Advancing racial equity and social justice consists of many efforts working in concert with each other to promote larger societal change. This is not a one-off effort, nor the sole work of one department. It’s a team effort that has to be blended into all City of Asheville departments, folded into our mission to provide quality services to all Asheville residents.
Through the City’s 30/60/90 Day Work Plan, staff have begun this work by focusing efforts on reimagining public safety and issues related to racial equity.
Several Oct. 27 agenda items before Asheville City Council form an interconnectedness aimed at advancing this work. Some are more obvious than others; yet combined they serve as examples of City actions designed to lay a foundation for racial equity and social justice in our community. Here are a few of them.
Council passed a resolution authorizing the City Manager to suspend the sale or change in zoning use of any City property acquired through urban renewal until further policy direction has been reviewed. This action is in support of Council’s July 14 Resolution Supporting Community Reparations for Black Asheville. The urban renewal properties resolution serves as a framework for the disposition of properties taken from Black families during urban renewal. City staff will conduct an inventory of these properties, and many of them have already been identified. Unless specifically exempted by City Council, these properties will not be rezoned or developed until there is further policy direction.
This resolution seeks to address race- and gender-based disparities in City contracting and procurement. Based on the 2018 Disparity Study, this policy outlines steps that the City will take to help reduce disparities in contracting and purchasing, such as maintaining an updated database of available small and minority- and women-owned businesses; providing certification, networking opportunities, and workshops and training for such businesses; and requiring that prime contractors bidding on contracts conduct outreach to identify minority- and women-owned subcontractors for City projects. This policy will go into effect Jan. 1, 2021.
This falls under the area of environmental social justice. It builds upon Council’s Jan. 28 Climate Emergency Resolution. The City’s Office of Sustainability is working to incorporate a Climate Justice Screening Tool to ensure that Asheville’s BIPOC (Black and Indigenous People of Color) voices are heard and known when we implement City plans.
Specific to the Tree Canopy Resolution, it establishes a tree canopy coverage goal of 50% by 2040. A 2018 Urban Tree Canopy Study found existing coverage to be 44.5%. The canopy study identified a correlation between urban heat island effects and communities of color. The resolution intends to combat canopy loss and heat islands with an emphasis on canopy replacement in these most affected communities. This resolution supports the future establishment of a Comprehensive Urban Forestry Program.
Named after former Confederate officer and slave holder Zebulon Vance, who served as North Carolina governor during the Civil War, the 65-foot obelisk at the intersection of Biltmore and Patton avenues evokes a painful past for Black residents. In August, the City and County named a joint task force to consider whether the monument should be removed or repurposed. In addition, the task force is charged with identifying and recommending African Americans to honor the local history of Asheville – Buncombe County.
The Vance Monument Task Force engaged the public with a virtual Town Hall last week and another one is set for 4:45 to 6 p.m. Oct. 29. Visit publicinput.com/VanceMonumentTaskForce to participate. Call 855-925-2801 and enter code 9722 to join. You can also text “Avlvancemonument” to 73224 to provide public input or email VanceMonumentTaskForce@PublicInput.com. The task force is expected to make its recommendation to the City and the County in late November.
Renaming of City streets
Public spaces, including streets, are meant to be inclusive places where everyone and anyone can feel welcome and comfortable. The names of streets are sometimes overlooked; however, to many, the names evoke emotions and feelings about that space. That includes identifying Asheville streets named after former slave owners and replacing those names with the names of historic black leaders.
City Council has the statutory authority to change street names. While the Council will make final decisions, this initiative is community driven and the process for identifying potential street name changes for consideration by the City Council will occur through a public engagement process. Read more here.
PODS and Wi-Fi access
to Asheville Housing Authority communities
PODS: Recognizing the COVID-19 pandemic is having a profound effect on our students — especially our BIPOC students — the City of Asheville stepped up to help fill the gap. First, City recreation centers were repurposed as centers for the PODS program (Positive Opportunities Develop Success). In partnership with the Asheville Housing Authority, My Daddy Taught Me That, My Community Matters, YTL, CHOSEN and other community organizations, Asheville City Schools staff use the PODS as centers to engage students and facilitate student engagement to promote academic achievement.
Wi-Fi: The City took a further step of appropriating $50,000 to help provide Internet Wi-Fi to the Asheville Housing Authority’s five family developments. The purpose behind the collaboration is to help close the digital divide, ensuring that students have reliable connectivity to support remote learning. The Southside Community will be the first of the housing communities to receive the Internet infrastructure. Other contributing partners include Asheville City Schools Foundation, Buncombe County Government, and the Asheville Housing Authority. Find out more about this important effort at this link.
Dr. Wesley Grant Sr. Southside Center aquatics center design
On Oct. 27, Council unanimously passed a resolution allowing design work to proceed on a community pool to serve the Southside community. This investment in a historically underserved part of our community will be designed to increase equitable access to community and recreation services for current and future residents.
Look for more stories as the design is created through inclusive engagement with the community that is connected to this space.
As City initiatives develop, look for more information on the City’s multi-track vision to continue incorporating racial equity and social justice into the way that we do business.