COVID-19: The Recovery will Happen in Public Space

Planning and the Journey to Inclusion: A Q&A with Brooke DuBose

Katherine Peinhardt
Jul 17, 2018
Jul 17, 2018

Brooke DuBose is Regional Director for Toole Design Group's Bay Area office. Brooke will be be presenting "A Planner's Handbook on Race and Equity: Strategies, Tools and Evaluation Metrics for Addressing Disparities" at Walk/Bike/Places 2018. Meet her in New Orleans this September 16-19! For more about the conference and to register click here.

A view of New Orleans' streets. Photo Credit: William Recinos/Unsplash

While there’s no handbook for addressing equity in cities, urban planners everywhere are paying closer attention to things like gentrification and affordable housing; cornerstone issues in the fight to break down long-time barriers to the shared prosperity cities are meant to represent. While historical redlining continues to shape today’s communities, a new set of planning tools is improving accountability in re-shaping cities to truly be for everyone.

Brooke DuBose, Regional Director for Toole Design Group's Bay Area office will be a panelist in a session at Walk/Bike/Places aimed at addressing inequality. Toole Design Group is asking the tough questions — taking a closer look at everything from hiring practices to how community engagement reaches people differently.  In her session, she will explore how planning professionals can take practical steps toward realizing the vision of more equitable communities.

Q: At Walk/Bike/Places, you will be part of a session on strategies, metrics, and tools that can help make transportation planning fairer in process and more equitable in outcomes. How has our field changed over the years when it comes to equity?

A: Toole Design Group’s internal initiative on diversity and inclusion was started this past winter, and it originated with the president of Toole Design Group. One thing that’s exciting is that it’s coming from the top down, and we have representation on the committee from staff in each office. The first part is about training and information-sharing to get everyone on the same page. The initiative is largely focused on our internal practices as it relates to culture and recruiting practices. We’re getting some baseline data on our organization and who our clients are in the communities we serve. That conversation is evolving, and in August we’ll be delivering an internal action plan across the company that will address outcomes and measures of success. It’ll be ready at Walk/Bike/Places, in terms of sharing big ideas that might be of interest to our peers and colleagues.

I’ve been doing work in equity and inclusion professionally for about 20 years now, and I have to say that it feels like a really exciting beginning for the industry to be having this conversation. In the country as a whole, the conversations around race, class, and gender have come to the forefront in some really challenging ways. It’s exciting to see some openings in the conversation we haven’t seen before. We’re very much at the beginning in our industry, and there’s a lot of work to do. I’m based in Oakland, and the DOT here and the City as a whole is doing phenomenal work in how we’re addressing equity and holding the mirror up to ourselves. I see the work that they’re doing in Oakland as a model for agencies and organizations around the country. In terms of private consulting firms, initiatives seem pretty internal.

From our end, we want to be really thoughtful about not making it into a marketing splash. We’re thinking about the initiative as the starting point for tools and questions for our industry to use and think about. Our communication style needs to be re-thought, as well as our engagement and outreach — which is where you see most visibly the importance of accessibility in our work and materials. What do we mean when we say “best practices,” and use Northern Europe examples for bikeable walkable spaces? We have staff in Canada and Madison, WI with communities that look very different from communities in Orlando or Texas. Folks are hungry to have the conversation and ready to be equipped with the necessary tools.

One thing I think is exciting about our session is that we’re at the point where we don’t have to talk in generalities and I think our session will be honest, and candid. We’ll have concrete tools and measures for participants to come away with. We’ll deliver the session at a 201 or 301 level, as opposed to a few years ago where things weren’t as developed in the conversation. This conversation will go pretty deep!

Q: How has living and working in the Bay area influenced your understanding of equity?

A: Our clients here are really eager to think about equity in our work. We’re about to start work with San Jose on a Bike Master Plan update. As part of that outreach, rather than Toole coming in as consultants, we’re setting aside part of our contract to have local community-based organizations present it themselves. We’re doing this in Oakland now — partnering with local organizations and translated our goals together, reconciled our goals. A lot of these organizations are tackling housing affordability and displacement, as well as policing and racial profiling, and these overlap with the work that we’re doing.

We’ve spent a lot of time reframing our work to be less about mode share targets and more about access to resources that people need. We’re pivoting towards a focus on the community rather than purely through a lens of transportation. We’re also paying these organizations for their time rather than asking them to volunteer, which is an important precedent.

Q: Do you have any success stories of projects that have addressed “issues such as gentrification, affordable housing, and police enforcement,” keeping true to values of equity and accessibility? 

A: Here in the Bay Area, we have Bike Share For All, with a whole outreach program about addressing equity with Ford GoBikes. A lot of it in the beginning comes down to the right partnerships, with good communication. So much of it comes down to the look and feel, the brand and message of our work — for the Oakland Bike Master Plan, the outreach materials received feedback around not being tailored to communities of color. There’s been a lot of work completely scrapping materials and towards reflecting the communities with whom we’re trying to engage. At recent events, the City had a whole display dedicated to displacement and capturing how people have experienced it, especially as it relates to transportation. Senior officials in the City government came to speak about what they’re doing to address these issues, and be accountable to the folks they’re serving. I’ve never really seen that in our field before — but we made space and time for that. It’s been really successful and received positive feedback.

Q: What are some of the tools you’ll be examining in your Walk/Bike/Places session?

A: We’ll provide a suit of organizational tools, starting with what questions we have to ask ourselves. It doesn’t always start with recruiting inclusively; there’s a lot that comes before that. We think of it in terms of: “How can we make our organization more equitable and accessible and inviting?” There are concrete tools, like equity frameworks with metrics of success, like we’ve used in Oakland. There are materials for public engagement, with examples of how to address enforcement challenges in the policing element, for example, around Vision Zero. What I’m really excited to share are the successes and challenges and lessons learned.

Q: Which Walk/Bike/Places session(s) are you looking forward to attending? See attached.

A: I’m excited about the mobile workshops in New Orleans!

Q: Do you have any special connection to New Orleans? Do you have a New Orleans story? If not, is there something about this host city that you are looking forward to seeing/experiencing?

A: My main connection is long road trips in college to see jazz shows. So I’m excited to come back (on foot and by bike!) to talk about equity and inclusion, and to learn about how New Orleans is tackling these challenges there. It’s one of the most dynamic cities in the U.S. and I couldn’t be more excited!

Katherine Peinhardt
Katherine Peinhardt
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COVID-19: The Recovery will Happen in Public Space