Working Paper - Promoting Social Equity and Economic Inclusion in Urban Waterway Development

May 21, 2018

By: Michael Tiboris, Nonresident Fellow, Global Water; Josh Ellis, Vice President, Metropolitan Planning Council; Chloe Gurin-Sands, Associate, Metropolitan Planning Council

Waterways can be among a city’s most valuable assets. They provide transportation, environmental services, economic development opportunities, and access to nature. Cities today are reinvesting in their neglected industrial waterways as sources for economic growth and urban vitality. But waterfront development often happens where development is already most active. As a result, its benefits tend to accrue to the wealthier parts of cities, often the downtown core. This further concentrates access to the best parts of civic life among an increasingly small elite. In cities in which economic inequality falls along racial lines, this development has the potential to further reinforce economic and social segregation. Do these features ensure that waterway development will deepen social and economic inequality in cities? How can cities use waterway development intentionally as a tool for reducing these divisions?

The 2017 Chicago Council on Global Affairs report, Urban Waterways in Global Cities, identifies promotion of equity and social inclusion as among the central goals of waterway development. Now leaders must articulate how this aspect of waterway development can best be achieved.

At a bare minimum, existing and planned waterway development must be physically accessible to the public. But that is not enough. The 2018 Chicago Forum workshop on this topic will take this reasoning a step further to solicit and examine concrete ways in which urban waterway development might be used by cities to expressly improve the quality of life and opportunities for economically or socially excluded populations beyond the downtown core.

This framing paper provides an overview of the relationship between urban waterway development and equity. It includes some tentative principles by which cities could approach waterway development when social equity and economic opportunity for low-to-moderate income communities are promoted to explicit policy goals. Finally, practical tools a city might use to achieve these goals are listed.

The purpose of this document is to stimulate and guide discussion at the 2018 Chicago Forum on Global Cities. A final report incorporating feedback, concerns, and additional recommendations will be published following the workshop.

Working Paper - Promoting Social Equity and Economic Inclusion in Urban Waterway Development

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