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How a Black Lives Matter Activist Wants to Change City Planning

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DeRay Mckesson’s platform as a Baltimore mayoral candidate shows he’s far from a single-issue candidate

With his recent, last-minute entry into the Baltimore mayoral race, 30-year-old Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson immediately changes the contours and scope of the conversation, bringing a unique perspective and racial issues to the forefront. And while the city has had its share of traumatic recent event, such as the Freddie Grey case, Mckesson’s movement experience doesn’t mean he’s merely a one-issue candidate. He wants to improve the city that made him the man he is. Based on the policy ideas he’s introduced over the last few weeks, it’s perhaps best to consider his platform as a vision for the city, seen through a lens of economic and racial justice. In addition to plans to reform the police department, expand educational access, and raise the minimum wage, Mckesson’s ambitions to give Baltimore citizens concrete change includes altering the infrastructure and design of the city. Here are his suggestions for changes to urban planning, housing, and transportation.

"Equity is about making sure people get what they deserve," he told The Atlantic. "The city has to work for everybody."

While it’s hard to compare campaigns, since not every candidate for mayor has released their own proposals, here are the ways he intends to address urban planning and development issues if elected (he’s currently one of 13 Democratic challengers). His platform was strong enough for the Baltimore Sun to suggest that while "it may be too soon to say whether DeRay Mckesson is for real ... his ideas certainly are."

Housing

Increasing affordability and eliminating segregation are keys part of Mckesson’s platform, which explains why he has a number of items marked for actions within the first 100 days of his administration, including reforming rent court and replacing leadership in the city’s housing authority. While Baltimore has a somewhat effective voucher program, it’s also been misused by landlords to inflate local rents, and a affordable housing program has proven ineffective, according to the Baltimore Brew.

He also wants city government to provide new mechanisms to empower, and make it easier for, new homeowners. One of his proposals, enabling low-income residents to pay less for mortgage down payments, proved to be a great success when it was tried in North Carolina. He also suggests establishing rent-to-own and "live-where-you-work" programs to help out more citizens in a position to buy their own home. While these programs have had mixed results, especially those that take an upfront fee, the long-running Cleveland Housing Network has proven to be sustainable, using Low-Income Housing Tax Credits to buy homes cheaply, and passing savings on to the potential homeowners.

Neighborhood Development

As the Baltimore Sun notes, in many ways, DeRay’s proposing very straightforward, practical, ideas, making it clear he wants to evaluate funding vehicles such as TIFs and PILOTs to ensure they are necessary and have clearly spelled out benefits. Mckesson also proposes to utilize neighborhood development as an employment engine, using city contracting as a means to provide jobs for local residents, via a local hiring ordinance introduced by City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young. He also wants to accentuate development by supporting community development financing institutions and community land banks (one of which has helped stave off gentrification in East Austin); both are concepts that have been advanced by other local organizations, notably the Baltimore Housing Roundtable, which suggested that model as part of a larger project to transform vacant land and help the

Transportation

One of Mckesson’s infrastructure focuses has been restarting the construction of the Red Line, an east-west light-rail system that would have helped connect low-income, predominantly African-American neighborhoods on the west side, but was cancelled in 2015 (an NAACP lawsuit filed in December challenged the move on civil rights grounds). His transport plan envisions the light rail system as a backbone of a multi-modal transport system, including enacting the bike master plan, investigating bus rapid-transit, and increased transit-oriented development such as the State Center development in Midtown, which would transform a series of aged government buildings at a important city crossrosds.

Greenspace and Sustainability

If you’re not from Baltimore or the surrounding region, you may not realize that the city has a Olmsted-designed park system. As part of his plan to improve sustainability and access to green space for all citizens, Mckesson proposes a new parks plan for the 21st century, that would restore the interconnected park system while adding pocket parks and urban farms to the Baltimore cityscape.