News & Views

Racial Inequality and Placemaking: An Imperative to Respond

The entire world is living a collective moment. A pandemic and a quickly globalizing social movement have settled over us, and now both economic development organizations (EDOs) and destination organizations (DMOs) are paused.

How do we even begin to react?

Overall, DCI has observed how political leaders continue to be the key spokespeople on what is happening right now in America. Increasingly, however, it is important for companies, brands, and organizations – including EDOs and DMOs – to understand that it’s no longer a question of if they should respond, but how.

Imperative to Respond

Many CEOs  including those from Blackrock, Citigroup and Merck are using their platform to express the importance and urgency of the situation. Even large corporations that normally shy away from taking a stance on social issues have gotten behind the Black Lives Matter movement, with Nike, Twitter and Netflix all posting on social media regarding recent events.

While EDOs and DMOs may not traditionally be voices on social issues in communities, many feel that it’s time to take a stance. After all, it is a shared goal across these organizations to promote diversity and inclusion as it relates to placemaking – creating welcoming communities where people want to live, work, and travel.

Best Practice

DCI, as a leader in placemaking strategy for 60 years, suggests having a statement or set of messages prepared that express your organization’s position and provide a unifying voice for your staff and key stakeholders. The intensity and length of these messages will vary by community as will the way you distribute them. The messages may just be statements to keep on hand if asked or they may be something to post on social media.

There is no right way to be thoughtful and sincere at this time as long as the expression is authentic.

Some regions that may be more affected by the protests than others may need to devote more time and space to their messaging. Others less affected may simply want to show their support with a simple post to let the world know they support racial equality. Either way, it would be a missed opportunity for any EDO or DMO, leaving them on the wrong side of history, if they were to neglect addressing this social crisis. Silence itself is a statement, and it’s not the one anyone should be making at this time.

Remember Your Community

Regardless of where you land on messaging, now more than ever there is an opportunity to use your platforms to amplify and share the voices of community leaders, especially those in the black community seeking to affect change and demonstrate the importance of equitable placemaking. Be mindful, however, not to simply tokenize the black voices in your city or region. Consider giving them a platform, hearing what they have to say, and, above all, listening.

More than just highlighting your diversity, however, it is important to make it perfectly clear that your destination welcomes those from all races, religions, sexualities, genders, and abilities, whether they want to make it a home or just visit for a weekend. Visibly communicating your EDO or DMO’s commitment to diversity is a powerful statement that will only help create a more inclusive environment for those you wish to reach in the future.

Placemaking is nonexistent without people. At this moment in time, highlighting inclusivity on all of its fronts is not just a nice gesture, it is imperative.

Examples and Inspiration

It seems like a flood of messaging has been pouring out already, and the time to act is sooner than later. Early to make statements this week regarding the protests were JobsOhio with this tweet on listening and finding common ground through community and the Greater Houston Partnership with this powerful statement online.

The MetroAtlanta Chamber also posted this statement from the organization’s Chief Brand Officer and Head of Diversity and Inclusion on their website Sunday night. Here is another effective response from Cincinnati. Get in touch if you need more guidance on how to proceed.

For the Immediate Future

Simply responding to this current crisis, however, will not suffice for inclusivity efforts moving forward. These protests and the anger that fuels them will not abate by itself. Remember that as representatives of destinations, both EDOs and DMOs need to look inward at their own practices. How is the black community represented in your workforce? How consistent is your organization with inclusive messaging? What does your organization do in terms of social outreach?

A message today is a much needed bandage to show that we are all hurting, but the real wounds go much deeper. Healing will begin when we change things from the inside out, and EDOs and DMOs are important organizations that are extremely well placed to contribute to that process.

Kat Saunders is Senior Vice President for Client Strategy at Development Counsellors International. She can be contacted at [email protected].

Written By

Katherine Saunders

Kat rejoined DCI in 2016 as a Vice President to manage media relations, thought leadership, and marketing strategy for DCI clients. Prior to joining DCI, Kat worked in corporate communications at Hill + Knowlton, where she focused on real estate and economic development. She also has experience in government and community relations and has conducted multiple focus groups and interviews to engage businesses and residents in shaping economic development programs.

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