The Equity Forum: Upending Cultural Displacement held on July 13th also included the first-of-its-kind live technical assistance workshops with the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and the community of Royal, Florida, who were selected to receive expert advice from our panelists and selected SGA staff members.
The workshop sessions were an open discussion about each community’s cultural project or challenge and provided an opportunity to go beyond the conversation about smart growth and culture by providing practical guidance and support to select communities on how they can help preserve community history and culture while cultivating resilience and vibrancy.
The Community of Royal, FL
The community of Royal is one of Florida’s oldest African-American agricultural communities and is facing the threat of being displaced, losing farmland, and rich history to proposed development and highway expansion plans. Royal is a vibrant community, rich with the deep history of our country’s first black freedmen, which continues to draw community descendants and local tourists regularly.
The participants from Royal joined our panelists, Kristen Jeffers and Benny Starr alongside SGA staff members Katherine Burgess, and Ebony Venson, to seek guidance on how to protect and preserve the community’s rich history and continue to create cultural experiences that enrich the lives of future generations. The Royal team discussed their community’s current challenges and shared their current strategies for embedding critical language and policy that protect their community and land.
Panelists emphasized the community’s significant power with its tours and oral history, and Royal has already established a strong base of annual visitors that could help bring more light to the community’s rich history and even attract more interest. Panelists also suggested building partnerships to help bring national attention to the situation and to help the community build legal protection to protect their farms and community members.
Caltrans and the California State Transportation Agency
Concurrently, representatives of the state of California, including Caltrans and the California State Transportation Agency, were joined by panelist Jupiter Peraza, and SGA-ers Chris McCahill, Ben Stone, and Anuska Thakkar for their workshop. Caltrans and their partner agencies are currently working to implement the Climate Action Plan for Transportation Infrastructure strategy 7, which directs the California State Transportation Agency to work with state agency partners to explore potential statutory changes that would allow transportation programs to incentivize anti-displacement strategies within their funding frameworks. To achieve this, Caltrans recently developed an anti-displacement committee and working group to conduct research and seek guidance on incorporating anti-displacement criteria changes to their funding programs. The team sent a survey to various transportation programs and partners and is currently developing a memo for the state agencies to be completed by the end of the year.
The group discussed the complexities of anti-displacement strategies since displacement had not yet been clearly defined. To create these strategies, California must decide if it is most concerned with transportation investments that cause displacement by increasing surrounding property values, investments that literally displace people by demolishing homes where future infrastructure is sited, or maintenance work that displaces unhoused people sheltering in tents adjacent to infrastructure, or possibly a combination of these challenges. The Caltrans team acknowledged that the state had not specified which form of displacement it was most concerned with, and therefore all three forms were fair game. The group also discussed the importance of partnering with external organizations to take on some of the more intractable problems, including providing social services to unhoused communities.