City of Gainesville moves forward with equitable development framework process

Interim Policy Oversight Administrator Morgan Spicer presents research on equitable development frameworks to the General Policy Committee on January 26

BY JARRED SPANOS, Alachua Chronicle correspondent

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – On January 26, Morgan Spicer, the City of Gainesville’s Interim Policy Oversight Administrator, shared research on a potential equity development framework with the Gainesville City Commission, sitting as the General Policy Committee.

What is an equitable development framework?

According to Spicer, equitable development supports disadvantaged communities to meet their needs by implementing policies and programs with the intent of creating more affordable housing, transportation, and food access while maintaining a vibrant city.

Spicer said frameworks are used to direct new policies toward common goals and to examine initiatives proposed by both governmental and non-governmental entities.

Spicer reminded commissioners that all cities in Florida are required to have Comprehensive Plans, which are “designed to articulate the vision, goals, and strategy that will steer future growth and development.” She said, “Comprehensive Plans typically include elements like land use, historic preservation, conservation, and housing.”

Equitable development frameworks, on the other hand, present “a tool to help guide the implementation of policies designed to close racial disparities,” said Spicer. She added, “They are typically designed to supplement Comprehensive Plans, maybe fill in gaps that Comprehensive Plans don’t address, or they could explicitly be tools outlined in a Comprehensive Plan.”

Every city or municipality is required by state law to update Comprehensive Plans every five to seven years. Spicer said, “The City’s proposed update to the Comprehensive Plan, Imagine GNV 2030, does take a more specific equity focus and highlights strategies and tactics that Gainesville can take to alleviate some disparities.” A memo compiled by the City’s Department of Sustainable Development outlined previous work, including community land trusts and heritage overlay districts, and ongoing strategies.

Imagine GNV 2030 has been proposed to help ensure racial equity is engrained into the City’s Comprehensive Plan. Spicer said the framework is an effort to update the Comprehensive Plan by “bringing together community members who have not historically had a seat at the table and to help to address the impacts of systemic racism.” Imagine GNV 2030’s three guiding pillars are to center black and marginalized residents in Gainesville, involve the whole City organization, and generate accountability and action. Spicer said, “Within Imagine GNV, there are nine focus areas, like education, arts, culture, transportation, and the environment, and each of these focus areas has outcomes, indicators, and strategies to help guide policy-making.”

How have other cities taken steps toward racial equity?

Spicer presented four case studies of municipalities: Seattle, Vancouver, Ramsey County, and St. Petersburg.

The intention of Seattle’s framework is to guide City decisions by supporting their equity objectives, which are “strong communities” and “great places with equitable access,” with equity drivers and outcomes. Their implementation plan is structured around two data measurement tools: the displacement risk index and the access to opportunity index.

Ramsey County, MN, focuses on keeping racial equity at the center of any decision-making about community and economic development. Spicer said, “This means their framework is designed to provide criteria that will guide internal evaluation of things like property acquisition or development decisions and also help advance county goals related to things like transportation, housing, and community development.”

The Vancouver, BC, framework fills a coordination gap and is a conceptual document. Spicer said, “Their vision is that when these four [equity lenses–Indigenous rights, racial justice, intersectionality, and systems orientation] are used to frame a problem or approach a decision, then the outcome of that will be leading the city in the right direction of their applicable involvement work.” They also have imperatives–justice, compliance, and effectiveness–that describe the reason why they are doing the work.

St. Petersburg, FL, uses a vision plan called StPete2050. This will be integrated into future Comprehensive Plans and will guide decision-making in the future. St. Petersburg has ten themes, which each have a mission and a set of goals to achieve. Spicer said, “This is not explicitly an equitable development framework.”

What do our Commissioners think?

According to Spicer, an equitable development framework could help drive policy and program creation and implementation. It could also allow the City to be aligned regarding its view on equitable development and how to achieve it. Lastly, an equitable development framework that has a data analysis tool could help the City effectively measure the impact of equitable development work. 

