Giving Compass' Take:

• Urban planners can help increase neighborhood safety by investing in economic and community development strategies that prioritize equity in planning and design.

• What are donors doing to ensure equitable community development initiatives are happening?

•  Read about building equitable smart cities. 

Earlier this summer, activists in Washington, D.C.’s Ward 8 held two vigils on the same day—one for a pedestrian killed in a hit-and-run and the other for a young man lost to gun violence. In placing the two vigils one after another, they drew a poignant connection between the high rates of traffic fatalities and gun violence in their neighborhood and left a resounding message for city leaders: It’s time to broaden what we mean by “safe streets.”

By dividing communities with roads, refusing to invest in infrastructure, and restricting economic growth, such decisions fueled the spatialized patterns of safety we see today—leaving communities to cope with physically unsafe streets and dire socioeconomic conditions that spur other forms of violence.

Investments in infrastructure and street design—like those included in Vision Zero campaigns across the country—are critical to building safe streets. But data increasingly show that these efforts alone might not be enough to reduce pedestrian fatalities in low-income neighborhoods, nor can they address safety concerns stemming from decades of historical disinvestment.

Alongside investments in physical infrastructure, low-income neighborhoods require place-based investments that integrate economic and community development strategies with equity at their core. Such investments are not a simple fix to the challenges these communities face, but they begin to take seriously residents’ calls-to-action for a more holistic approach to street safety.

  • Openly acknowledge that in disadvantaged communities, safety is intertwined with every aspect of development.
  • Ask community residents what they want from their streets, and recognize that it might be more than bike lanes. 
  • Support and invest in locally-led safety strategies that are already working.

Read the full article about addressing racism in urban design by Hanna Love and Jennifer S. Vey at Brookings.