EcoDistricts Launches a New Online Course for EcoDistricts APs: Centering Racial Equity in Urban & Community Development

“The moment we choose to love, we begin to move against domination, against oppression. The moment we choose to love, we begin to move towards freedom, to act in ways that liberate ourselves and others. That action is the testimony of love as the practice of freedom.”
— bell hooks, from Love as the Practice of Freedom


Over the past two years, EcoDistricts has been on an organizational journey to prioritize racial equity more purposefully. Challenged by a growing number of inspired leaders demanding that racial equity be centered in all urban planning, design, and development decision making, we recognized that the EcoDistricts Accredited Professionals (AP) – 780 strong – provides an important community to leverage impact and commitment. After 18 months of surveys, individual consultations with BIPOC practitioners, and research, a new online course called Centering Racial Equity in EcoDistricts, is now required learning for all EcoDistricts APs. 

COVID, the legacy of racialized covenants, redlining and zoning, and the impacts of climate change have highlighted the severity and persistence of white supremacy within urban planning and development that has left people, cities, and civics in peril. This is not news to the generations of BIPOC and low-income communities that have been bearing the legacy of racist and biased public policy and disinvestment in housing, schools, parks, and open space, transportation infrastructure, digital connectivity, and public health. The urban development industry has been slow to address the role of institutional racism, professional bias, and white supremacist culture in shaping the growth of neighborhoods and cities; and has a significant role in accelerating segregation, concentrated poverty, political turmoil, environmental degradation, and chronic sickness. The results speak for themselves – the racial equity gap is getting worse.

Centering Racial Equity in EcoDistricts has a central motivation – the urban planning, design, and development field’s deep embrace of racial equity as a core priority, value, and goal, with a focus on:

  1. Agreeing on a common language and set of principles.
  2. Understanding the history of white supremacy, structural racism, and exploitation embedded in land use, urban planning, design, and development practices and policies
  3. Applying culturally specific techniques and tools, including racial equity impact assessment, with a focus on lifting up BIPOC communities and addressing long-term trauma and distrust. 

A genuine effort requires continuous learning and discussion. We look forward to refining this work together with you.  And for predominantly white-led organizations such as EcoDistricts, it requires us to rethink power and privilege and to hold ourselves accountable in authentically and consistently reflecting and acting on racial equity in how we operate and what we do.  

We sincerely hope this training contributes to strengthening the EcoDistricts community’s resolve in promoting pro-equity, anti-racist design and development practices, public policies, and community-scale investments. The opportunity for substantive impact has never been greater. The largest federal infusion in social programs and physical infrastructure in a generation has begun, an opportunity to act with clarity and purpose to ensure future urban development more effectively heals past harms and trauma, builds trust, and expands direct benefits to BIPOC communities. 

Centering Racial Equity in EcoDistricts is part of a broader racial equity agenda to improve and expand programming and partnerships. Over the last two years, we have been seeking out leaders of color to encourage reflection and learning – with a clear recognition that the journey towards justice and sustainability requires constant attention, action, and evaluation. 

To learn more about the EcoDistricts AP community, contact Teva Needleman at

EcoDistricts was founded to advance neighborhood and district-scale equitable and sustainable development, recognizing that the field was struggling to link the issues of green development, environmental & climate justice, racial equity, public health, and economic opportunity. The goal was to develop a forward-thinking agenda that was both comprehensive and intersectional while recognizing that the urban sustainability, planning, and design professions that oversee much of the technical and public policy work associated with urban redevelopment – are skewed white-dominant.

Since its founding, EcoDistricts has embedded diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) into the organization’s strategic plan, programs, and operations, including standing up a board-staff DEI task force at our inaugural meeting in November 2013, which resulted in the creation and adoption of a DEI Blueprint six months later. Over the years, the organization dedicated time and budget towards racial equity and DEI capacity building and systems analysis for all staff and Board, partnering with a variety of organizations including Angela Parks Consulting, Center for Diversity in the Environment, Coalition of Communities of Color, and Portland State University. In 2018 EcoDistricts received Kresge support to participate in Race Forward’s Racial Equity Realized (RER) program, along with NGOs from around the country. Over the course of a year, staff and board members participated in a series of impactful in-person capacity building and peer learning workshops and coaching sessions to explore how racial equity is internalized and promoted throughout the organization. The RER program shifted EcoDistricts work from a DEI lens to one centered on racial equity, creating a profound impact and calling us to be more courageous and vocal in elevating racial equity in the work. We are grateful to the following individuals and organizations for providing inspiration and guidance through the years:

  • Angela Park, Angela Park Consulting, Vermont
  • Antwi Akom, San Francisco State University, Oakland, CA
  • Chandra Christmas-Rouse, Enterprise Community Partners, Chicago, IL
  • Deb Guenther, Mithun, Seattle, WA
  • Don Edwards, Justice and Sustainability Associates, Washington DC
  • Donna Hope, Emerald Cities Collaborative, New York City, NY
  • Donna Moodie, Capitol Hill EcoDistrict, Seattle WA
  • Donzell Robinson, Justice and Sustainability Associates, Washington DC 
  • Kalima Rose, PolicyLink, Oakland, CA
  • Key Jackson, Race Forward, New York City, NY
  • Kofi Boone, North Carolina State University, NC
  • Jesse Villabosse, Race Forward, New York City, NY 
  • Julia Meier, Coalition of Communities of Color, Portland, OR
  • Julian Agyeman, Tufts University, Medford, MA
  • Nathaniel Smith, Partnership for Southern Equity, Atlanta, GA
  • Nwamaka Agbo, Kataly Foundation, Oakland, CA
  • Meghan Venable-Thomas, Enterprise Community Partners, Boston, MA
  • Marcelo Bonta, Center for Diversity & the Environment, Portland, OR
  • Molly Urbina, Urbina Strategies LCC, Denver, CO
  • Muammar Hermanstyne, Africatown Community Land Trust, Seattle WA
  • Nella Young, Enterprise Community Partners, Boston, MA
  • Queta Gonzalez, Center for Diversity & the Environment, Portland OR
  • Quincy Brown, We All Rise, Portland, OR
  • Ronda Chapman, Policylink, Oakland, CA
  • Suzanne Burnes, Partnership for Southern Equity, Atlanta, GA
  • Syris Valentine, Africatown Community Land Trust, Seattle WA
  • Tamika Butler, Tamika Butler Consulting, Los Angelos, CA
  • Teva Needleman, EcoDistricts, Portland, OR
  • Zaheen Hussain, Formerly of Millvale Ecodistrict, Pittsburgh, PA

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