Commissioner Ed Book said, “My only thought on the advantages is that it’s the right thing… And I don’t think it’s at odds with concrete information, either. Some people may say that is an opinion, and that is, in fact, not an opinion because an equitable opportunity is the right thing to do, so I think that is an advantage.”

Spicer said some disadvantages of a framework could be that if the City has a Strategic Plan, a Comprehensive Plan, and an equitable development framework, it may become difficult to understand what takes priority in policy creation, and a framework will require prioritization and commitment for successful implementation. Also, an independent equitable development framework may duplicate existing equitable development work outlined in documents such as Imagine GNV 2030, according to Spicer. Equitable development is a complex topic, and the creation of a framework would likely take a substantial amount of time and community engagement to be effective. Lastly, Spicer said, “This would be a document that would require a lot of time and thought.”

Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker said, “I first want to say our Comprehensive Plan is a cutting-edge document, and putting forward this idea for this framework, it is in no way deciding to take anything away and say that there is something missing, but I do believe we have the opportunity to expand and to even be intentional about equitable development, and that’s the whole reason why I wanted to have this conversation today… For me, it actually speaks to how we operationalize equity in our work.”

Commissioner Bryan Eastman said, “Commissioner Walker, I liked the way you put that: operationalizing equity.” He said he wanted to hear from the Office of Equity and Inclusion about the implementation of the Racial Equity Toolkit that was adopted in May 2019 at the request of Former Commissioner Gail Johnson.

Fruitvale Transit Village

Duncan-Walker said, “The Environmental Protection Agency has information on equitable development, and they listed several examples of how it has been lived out. They are in one area talking about the Fruitvale Transit Village, and I just want to use this example because it’s familiar with something that we’ve relatively recently experienced here.” 

Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) had the chance to advance a construction proposal that lacked community support or to work with residents of the Fruitvale district to develop a plan for the area. The Unity Council rejected BART’s proposal for a new parking garage as being poorly conceived and designed. Duncan-Walker said, “The community wanted Bay Area Rapid Transit to plan with them rather than for them.” The transit authority decided to invest in public involvement and frame a vision that would be informed by the local knowledge of residents who would be impacted by the project.

The outcome is a transit-oriented development that helps to connect the community rather than act as a buffer between neighborhood assets. “Fruitvale Transit Village is a clear reminder that penetrating new audiences and leveraging untapped talent will be critical to the success of equitable developments,” said Duncan-Walker.

“This is just one of those guiding works, guiding documents, methodologies that we can use to do that, and this is just one example of a project in which equitable development was utilized,” said Duncan-Walker. “It’s just one way to do it.”

Duncan-Walker also added, “I think that we have a blank canvas in terms of what equitable development means to Gainesville,” which was the reason she wanted to have this conversation in the first place.

“The other cities that we saw in the examples that Morgan presented have all defined what their cities are by way of equitable development, and my desire is that the City of Gainesville defines who we are in that way,” said Duncan-Walker. She said racial equity does not happen overnight but is something that feels like fulfilling a promise to the city.

How can an equitable framework help Gainesville?

Zeriah K. Folston, Interim Director of Equity and Inclusion, said, “Results-based accountability is one of those things that we can help strengthen. When I look through some of the documents, and when I think about what it is that Commissioner Duncan-Walker is really trying to achieve, I think there could possibly be some level of integration and synergy between our Comp Plan process and providing some sense of a framework that allows us to hold people accountable.” 

Folston said, “I think what Duncan-Walker is looking for is a framework so that we get a better understanding of, okay, how do we make these decisions and then how decisions have been made, we can come back and evaluate the success of those decisions, and we need to do that through data.”

Commissioner Casey Willits said, “What is currently legal may not translate into equitable results.” He explained that finding creative ways to achieve better housing development is difficult because of the law. Willits said, “Manufactured housing is less likely to occur for policy reasons.”

Willits said, “Sometimes I struggle with understanding that perhaps this is how our neighbors and citizens react when they react to development as what is potentially legal, but there is a question about what is going to result.”

