embed social equity goals into their plans to revitalize the downtown area.

Towards this end, they’ve selected a team of locally-based experts and innovators in equity planning, facilitation and policy—led by the Institute for Sustainable Economic, Educational and Environmental Design (I-SEEED)—to develop a social equity strategy that will guide policy and institutional change to address structural inequality through land use and other mechanisms of a specific plan.

City officials say that this “represents an historic opportunity to improve the downtown’s infrastructure and economy while centering on the needs of people and areas that have either not benefited from or have been harmed disproportionately in the past.”

The Planning Department will work with the new Director of the Department of Race and Equity to integrate the equity team into the Plan Downtown process as part of Oakland’s Citywide equity initiatives.

The City of Oakland is preparing a specific plan for Downtown Oakland to ensure continued growth and revitalization to benefit both Downtown residents and the larger community. The plan will provide sound policy guidance on development, linking land use, transportation, economic development, housing, public spaces, cultural arts, and social equity.

Oakland’s mayor, Libby Schaaf, said, “The equity-based re-launch of Downtown Specific Plan will ensure that the cultural integrity and diversity that we desire and hold dear is honored by new development.”

This is the sixth specific plan undertaken in Oakland in recent years, and the first ever for Downtown. Creating a specific plan for this remaining area will help weave together the existing specific plans in the surrounding areas (shown in the map at right).

All specific plans involve significant participation from the public and other governmental agencies. Emerging themes include:

  • Affordability & equity;
  • Cultural heritage & arts;
  • Preservation & urbanism;
  • The public realm; and
  • Connectivity & mobility.

During the design charrette, community representatives participated in focus groups targeted to specific topics. Representatives of communities addressing these topics will be included in other meetings throughout the process. Topics included:

  • Housing (Affordable & Market-Rate);
  • Transportation;
  • Arts and Culture;
  • Youth; and
  • Local Business.

ISEEED is a national research, education, and technology institute working to ensure racial justice, equitable development, and just sustainability for all. They help ensure that communities have a voice in the decisions that impact their daily lives through organizing, leadership development, game-changing technologies, culturally and community pedagogies, creative place-making, and creating new models of direct democracy.

ISEEED helps build power and self-determination in low-income communities and communities of color by increasing civic participation, improving local economies, bettering our environment, transforming education, and increasing access to opportunity for our nations most vulnerable populations.

Aerial photo of Oakland via Adobe Stock.

See Oakland’s downtown planning website.

See I-SEEED website.

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