A Healthy Richmond, California Endowment looks at REDI
Boom-and-bust cycles have shaped the city of Richmond’s history. Its
population quadrupled between 1940 and 1943; later, with the closing of
its World War II shipyards, the population shrank dramatically. From
1970 to 2000, it grew at only half the rate of the rest of the East
Bay. Today, Richmond remains an important industrial center for the Bay
Area, home to nearly a third of all jobs in the manufacturing,
wholesale and transportation sectors. Because of Richmond’s reliance on
industrial economies, much of the city’s land is zoned for industrial
and commercial use.
Beset by decades of economic, social and environmental challenges, Richmond faced significant financial shortfalls. “Historically it was unable to access its fair share of regional resources and was a city dealing with disinvestment,” recalls Juliet Ellis, executive director of the environmental justice organization Urban Habitat. “And for a combination of reasons the relationship between the City Council and community members was extremely tense, at an all-time low.”
Now, in a community-wide effort to set Richmond on a new course for the future, Urban Habitat, with support from The California Endowment, is working in collaboration with residents, community partners and elected officials to forge an ambitious policy framework for more equitable, healthy, “green” development in the city. The effort is strategically timed with the updating of Richmond’s General Plan. A general plan lays out a city’s vision and plans for future growth and development.
The General Plan update is a crucial opportunity for residents to make their voices heard. “It’s a space to envision how we want the community to look over the next 20 years,” says Juliet. “What kinds of industries and economic engines do we want to attract? How do we ensure that equitable development takes place rather than development that results in gentrification and displacement? We need to establish the rules of the game before developers come to town, and hold officials accountable.”
The state of California requires that a General Plan (also called a City Plan or Master Plan) include, at minimum, seven elements: land use, transportation, housing, conservation, open space, noise and safety.
The city of Richmond, however, has taken the extra step of including an additional element aimed at community health and wellness. Funding from The California Endowment is going to PolicyLink – a national research and social equity organization already engaged in projects on health and the built environment – to partner with Berkeley-based MIG Inc., a land use and design planning firm and the city of Richmond’s planning consultant, to develop the health element. Richmond is the first California community to include in its plan an element specifically aimed at community health. This groundbreaking approach could help improve public health in urban environments statewide.
Richmond has the most economic segregation and concentrated poverty in the Bay Area. Its low-income residents have not historically been engaged in land use policy, even though their health has been disproportionately affected by development, industry, zoning and other planning decisions. “Air quality is a huge issue in Richmond,” cites Juliet as just one example. “There are oil refineries in the city and a number of serious brownfields, toxic sites that need to be cleaned up.”
A draft General Plan will be taken up by the City Council in early 2008 and, following public hearings and community workshops, a final Plan will be adopted in July 2008. The General Plan will establish a comprehensive framework for Richmond’s future healthy development by setting forth goals and guidelines for expansion of parks and pathways, equitable access to grocery stores and community-health services, locations of schools, housing construction and density, and development of infrastructure systems such as sewer and water. “The General Plan update is a high priority for the city, and it has been a very participative process,” says Richmond city manager Bill Lindsay. “In pulling together this health element you realize you’re drawing threads from many parts of the General Plan. It foregrounds the impact of land-use policies on community health.”
“Everything a city does has human health implications; health should be a cornerstone of a General Plan. In Richmond, we have an opportunity to fundamentally change the way cities plan for the future—and show the link between our physical environment and public health,” said Daniel Iacofano, Ph.D., principal of MIG and lead urban planner for the project. “Where you live, work, play, and go to school has a fundamental effect on your health.”
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