Folston said, “It’s really about addressing disparities within your community. So, I want to make sure I’m extra clear. It’s bigger than just a Comprehensive Plan. It’s how we handle transportation. It’s how we handle affordable housing. It’s how we handle those who are less fortunate in our community, the homeless. So, it’s looking at all of those things. How we can do all of those services and provide it to our community in a more equitable way.”

Mayor Harvey Ward interjected, “As far as I know, there is still a pot of money that is sitting out there waiting to be used for affordable housing, and that’s not to throw anybody under the bus, but it’s still a real thing.”

Folston said, “My hope is that we can empower our community builders [City employees] to be equitably responsible themselves and to be able to start implementing this on a day-to-day basis in their departments and in their areas.”

The mayor wanted to find a systematic approach so the City does not get in trouble in the future. He said, “This will help us prevent errors that could be looked back on… We’ve played around with that policy for a solid five years, and I think it is time that we find a way to bring that back forward.”

Duncan-Walker made a motion to ask staff to bring back information that will inform a future discussion about what an equitable development framework would look like for Gainesville. The motion passed unanimously.

  • So much said on a topic without saying anything at all. I dare the commissioner to define what equitable transportation is or equitable housing in simple laymen’s terms. I bet they can’t do it without using the latest buzzwords: strategic, systematic, synergy, accountability, or framework.
    Try this for phrasing and see if it works. GNV commission wants to use taxpayer dollars to promote the following: transportation infrastructure for all those who live inside the city limits whether that is by public transportation or private vehicles car, bike, or walking. They want to encourage development of mixed density housing the is affordable at multiple price points and encourage job creation in a variety of job sectors (manufacturing, retail, service, professional services).

    • It would be a lot more heartening if even a few examples were cited that didn’t come from cities that are being systematically destroyed by their own policies.

  • “Seattle, Vancouver, Ramsey County, and St. Petersburg.” These are the standards current leadership wants to model Gainesville into?

    Harvey “Two Face” said, “We’ve played around with that policy for a solid five years.” Let’s face it, that’s not all he’s been playing around with.😉

    Folkston stated, “we can come back and evaluate the success of those decisions, and we need to do that through data.” Earth to Folkston, the city hasn’t had much success at anything other than increasing utility rates, taxes & homelessness.

    I would rather imagine Gainesville being without the incompetence currently masquerading as elected leaders.

  • Rather that get their financial statements in order, prepare for the JLAC meeting in Tallahassee, see how we can make all home ownership more affordable (lower property taxes and utility rates, and cut out costly annual nuisance inspections on rental properties; these nuts going down another boondoggle trail! Get to properly managing your utility and expected city functions rather than trying to be the most liberal community in America the Beautiful!!’

  • They need to stop beating around the bush. Crime is the biggest result of gov’t and NGO programs. Until leaders recognize that, nothing will change.

  • I’ll put aside the complete inanity of government getting itself involved in housing in this way (and how that leads to government taking control over the citizens) because I have to ask a question. Is it just me, or do these people always, every single time, without exception equate the “less fortunate” with black people and then attempt to say how they’re going to save them? If that’s not racist AF, then I don’t know the definition. Attention commission- black people don’t need your help. They don’t need you to take care of them. They can do anything anybody else can do. And like everyone else, they just need you to get out of their way. Oh, and quit spending their money.

  • Why do demonrats keep harping on perceived “ racial disparities”. All they do is keep feeding the racial tension and separation. I work and live near black, brown, Asian, and white people and we all get along just fine until you bring in some Liberal politician to start preaching hate your neighbor if he/she is white.

    • They have issues with knowing they are not smart themselves, so they can’t stop it with the “smart”-everything else. With mostly C+ students in charge, the city will never be “smart.” We deserve a Stupid City award. Probably the Stupidest City in Florida (based on our city government).

  • These are literally prison camps for us. It’s all a lie. They are building these across the entire world to take away all freedom each human being has now! They plan nothing more than to control and depopulate the world!!

  • >