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Colorful Graffiti



Gray Structure


For our work, we draw on the definition of equity from Merriam Webster and as understood in public discourse, as “justice according natural law or right”, as compared to ‘equal’, which is “of the same measure, quantity, amount, or number as another, or; regarding or affecting all objects in the same way”. The elevation of justice in an equity definition brings passive ‘equality’ into action. It calls us to be champions of creativity and collaboration in the name of righting systemic wrongs.

Red Wall & Stairs

Equitable Economic Development

Economic Development describes the process of growing an economy by using policies and programs to create and retain jobs, increase wealth, strengthen the tax base, and improve the economic well-being of a community. Traditionally, measures of economic well-being have focused on fiscal health. Equitable economic development is achieved when the policies and programs used to spur growth are specifically designed to ensure that traditionally underserved communities and individuals share in the benefits of growth. The end goal is for individuals to be both benefactors and beneficiaries of community and economic development initiatives.

Glass Buildings

Systems Change

If a system is a set of interacting components that function as a whole for a specific purpose, then systems change is about realigning how these components interact in order to address deficiencies; in this case, social and economic disparities. In a community, as its own unique system, the ‘components’ affecting the whole are the existing policies, processes, relationships, power structures, and infrastructure that disproportionately affect the end user. A systems change involves a deep look at each of these components in isolation, their effect on the system as a whole, and an intentional redirection in how they interact to achieve a more desired result.


Equitable Investments

There are many different approaches to organizing around equity. Each stage of this work has strategic support partners cities can engage with; and, while many are assessing whether they are meeting this equity imperative, there is no shortage of ideas, unique programs, policies and partnerships that are moving the needle. 

Here we highlight a few of these efforts: 

Business and Entrepreneurship

Detroit is leveraging the power of food entrepreneurs to drive neighborhood change. Initiatives like its Detroit Kitchen Connect program and Food Lab Detroit are helping food-based entrepreneurs find commercial kitchen space and a community of support and resources to thrive. St. Louis’  Equity in Entrepreneurship Collective is piloting several programs that advance equity in tech-based entrepreneurship such as toolkit creation and data sharing partnerships to build greater access to investors.


Seattle’s “Housing Seattle Now” plan prioritizes investments in housing for low- and middle-income families with the creation of a $15 million revolving loan fund, encouraging ownership and neighborhood reinvestment by supporting nonprofits with property acquisition. Indianapolis is marrying housing with transit, recently launching its $15 million Equitable Transit-Oriented Development Loan Fund  to enable equitable access to jobs, education, healthcare and more. 


Philadelphia has made great strides in preparing residents with the right skills, addressing barriers that prevent career opportunities and building a more coordinated workforce system. Their city-wide workforce development strategy⁠—in response to its Growing with Equity: Philadelphia’s Vision for Inclusive Growth plan⁠—has generated early wins.


Philanthropic organizations such as The Rockefeller Foundation have committed $10 million to promote inclusive growth in 10 cities and encourage equitable post-pandemic recovery. These large efforts are coupled by smaller, more geographic specific efforts of cities regions leveraging available federal funds (such as the CARES Act funding and SBA’ Payment Protection Program) to address local needs.


Chicago’s health equity plan, Healthy Chicago 2.0, unifies many aligning goals between government agencies by identifying root causes of health as: the Built Environment, Economic Development, Housing, and Education. The Plan outlines over 200 strategies to reach 30 specific goals around investing in community health. As one output of this work, the Chicago Department of Human Health was awarded $150,000 in seed grants to organizations that will improve walkability and the built environment in communities that have historically suffered from disinvestment.


Leading equitable investments in Indianapolis’s are initiatives like their Inclusive Incentives program, or their new Red Line rapid bus transit system. Plan that expands public transportation access and makes it easier for previously disconnected community members to have access to central activity nodes. Additionally, Indianapolis has recently launched its $15 million Equitable Transit-Oriented Development Loan Fund, encouraging affordable housing development near transit lines to enable equitable access to jobs, education, healthcare and more.

Equitable Investments

Equitable Economic Development Framework

A Common Definition

Equity is loosely defined across cities,

with each city determining their own

appropriate framing and language

based on unique local context. These

terms are most frequently used:

  • Equity

  • Inclusion

  • Diversity

  • Economic Opportunity

  • Equitable Development

A Common Definition

Equity is loosely defined across cities, with each city determining their own appropriate framing and language based on unique local context. These terms are most frequently used:

  • Equity

  • Inclusion

  • Diversity

  • Economic Opportunity

  • Equitable Development

Target Populations

In many cases, efforts are highly localized and served the following commonly marginalized groups:

  • Women


  • Immigrants

  • People with Disabilities

  • Communities of Color, often African Americans and Latinx

  • Low-Income

Varying Approaches

To achieve these issues, communities are deploying a variety of initiatives - locally and regionally and across public and private sectors - in the form of:

  • Targeted programs

  • Mandates and incentives

  • Process improvement

  • Financial Investments

  • Physical infrastructure

  • Partnerships


We identified 150 different metrics that cities are using to measure outcomes. Efforts focus primarily on addressing two pivotal concepts - barriers to access and disparities in quality - across 10 different systems:

  • Housing

  • Infrastructure

  • Public Services

  • Health

  • Public Safety

  • Transportation

  • Business & Entrepreneurship

  • Education

  • Finance

Equitable Economic Development Framewrk

Equity Ecosystem


Private actors, such as businesses and corporations that hold immense political and economic clout can tip the scale on action around community issues with their support.


