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  • Writer's pictureMallika Gupta

Community Benefits Agreements: Solutions to 'intersectional' discrimination in city planning?

Updated: Dec 19, 2023

In 2016, American civil rights advocate and leading scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw spoke about “intersectionality’ at a special TEDWomen Conference. While this was not the first time that she was publicly explaining the topic, her impactful video proved to be one of the most successful mediums for breaking down this complex idea for the masses and instigating a cultural phenomenon towards equity.
Across India, while all women and girls face sexual violence, there is enough evidence to suggest that justice is served differently for women across caste, religion, and economic backgrounds. Similarly (As Prof. Crenshaw explains) in USA, patterns of injustice manifest very differently for Black women, as compared to Black men or White women. The failure to serve adequate justice worsens due to the singularity of the law, which she describes as being ‘like an ambulance- prepared to save you if you are injured on the lane of sexism, or on the lane of racism, but not at the intersection of both’ (Crenshaw, 2016). Legal Cases like ‘DeGraffenreid v. General Motors’ which have informed her own study, are further evidence that Black women in America are not only discriminated against in the workplace, but the inadequate framing of these issues leads to them being ‘legally inconsequential’. Issues are further exacerbated at the intersections of heterosexism, transphobia, xenophobia, ableism, and more.


In the context of city planning, conversations around ethics and racial equity are far more common and rigorous now. However, one is forced to repeatedly come back to the crucial aspect that still lacks footing- legal repercussions. Architects can be held accountable when a building falls, and chefs can be held accountable when a dish burns. But who is holding the planners accountable when a development fails to truly serve the diverse needs of a community?

One solution that seems to emerge is Community Benefits Agreements (CBA). Cities negotiate large-scale developments on behalf of their residents and use their resources. However, no provisions are made to ensure that the upcoming projects will benefit local communities, as can be seen in recurring patterns of development-induced gentrification across the USA. Austin Sauerbrei, Labor Organizer - Chattanooga Area Labor Council describes CBAs as a legally binding contract between a developer and a local community-based coalition, wherein community members can come together to not only express their intersectional needs from the development but to negotiate legal repercussions with developers (The Camp House, 2019). In addition to their legal backing, CBAs are unique because the contracts are between non-government entities, and thus have more flexibility to challenge archaic and regressive state policies.

In the context of a violent history of state-approved racial segregation, CBAs emerge as strategic tools for people, especially women of color to customize meaningful opportunities for themselves. By going beyond advocacy or outreach, and providing legal authority, CBAs provide community members with the agency to ensure that their unique needs are genuinely served, especially by large-scale developments that traditionally marginalized them.
References:

TedWomen Conference. (2016). Kimberlé Crenshaw: The urgency of intersectionality. Retrieved October 23, 2022, from https://www.ted.com/talks/kimberle_crenshaw_the_urgency_of_intersectionality?language=en.

The Camp House, Apple Podcasts. (2019). Community Benefits Agreements. Retrieved October 23, 2022, from https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/community-benefit-agreements/id1137670262?i=1000448732278.

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