‘Equity Is Critical to Oakland’s Resilience’

Oakland, California

Oakland, California


Connecting state and local government leaders

Disparities in educational and job opportunities across short distances have the city thinking about how it can improve underserved communities’ access to government services.

A critical aspect of any city’s resilience action plan is ensuring equitable distribution of growth throughout the community.

That’s especially true in Oakland, California.

That was the message from Oakland’s chief resilience officer, Kiran Jain, and online engagement manager, Mai-Ling Garcia, had for the Code for America Summit, currently underway in the Bay Area city on Wednesday, during the organization’s “Building Resiliency Between Community and Government” keynote.

As far as Oakland has come, disparities in education, employment, housing and violence remain apparent—particularly among communities of color and low-income neighborhoods. In some cases, one resident a mile away from another can be twice as likely to be unemployed and live 15 years less.

“Equity is critical to Oakland’s resilience,” Jain said.

Feedback isn’t enough, Garcia added, so the city has strived to build with community by exploring analogue and digital methods for deepening engagement.

Rent prices are soaring in the Bay Area, and Oakland is no exception. So the city plans to redesign digital service for its Rent Adjustment Program to better resolve often tense disputes between tenants and property owners and mitigate displacement.

About 70 percent of Oakland’s approximately 100,000 rental units are covered by the RAP.

In addition to updating the program website to make it easier to contest illegal rent, the city will make it possible for residents to receive legal notifications via text message.

“We want to use technology as a bridge to serve the greatest needs in our communities,” Garcia said.

Companies might be building $700 cellphones for customers, she added, but Oakland still must account for residents with older browsers on boxy computers—especially being a sanctuary city.

Through Code for America’s Digital Front Door community, Oakland is transforming the way users access its online information and services by simplifying navigation of its website, as well as the content. The data-driven changes will also reduce the complexity of the language used so even a 5th grader can grasp what their reading, Garcia said, and it will be easier to translate into non-English. Staff publishing processes will be altered to keep things more current.

“User experience is community engagement,” Garcia said.

The city’s first UX strategy will ensure no transactions are siloed, and its recently opened Civic Design Lab workspace on the ninth floor of City Hall invites community members to collaborate with government experts by taking a seat together at an expansive, local redwood table.

Follow along with the #ittakesatown hashtag on social media for all the latest Oakland resilience updates.

Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington D.C.

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