The University of Texas at Austin (UT-Austin) School of Architecture recently teamed up with Austin Water to address how the public utility can support racial equity through its policies and services.

Last fall, 10 graduate students participating in Assistant Professor Miriam Solis' Community and Regional Planning practicum worked with staff from Austin Water and the Austin Equity Office to research the city's racial equity challenges and opportunities.

The students' award-winning analysis resulted in a series of recommendations for the city to improve the racial equity of its waterways, some of which have already resulted in local programming improvements, providing critical support for the city’s sustainability and racial justice goals.

"Historically, racial equity has been viewed as a separate domain and is not central to water policy and operations," Solis said. "We're seeing a shift in utilities recognizing the community and economic implications of their work."

Much of the policy work to date regarding water equity has been considered an issue of accessibility, according to Solis. Now, water equity is more often being linked to questions of affordability and the cumulative impacts of growing housing and utility costs, in addition to how the services are delivered, she said.

The partnership approached the issue of water equity through that broader lens of three programs and policy areas: Austin Water's Customer Assistance Program (CAP); the implementation of advanced metering infrastructure (AMI); and the design and recruitment of a career program for individuals formerly incarcerated.

Read the full article about public utilities and racial equity by Cailin Crowe at Smart Cities Dive.