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Equity, Opportunity Get Spotlight at CoMotion LA Conference

The events of this year have emphasized the need for equity and opportunity to be parts of public policy related to transportation and development, said speakers at the fourth annual CoMotion LA conference.

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Decisions on advancing transportation solutions, a greener economy and the response to the COVID-19 crisis must include disadvantaged communities and communities of color, said speakers this week at the CoMotion LA conference.

“When we’re thinking about how infrastructure can support connecting more people to goods, services, ideas and possibility, we need to have those people tell us what it needs to look like,” said Garlin Gilchrist II, Michigan’s lieutenant governor, speaking on a panel Wednesday during an event aimed at exploring transportation innovation.

Gilchrist, a native and resident of Detroit, joined a number of speakers to strike at a central theme of this year’s conference – a renewed urgency to plan cities, their economies and transportation systems with a more intentional eye for inclusion and equity for all residents.

The importance of this thinking has perhaps been highlighted by a number of experiences this year – COVID-19 being the most glaring – but also the nationwide reckoning with racial injustice sparked by the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis earlier this year. These events have spurred long-simmering discussions around policy related to infrastructure and other projects that have not always included even cursory feedback from some of the communities most affected.

“The neighborhood that I grew up in was defined by the destruction of a black community to build the shortest freeway in the country,” Gilchrist remarked.

“We are thinking about the fact that for too long, as others have stated, the people who have made choices have had obvious blind spots. They’ve had obvious, and sometimes intentional, blind spots,” he added. “There have been people who have been designed out of access to opportunity. And that has happened across sectors, across markets. It has happened historically with housing. It has happened with access to mobility and transportation services.”

Righting some of those wrongs means giving more voice to the people most affected by mobility and development projects. It means using technology like autonomy or mobile apps to close transportation access gaps. And it also means creating more economic opportunity in Black and Brown neighborhoods, speakers stressed.

Kameale Terry is the founder and CEO of the company ChargerHelp, an app that facilitates on-demand repairs of electric vehicle charging stations. She has been an advocate for training and hiring technicians from disadvantaged communities, saying too often, the clean-tech economy has not been diverse, and has largely been populated by white men.

“And if you’re not careful, economic development funding dispersed to the clean tech industries stays within these communities of historical privilege,” said Terry, speaking on another panel during CoMotion around economic development.

Members of disadvantaged communities, said Terry, “are more than capable … They just need the opportunity in order to show up.”

Transportation technology related to autonomy, or other areas, should be explored as communities look to COVID-19 testing, and in time, vaccine distribution, said Gilchrist.

“I think we have an opportunity to really point this technology in a direction that actually serves people. I think that’s the purpose of technology – to actually help humans do things in a way that enables them to experience their full potential,” said Gilchrist.

“Ultimately, the future of mobility for so many people goes to, what happens with autonomy? How does autonomy impact what we think about public transportation and things of that nature,” he added.

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.