In 2020, TransForm partnered with Remix and Elemental Excelerator to infuse equity considerations into a software product development process aimed for use by departments of transportation. Urban planners and other practitioners use data and geospatial analysis in almost all aspects of their work, especially in determining details of a project, its intended impact, and in justifying which projects receive funding. All these decisions can have long-lasting impacts in communities to perpetuate or uproot injustice.
To gather insights directly from practitioners, TransForm assembled a team of advisors who are subject-matter experts working to advance justice in areas intersecting with mobility. We surveyed policy advocates and performed case studies to inform the direction of product development and keep it centered on equity, in the hopes that outcomes generated by the use of the tool would also be more equitable. To conclude the partnership, we identified the key connections among data analysis, decision-making, and relationship building in a project brief, Remixing Innovation for Mobility Justice.
Software can help planners who aim to improve conditions for Black and Brown communities, but it requires first truly listening to people and their needs, cultivating and maintaining relationships with people who will be affected by planners’ decisions. Only then can we use tools like software to work towards anti-racist goals.
The world outside of data analysis needs reckoning. Even the most sophisticated software tool cannot solve historically racialized wrongdoings that have taken innocent people's lives, especially Black lives. Authentic racial justice work relies on ceding power and decision-making to the wisdom of long disenfranchised individuals, trusting communities to shape how systems evolve to meet their needs.
This is particularly necessary in an era where governments are trying to prove themselves as part of the solution, no longer the problem, to the racism that persists in the built environment and in interactions Black and brown communities have with government. Data must go beyond statistics to include community engagement and relationship-building to tell a holistic story.
In the ever-salient words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:
“Justice for black people will not flow into society merely from court decisions nor from fountains of political oratory. Nor will a few token changes quell all the tempestuous yearnings of millions of disadvantaged black people. White America must recognize that justice for black people cannot be achieved without radical changes in the structure of our society. The comfortable, the entrenched, the privileged, cannot continue to tremble at the prospect of change in the status quo.”
—Martin Luther King, Jr., “A Testament of Hope”
Historically, urban planning played a direct role in creating the structural racism people of color still deal with today. The racist origins of urban planning are evident in redlining practices, zoning policy, and “urban renewal” efforts, which explicitly or implicitly segregated Black communities, crowding them into substandard housing.
Since the impacts of racist policies and structures show up in all sectors, the field must address the root causes of inequality by addressing these issues across disciplines. Unfortunately, the country’s neglect to acknowledge and address root causes has allowed inequality to grow. The symptoms of white supremacy are physical, psychological, social, and political. Sometimes those symptoms are felt and experienced in the areas where urban planning has the power to make positive change.
You can also learn more about these issues in our project brief, Remixing Innovation for Mobility Justice: Guidance for Planners and Users of Remix Explore.
As the project brief continues to gain the attention of Directors of Transportation, private mobility companies, and staff at The United States Department of Transportation, the audience looking to take action around mobility justice is growing. Many of these individuals cite the innovation of bringing advocates into a product development process as being transformative to reach new insights. Advocates and communities are leading on this front.
“This brief is for people who acknowledge the inequities built into our cities and are ready to take action to dismantle unjust systems”
— Introduction, Remixing Innovation for Mobility Justice
The United States is in a familiar place where our institutions and public officials, such as urban planners, are pushed to deal with issues of race. I hope our determination for structural change grows not just because of tragedy or the COVID-19 Pandemic, but because we are finally facing the persistent racism upon which this country was founded. Never forget how much of that is rooted in separating people by class and race to instill fear and suppress our power.