Putting Community at the Center of Mobility Equity

Op-Ed: Led by advocates of color, The Untokening conference on November 13 will create visions for just and accessible streets.

(Photo by Sahra Sulaiman) 

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In recent years, equity, diversity and inclusion have become more common topics in biking and walking advocacy and planning spaces. The most promising direction has come from advocates of color and those representing other marginalized groups, who live at the intersection of existing community challenges and hopes for a healthier, safer, greener future.

But revealing the connections between promoting non-car travel and broader patterns of inequality and discrimination makes some people uncomfortable. For this reason, we have sometimes felt unwelcome in established advocacy and planning spaces as we try to raise awareness about the multiple vulnerabilities our communities face.

Many of us justice-oriented advocates have been tokenized — relegated to an all-person of color panel that is likely to be attended mainly by people of color; serving as the lone person of color on a panel and limited in the way we can address topics that impact our communities; or simply being dismissed as a distraction from the more “important” agendas at hand. This tokenism takes a personal toll, as working from a perspective that comes naturally to us also places us in direct line of resistance and stress.

We’ve learned from our collective experience — and our network is taking an important step forward in Atlanta on November 13 as we come together for The Untokening: A Convening for Just Streets and Communities.

The Untokening will create a collaboration space for individuals who know that there is more to being vulnerable in public space than worrying about being struck by a reckless driver; that there cannot be “livability” without affordability; that culture as well as infrastructure matters in changing mobility; and that we need to build accountability and economic opportunity into our community engagement processes.

Through gathering stories and narratives from attendees’ lived experiences, the Untokening will be an opportunity for justice-oriented advocates to pool our expertise, speak about the wide spectrum of issues that impinge on mobility in our communities, and articulate principles and frameworks that better fit our own mobility needs, understandings of community and aspirations for our cities.

If we are to have any hope of designing safer, more accessible, more just and more welcoming communities for all, our advocacy priorities cannot continue to privilege streets over the bodies that travel on them. The expected outcomes for the Untokening include a set of shared statements on core topics and a racially integrated agenda for just streets and mobility. These products will be shared with a wider audience in early 2017.

It is not within our abilities, nor is it our intention, to create a clean set of action items that fit neatly into existing policy priorities for biking and walking advocates. Rather, our goal is to lift up the experiences and expertise of people who have been marginalized around issues of equity and justice within the context of street and community design. Many of us have been or are staff and collaborators in these advocacy, planning and placemaking professional spaces, and have learned firsthand that the day-to-day pressures of keeping institutions going rarely cultivate ideal settings where people with alternative perspectives can develop new solutions.

We believe the Untokening will help advance those new solutions, and each of us, as well as local and national partners, will use the convening’s outcomes to advance justice and equity in their communities in different ways. Some may take this directly into their professional work at biking and walking advocacy organizations; others may bring that knowledge into planning or policy-making, while still others may continue down a different path.

To get there, this convening will be different, centering perspectives that have been drowned out in the past. At the Untokening, we will actively prioritize the experiences of marginalized people, especially Black people, within streets and public spaces.

We believe that we deserve the freedom to define mobility problems and envision alternatives, and that there is plenty of room for integrated values in the field. Only a future born of many minds and experiences will be an equitable one. It’s time for us to make the next city together.

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Adonia, Naomi and Carolyn are among the co-organizers of The Untokening. The core leadership team for The Untokening is comprised of advocates from diverse social and racial backgrounds who work in professional and personal capacities to advance equity in mobility and community development. Support this effort by making a contribution here.

Follow Adonia Lugo, Naomi Doerner

Tags: bike-sharerace

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