Racial Equity Drives Health and Climate Outcomes

January 31, 2019

African American Couple Outside Los Angeles Home

When the Strong, Prosperous, and Resilient Communities Challenge (SPARCC) launched in March 2017, we set out to promote equitable regional development through a new perspective—one that comprehensively considers the interrelated issues of racial equity, health, and climate. SPARCC sought to apply these lenses to regional development efforts, with the assumption that the integration of these issues would lead to better outcomes in all three areas.

Our midcourse check-in tests that hypothesis—with unexpected results.

SPARCC seeks to change the way metropolitan regions grow, invest, and build to benefit low-income communities and communities of color. A new research brief summarizes learnings from halfway through the three-year initiative. Findings are based on interviews with 15 individuals representing the six SPARCC regions: Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago, Memphis, Denver, and the San Francisco Bay Area.

Representatives say that while the concept of integrating the three lenses of racial equity, health, and climate helped prompt new ways of thinking, it is perceived as highly theoretical and challenging to enact in practice.

Racial equity has emerged as the “primary lens” through which SPARCC looks to improve health and climate outcomes over the long term. All of the sites have reported the value of SPARCC in helping them explicitly name and advance racial equity in their work.

Addressing displacement, in particular, has become a priority across sites because, despite variations in regional housing markets, communities of color are consistently and disproportionately vulnerable to displacement from urban revitalization efforts. As property values rise, for example, communities of color are frequently pushed from central cities to the outer fringes of the metropolitan region. Factors such as longer commutes, the breakdown of social support systems, and reduced access to daily necessities have important ramifications for health and climate outcomes.

Improvements in health and climate resilience remain priorities for SPARCC, but they are now understood to be outcomes of an improved system that begins with racial equity.

For details about the lessons learned and future direction of SPARCC, and a summary of the most relevant adaptations, visit Testing Our Hypotheses on Equitable Development: Midcourse Learning and Adapting through SPARCC.

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Strong, Prosperous, and Resilient Communities Challenge (SPARCC) is a three-year initiative with major funding by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Ford Foundation, The Kresge Foundation, JPB Foundation, and The California Endowment. Four nonprofits form the partnership that implements SPARCC: Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, Enterprise Community Partners, Low Income Investment Fund, and Natural Resources Defense Council.