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Civic Leaders Have Many Paths to Advancing Equity: Lessons from 100 Cities

Creating equitable and inclusive communities requires strategic thinking and creativity. Luckily, there are many strategies civic leaders can pursue to advance equity and overcome obstacles.


As part of our revamp of the Equitable Community Planning Toolkit this year, the Fourth Economy team updated our research from 2019 to understand how cities support the advancement of equitable economic outcomes. We analyzed the largest 100 cities to see if they had an office or designated entity for equity and inclusion issues; a strategic plan that included equity or was specifically about equity; and interesting efforts, initiatives, or collaborations that can serve as models for growth. While some cities devoted resources and staffing specifically devoted to advancing equity by opening equity offices, some have followed other paths such as integrating equity into planning efforts or adopting equity-focused resolutions. Here’s what we found:

As of the publication date, half of the top 100 cities have an office devoted to equity, which is more than double the number in 2019.

Equity offices are important because they provide a dedicated staff to the goal of advancing equity in that community and have the benefit of integration into the municipal leadership structure, increasing the capacity to achieve equity-centric goals in an ideal scenario. An equity office may directly take action in their community or provide guidance for individual offices, bureaus, or divisions to integrate equity into their planning and processes. For example, the City of Portland’s Office of Equity and Human Rights provided a Racial Equity Plan Manual, in addition to training and other resources, to help all of the city bureaus release five-year Racial Equity Plans.

20 of the top 100 cities now have equity-specific plans, and many others have included equity considerations in their more general planning.

In addition to opening equity offices, cities have also found numerous opportunities to improve diversity and inclusion and increase their equity planning. For example, the City of Dallas released their Racial Equity Plan which will be tracked with an accountability dashboard. Although only a few cities have released plans specifically devoted to equity since our previous analysis, many cities have begun including equity in their more general plans. For instance, equity is a major theme, (referred to as a “cross cutting thread”) in the City of Riverside's 2021 Strategic Plan.

Beyond establishing equity offices or equity planning efforts, many cities are adopting resolutions or joining networks of like-minded cities.

Another approach we observed was the development of a statement or adoption of a resolution on equity, like the City of Cleveland City Council’s approval of a resolution that declared racism was a public health crisis and established a working group to promote racial equity. The creation of a working group or initiative is often followed by another common tactic: devoting a staff member to equity. In 2021, the City of Orlando hired its first equity official, which was one of many cities to create this type of position during the pandemic.

During our analysis, we also found that cities frequently highlighted their membership in the Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE). GARE is a non-profit organization, launched in 2014, with a membership network of over 400 jurisdictions that collaborate and exchange information to advance equity.

Although our research examined the status of equity in large US cities through the lens of the binary existence or absence of a municipal equity office, equity official, and/or equity plan, it should be emphasized that the presence or absence of these resources is not indicative of holistic, on the ground efforts in that city to address equity. City staff aren’t the only civic leaders working to advance equity in communities, and oftentimes informal equity work can prove more effective and meaningful than formal efforts at the municipal level. These actions may be performed by grassroots community leaders or philanthropic organizations.

Civic leaders can also use our Equitable Community Planning Toolkit to advance equity in their communities. The step-by-step process and associated workbooks guide individuals and organizations while providing resources and inspiration!


Fourth Economy works to help communities and organizations become more strategic, equitable, and resilient. Interested in learning more about how we can help embed equity and inclusion into your planning efforts? Get in touch!

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