Being in the room matters, as well as community engagement. Even in the most diverse city in the nation, it is possible to misconstrue what is best for a city, especially a city like Houston, which has few rules for how development occurs. Nevertheless, in a city that is a conglomeration of industry, entertainment, education, and diversity, city officials can still learn how to improve simply by creating more effective engagement policies.
The biggest problem with so many cities is that they are working to emulate each other in an attempt to compete economically without properly vetting all of their processes. Sadly, most big cities are starting to look the same with outdoor space that looks more like a theme park rather than a place where people spend time. Houston, every the big player, aspired to create yet another elongated outdoor space with the requisite businesses which would give the city the feeling of a giant mall. However, because Houston is willing to engage and fund such activities, it was able to capture the feelings of marginalized communities, and reverse the possible discrimination.
Equity occurs when people do not have to ask to be put at the table because those in power reach out knowing its audience. Because voting is such a complicated process — the location, the method, responding to the results — it is possible to make poor choices for a city even if voting, especially due to consistently poor participation. When initially planning the connectivity between parks, Houston had the best intentions and was responding to those concerned about economic development. Fortunately, the city of Houston has an array of people who plan it and who account for the public engagement, and when a trend of wealthier and white participants emerged, the city collaborated with Rice University — an ironically conservative space — and invested in more productive community outreach.
So many cities are unwilling to change their policies when confronting systemic inequality. Luckily, when there are substantial communities within a greater one, everyone can learn that one perspective is inefficient. Collaboration and investment can continue to shape neighborhoods if both parties are willing to communicate.