Funders, such as philanthropic partners, support innovation and community progress.


Policy makers and local government agencies often enable action and intervention, especially with systemic issues. Elected officials can either be catalysts or bottlenecks toward equity.


Community leaders and organizations directly engaging with those who are in need. Residents and activists inform decision makers of the issues at hand and the resources needed, amplifying community concerns.


Individuals and organizations specializing in partnership, bridging the gap between private and public actors, and ensuring residents are engaged and heard.


From small think tanks to universities, research partners ensure policies and strategies are well-aligned to the needs of the community. They uncover truths about the realities of a community’s lived experience.

Equity Ecosystem

Resources in Support of Advancing Equity

When a community is ready to incorporate an equity lens in their economic planning, it takes a multitude of actors contributing their expertise to see success. 


Hundreds of foundations, think tanks, organizations, and educational institutions are adding to our evolving understanding of equitable development. They each have a unique role to play, and now, with COVID-19 challenging each of us, many actors are taking on new responsibilities and advancing the work in innovative, groundbreaking ways.   


Here we outline some of the roles that equitable development champions take on, and some of the ways their contributions have grown or changed in light of COVID.


Providing a Baseline

To know where you are going, you need to start by understanding where you are. A number of national think tanks operate tracking and mapping tools to help communities understand where they fall on a series of metrics around racial and economic inclusion. Harvard and Brown’s Opportunity Atlas, and the Equality Indicators from the Institute of State and Local Governance both provide data that can help inform policy. The Urban Institute also ranked the largest metros in the U.S on inclusion policies and programs.


With COVID disproportionately affecting communities of color, more institutions have stepped up to bring disparity to the forefront: COVID Tracking Project from the Atlantic and the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research teamed up to create the COVID Racial Data Tracker. The Other and Belonging Institute is maintaining a heat map of COVID racial disparities by state. 


Using data to inform conversation is critical, especially if it can concretely identify realities about your community that may not be apparent at face value. Fourth Economy’s Community Index helps communities understand themselves based on a series of metrics that indicate Vibrancy and areas for growth. This, and other locally-focused tools will help set the stage for meaningful dialogue. 


Elevating Promising Practices 

National sources can also be a hub for promising practices across the country. The Aspen Institute captures new and innovative approaches being employed, and you can also browse the Brookings Institution or the Washington Center for Equitable Growth’s articles about national trends.


After coronavirus hit the United States, organizations went into high gear searching for tactics that could help address the new challenges in front of them. The Urban Institute compiled a list of policies to help protect people and communities in the midst of the pandemic, and there is a section specifically for Equity and Inclusion.

Building Consensus and Developing Strategies

Organizations are developing toolkits (like this one!) that offer community leaders and advocates guidance on how best to define, organize and plan around equitable development. Check out Forward Cities’ Inclusive Innovation Toolkit; All-In Cities’ toolkits exploring six different policy areas such as economic security, healthy neighborhoods, and anti-displacement; and NALCAB’s equitable development neighborhood guide with tools for engaging community partners. 


Moving Toward Action 

Where there lacks capacity (leadership and/or financial resources) to implement strategies, national partners can come alongside communities and move them toward action. Communities benefit from technical assistance providers in that they can leverage a broad network of educational resources. For example, The Strong, Prosperous, And Resilient Communities Challenge (SPARCC) provides technical assistance, grant funding, and network opportunities for six cities across the U.S.. The National League of Cities, Policy Link, and the Urban Land Institute’s Equitable Economic Development Fellowship provides one year of technical assistance and peer learning to cities (Check out the fellowship blog). 


Institutions are also organizing around specific strategies such as Accelerator for America assisting communities in delivering equitable investments in Opportunity Zones; and the Government Alliance on Racial Equity emphasizing structural racism in governance.

Measuring and Evaluating Success

The National Equity Atlas from Policy Link tracks and measures cities’ inclusive growth using a set of common metrics; there are small scale efforts utilizing displacement measures to evaluate neighborhood investments; and we know of many places—such as New York City and Greater Minneapolis region—who are developing their own dashboards to evaluate in real time their equity progress (more on this later in our series). 

This is only a small sampling of the partners and supporters of equitable development work in the country, and every day more voices join the conversation. 

Resources in Support o Advancing Equity
LGBTQ Flags Center
Equity Web Graphic.png

Get the Toolkit

Get the Toolkit

Fourth Economy Equity Resources

Fourth Economy Equity Resources
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