Health by Design Statement on Public Spaces, Streets, and Racism – July 1, 2020

Too many of us believe the ideal: That our streets and public places were created for everyone. That they are safe and accessible. That people are connected to the places they need to go. That everyone has options for how they travel. As recent events have shown, though, that ideal is not reality. And reality disproportionately harms and kills Black people and other people of color.

The senseless crash that killed three Indianapolis teenagers walking along Kessler Boulevard North Drive, the violent deaths of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, the false accusations toward birdwatcher Christian Cooper, and the retaliation directed at Black Lives Matter protesters are all examples of how racism prevails in civic spaces. Though long-standing and far-reaching, this reality has been magnified in recent months, and it must be confronted. Black, Indigenous, People Of Color (BIPOC) have the right to use public spaces free from racism, fear, and the threat of violence or loss of life.

Health by Design advocates for communities to provide equitable and safe access for all, with convenient and connected options for walking, biking, and public transit. Places where all children can safely gather and play in parks, yards, and streets. Where young people of color aren’t harassed or ticketed for petty transportation issues like jaywalking or not having a bicycle light. Neighborhoods in which fresh food, affordable housing, well-paying jobs, quality education, and nearby healthcare are available to all. Too often, though, overt policies, neglect, unintended consequences, and discrimination result in a built environment that stifles freedom and perpetuates oppression.

Our board of directors, staff, and coalition partners are committed to addressing those barriers and working toward that vision of vibrant, thriving communities for everyone. As we continue the never-ending journey of becoming an anti-racist organization, dismantling systemic injustice, and addressing the complex mobility issues faced by BIPOC, we recognize that much more is needed. We are learning and acknowledging the ways we have contributed to harm; and through our Health Equity Action Team, we are centering health equity within our organizational practices and in our community-based initiatives.

To forge a different future for neighborhoods and public places, we must provide opportunities for authentic and transparent conversations and give decision-making power to BIPOC neighbors. We must champion and elect leaders who adopt policies, commit funding, and develop systems that eliminate structural racism and white privilege. We must create environments and conditions that end poverty and encourage opportunity. We must have accommodating and accessible civic spaces that support the community’s activities and events, whether active transportation, entertainment, peaceful assemblies, or demonstrations.

We can no longer tolerate the status quo, which fans the flames of inequality, disparities, and trauma, resulting in a lack of safety, poorer quality of life, and shorter lifespans for BIPOC. Please help us engage policymakers, community leaders, stakeholders, and residents in the transformational change that must happen to make streets and public spaces safe and equitable for all.