By Jen Kinney.
In the billions of dollars of necessary infrastructure improvements across the United States, Stephanie Gidigbi sees an opportunity. Planning as usual has left low-income people and communities of color burdened by intersecting health, access and resiliency disparities. Being thoughtful about new projects and new investment offers the chance to do things differently.
“The communities that are impacted by the changes that are happening in our climate are the same ones that are impacted when it comes to health, and of course it’s the same ones that have racial inequities,” says Gidigbi, director of policy, capacity and systems change at the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council. “We can’t expect that we can continue to build the same thing and get different outcomes.”
That’s the philosophy behind the Strong, Prosperous, and Resilient Communities Challenge, or SPARCC, an initiative of the NRDC, Enterprise Community Partners, the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, and the Low Income Investment Fund. The three-year initiative will provide funding, financing and technical assistance to coalitions of organizations working across sectors and issue areas in six U.S. cities to ensure that new infrastructure projects don’t reinforce the patterns of old.
Each participant — Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Memphis and the Bay Area — is already planning an array of large infrastructure investments, funded through ballot-approved tax increases or federal grants. And in each, organizations are already working together to make sure neighborhoods get a say in how that money is spent. SPARCC aims to support the creation and growth of these “collaborative tables,” spaces where nonprofits, grassroots advocates, and the public and private sectors can come together to promote equitable change.
“These investments come and these places will change, and it will either become more inclusive or less inclusive,” says Brian Prater, executive vice president of strategy, development and public affairs at the Low Income Investment Fund, a San Francisco-headquartered community development financial institution. “It became very apparent to us that if you don’t plan for that growth and ensure that justice and equity are central to this conversation, then the traditional patterns of segregation, concentrated poverty and displacement will be repeated.”