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The Prosperity Playbook: A Preview Edition

Photograph of several multi-story brick buildings in front of the Kansas City, Missouri skyline.HUD’s forthcoming Prosperity Playbook resource draws on the best practices of cities like Kansas City for achieving inclusive growth and expanding opportunity.

The Prosperity Playbook is a HUD-sponsored online resource for local officials and planners that will launch in fall 2016. An initiative of HUD Secretary Julián Castro, the Prosperity Playbook will serve as a repository of ideas, best practices, and case studies for fostering equitable and inclusive community growth. Initial contributions to the Prosperity Playbook were the result of discussions among officials and practitioners from five cities brought together by HUD and the American Planning Association (APA) earlier this year. On September 18, 2016, three individuals instrumental to the development of the Prosperity Playbook — Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for HUD’s Office of Community Planning and Development Harriet Tregoning, Mayor Sly James of Kansas City, Missouri, and Mayor Kasim Reed of Atlanta, Georgia —appeared at APA’s annual Daniel Burnham Forum on Big Ideas. Named in honor of the famed planner and architect, the Burnham Forum, according to the APA, “examines the trends, challenges, and opportunities that will shape America’s communities over the next half century.” Tregoning led both mayors in a discussion of how they pursue inclusive growth and expand access to opportunity in their cities and regions, previewing best practices and innovative policies that will appear in the Prosperity Playbook.

Kansas City Prosperity Approaches

The Kansas City and Atlanta metropolitan areas have distinct historical legacies and environments resulting in different approaches to the goal of inclusive and prosperous communities. As James describes, the Kansas City metropolitan area is unique in that it straddles four counties and two states. Kansas City itself is still experiencing the impact of restrictive covenants that once barred minorities from settling in the more affluent western parts of town. This legacy has left the city with a pronounced east-west division, with the east side having a high concentration of minorities, high poverty and unemployment rates, and areas of economic disinvestment and population decline. As a result, Kansas City has concentrated its redevelopment efforts along a heavily traveled thoroughfare on the city’s east side known as the Prospect Corridor. The goal of the redevelopment is to create a neighborhood where transportation, housing, quality education, health care, and employment opportunities are easily accessible for all residents.

In pursuing development strategies for the Prospect Corridor, the city emphasizes a collaborative approach with regional organizations. For example, to implement Sustainable Communities Initiative grants, the city collaborates with nine counties in the region to help identify and eliminate fair housing barriers under Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rules. It is currently partnering with Missouri HUD staff; the city of Kansas City, Kansas; and other stakeholders to create a convening session for community development financial institutions and financial institution foundations that will focus on funding residential services and general development in the Prospect Corridor. The city is also coordinating efforts with the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority to expand bus service along the Prospect Corridor so that residents are better connected to jobs, schools, and healthcare facilities.

Atlanta Prosperity Approaches

The city of Atlanta has a “history of implementing inclusive policies well,” according to Reed. Atlanta’s redevelopment efforts are currently focused on building out areas along an abandoned rail line, known as the Atlanta BeltLine, that encircles the central city. Reed noted that the BeltLine project has received national attention; the project will connect 45 neighborhoods and contain bicycle paths, walking trails, light rail, and green space and will result in more than 48,000 new construction jobs and $20 billion in new investment.

Reed stressed that equity must be considered “all the time” while developing the BeltLine, and the city has been proactive in adhering to this principle. For example, Reed’s administration expanded the BeltLine imprint south and west to eliminate initial criticism that the project would benefit only affluent areas. Reed appointed a chief equity officer to his cabinet who works with city senior leadership and serves as an advocate for lower-income citizens and longtime residents. Atlanta has also enacted inclusive housing laws that stipulate the right of the city to demand that new projects set aside a total of 15 to 20 percent of their units as affordable housing whenever public financing or any of the city’s public tools are involved in the construction. The city also requires that 27 percent of the contractors on BeltLine construction projects be minority- or woman-owned businesses. These equitable development measures will result in a high degree of connectivity among 45 diverse, mixed-income neighborhoods.

Best Practices and Innovative Ideas

James, Reed, and Tregoning discussed additional best practices and innovative ideas designed to ensure inclusive community growth. James emphasized that everyone must have ownership in a project and that a mayor must ensure that a diverse group of decisionmakers is involved in the concept stages of any undertaking. Reed echoed this view and stressed the mayor’s need to engage both city planners and private developers when a project is in its initial stages, as developers’ interests traditionally have been given priority over those of long-term residents. Planners, Reed emphasized, must be vocal advocates for the idea that “cities are for everybody” and that everyone benefits when the environment is equitable and inclusive. At the same time, noted Reed, the exercise of restraint by all interested parties — nonprofit funders, the mayor, and council included — is essential to the success of a project. James’ discussion of how best to sustain affordable housing initiatives reiterated this notion of restraint. James emphasized that affordable housing efforts must ensure that people earning lower incomes are not concentrated in one area, as concentration often fuels the fears of majority residents. “Measured integration,” as James characterized it, is therefore necessary if fair housing efforts are to be sustained over the long term. Tregoning highlighted Atlanta’s highly original approach to overcoming objections to affordable housing projects that are “not consistent with the character of the community” by using a nonprofit organization to review new housing project designs. Tregoning also suggested that regional assessments of fair housing present an opportunity for planners to spur regional collaboration to ensure fair and equitable development.

A Dynamic Playbook

APA’s Daniel Burnham Forum has afforded a glimpse into what the Prosperity Playbook will offer practitioners and leaders when it becomes available at HUDuser.gov later this year. In addition to the initial contributions of stakeholders in five metropolitan areas, the Prosperity Playbook will continue to add policy and planning innovations and lessons that promote inclusive communities. It will allow professionals to contribute their own best practices and ideas as well as offer regional blueprints for overcoming challenges to affordable housing and economic mobility.