Gainesville City Commissioners, Consultants Work To Add Racial Equity In Comprehensive Plan Update

By

The Gainesville City Commission is seeking to cement racial equity considerations into city planning rules in a way it has never done before.

These rules will be revised through Imagine GNV, which the city describes as “an update to the…Comprehensive Plan that centers racial equity and the experiences and priorities of Black Gainesvillians and other historically-marginalized communities.” The city has hired New York-based consultants HR&A Advisors, Inc. to help complete the update.

Lydia Gaby and Eri Furusawa, two HR&A employees, delivered a virtual presentation on Wednesday to update commissioners on their current progress and future plans for Imagine GNV. They proposed goals, strategies and an eight-chapter outline that prioritizes racial equity in the new Comprehensive Plan. The city is paying HR&A $212,600 to assist with the plan changes.

The Comprehensive Plan lays out infrastructure development guidelines for new businesses, structures and plenty of other changes across the city. It’s generally in place for 10 years at a time. Large developments that fall outside of the guidelines typically require approval through the city’s Comprehensive Plan amendment process.

The current plan was last updated in June 2012 under the guidance of a less racially diverse Gainesville City Commission, and the city’s own website now says the plan “is not as effective as it could be,” as it “fails to name racial disparities, evaluate how city policies impact disparities, or identify policies to address them.”

These disparities, as featured on the website, are “deep and persistent” and are especially evident in regard to housing, unemployment and income.

As Gainesville looks to 2030, “Imagine GNV will help ensure that more people will have access to: livable, accessible homes and easy ways to get around; a quality education and good paying jobs; healthy food and affordable healthcare and childcare” in updating the current plan and “requiring that future city actions align with the city’s goals of addressing racial disparities.”

Gaby and Furusawa discussed this alignment as they proposed Imagine GNV’s multi-chaptered outline to update the plan, and address disparities and inequity in Gainesville.

“Racial equity will be kind of an underpinning and underlying current for the entire plan,” said Furusawa, a senior analyst at HR&A Advisors.

Each of the chapters include subsegments, which are “ideas for strategies and desired outcomes” that the team developed with city working groups, and “representative strategies” of how to achieve the respective goals by 2030.

Of the 26 strategies, eight of them (“Energy and Sustainability,” “Climate Resiliency,” “Health,” “Safety,” “Economy,” “Racial Equity in Government,” “Civic Engagement,” “Tech and Innovation in Government”) are not currently represented in the Comprehensive Plan.

In addition to discussing these revisions to the plan, the consultants also updated the commission on their timeline, which spans across six months and three phases.

According to the presentation, phase one involves drafting a chapter outline from mid-January to March; phase two entails drafting the chapter text from April to the beginning of May; phase 3 includes finalizing the plan from mid-May to June.

“We are currently at the end of phase one of three,” Furusawa said.

In this phase, she said the team spent two and a half months analyzing the current Comprehensive Plan. Then, they “met with leadership and city departments across the city over five weeks on a biweekly basis and in a workshop setting” to discuss topics, such as “what racial equity looks like… and how it manifests in life in Gainesville, and how that is connected to the city’s actions and policies.”

“The legacy of this inequity and injustice is alive today in Gainesville… policies, programs and decision-making practices have historically prioritized large businesses, high-income residents, college students and tourists at the exclusion of others.”

In November 2019, commissioners adopted a resolution to address inequity and confirm “that race and equity is a core value that will be incorporated into the updated version of the Comprehensive Plan.”

With this resolution, and the completion of phase one, Furusawa said they will be getting input from the community and including the commissioners’ feedback as the team drafts the chapter text in phase two.

Gainesville Mayor Poe said asking city taxpayers “what’s missing from your neighborhood that would make it better?” is a “great thing” that would provide a clearer idea of where the city needs to be allocating its resources.

The six other commissioners affirmed the plan’s progress and suggested additional initiatives, such as restricting tobacco sales, increasing the minimum wage to $15 and assigning a carbon reduction number.

Even Commissioner Gigi Simmons, who was the only person to vote “nay” on the equity-related resolution, said, although she approaches some these conversations with a “healthy dose of skepticism,” she looks forward to seeing the plan play out.

“I do appreciate the work that you’ve put into this, and I have no doubt that you all are the right group to lead us through this process,” she said.

Simmons lost a bid for reelection last month, and Commissioner-Elect Desmon Duncan-Walker will take over her seat in May.

As the new plan comes to fruition, Furusawa said they will be updating the outcomes, strategizing with city leadership to create accountability measures, engaging with community members and approaching stakeholders outside of the city government, such as the University of Florida.

Commissioners will hear another update from HR&A Advisors on May 5, by which time the group hopes to have an updated draft for each of the chapters.

In the meantime, the group is encouraging community members to attend listening sessions and share their stories and perspectives of “what an equitable future looks like.”

Lydia Gaby begins the Zoom presentation in the City Hall auditorium. “I’m really sort of heartened and surprised about so much of the commitment we’ve seen so far from people across the organization to have some of these really difficult conversations,” she said. “We feel really excited about this process.” (Hannah Shelton/WUFT News)

Gaby, Furusawa’s co-worker and a director at HR&A Advisors, said between 50 and 55 people attended the first virtual session on Tuesday. She said there was strong interest in and turnout at the event, with many people specifically interested in accessible housing.

“We opened up the conversation,” Gaby said, “and allowed for people to say lot of their experience that they are facing around how they’re falling through the gaps and what they think the city should do.”

Anyone interested in getting involved can visit the city’s Facebook page or ImagineGNV’s website.

About Hannah Shelton

Hannah is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

Check Also

Increasing gun violence prompts Gainesville Police Department special meeting with city commission

The Gainesville Police Department discuss initiatives to decrease gun violence at a special commission meeting held to address it and its impact.