Equity & Inclusion

Challenging injustice, catalyzing renewal


Groundwork USA works predominantly in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods and in communities of color, places where brownfields, environmental contamination, and illegal dumping are all too common, access to parks and playgrounds, grocery stores, transit, and other healthy living infrastructure is limited, and the continued legacies of systemic disinvestment, poverty, and racism are a daily challenge. Though unjust, the on-the-ground realities faced by the communities in which Groundwork Trusts work present opportunities to catalyze transformation and renewal driven by grassroots efforts and everyday people, especially young people.

Working with community residents through inclusive and equitable partnerships and processes, Groundwork Trusts engage people in working across difference, building trust, countering historic and systemic disparities, and unifying local residents to shape and create a vision and positive change of their own definition within their neighborhood landscapes and wider communities.

  • Promoting (Re)development that is Truly Equitable
  • Working Inclusively
  • Overcoming Legacies of Racism and Poverty
  • Bridging the Conservation “Diversity Gap”

Promoting (Re)development that is Truly Equitable

Groundwork Bridgeport waterfront plan visioning meeting, 2016
Groundwork Bridgeport waterfront plan visioning meeting, 2016

Groundwork USA is a national leader in place-based and people-centric strategies for assuring more equitable access to benefits emerging from thoughtful, inclusive neighborhood improvements and redevelopment planning.

Across our network, Groundwork Trusts are forging accessible paths to opportunity. We do this by leading and shaping community development and redevelopment efforts to be more equitable, more relevant to, and more inclusive of local communities–in essence, putting people first.

Our practitioners integrate the following key principles into their practice:

  • Everyone benefits from land development, re-use initiatives, and investments when local communities define those benefits for themselves and their surrounding neighborhoods, and, together, hold municipal leaders, developers, and residents mutually accountable for realizing those benefits.
  • Inclusive, collaborative planning begins with meaningful community engagement through which project planners proactively
    • seek out and develop relationships with residents and constituencies,
    • listen for community needs, hopes, visions, and dreams anticipate and address potential minimize barriers to participation,
    • provide multiple and varied points of entry for participation, and
    • value local residents as neighborhood experts.
  • Groundwork Trusts seek to find common ground by amplifying the voice of marginalized communities and balancing community vision and priorities alongside developer and financing needs and regulatory imperatives.
  • Equitable (re)development requires a new way of doing business:
    • Listening deeply;
    • Honoring painful legacies of systemic racism, disinvestment, marginalization, violence and trauma;
    • Working humbly by sharing information and resources;
    • Nurturing long-term relationships based on earned mutual respect and trust
    • Building unlikely cross-sector partnerships and coalitions to develop a common aspirational vision and an action plan for achieving it as a coalition.
    • Developing equitable, inclusive, healthy communities is a long-term proposition. There is no “finish line.”
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Working Inclusively

Groundwork Portland helped found and continues to support the Portland Harbor Community Coalition, a community-based group advocating for people of color, low-income communities, and others left out of the planning process.
Groundwork Portland helped found and supports the Portland Harbor Community Coalition, a community-based group advocating for people of color, low-income communities, and others left out of the planning process.

Groundwork Trusts develop deep relationships with community constituencies whose voices often go unheard. We help amplify those voices so communities’ direct on-the-ground experience can inform funders, policymakers, and elected officials, and help translate ideas into action.

Our practitioners engage communities of color and low- and moderate-income populations at the intersection of environmental, economic, and social justice over the long-term, where traditional planning processes fail to connect.

Our projects and programs are designed to meet people where they are, and engage them in the ways that feel meaningful and culturally relevant to them. We focus in this way because communities of color and low-moderate income communities stand to gain the most from the types of “healthy community” improvements that don’t come around often enough in places experiencing longstanding disinvestment.

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Overcoming Legacies of Racism and Poverty

Groundwork Elizabeth conducts neighborhood walkability audit, 2014
Groundwork Elizabeth conducts neighborhood walkability audit, 2014

The Groundwork model is sought out by stakeholders in places where sustained disinvestment, marginalization, and limited access to opportunity have been the norm for far too long.

Groundwork Trusts often focus their efforts in neighborhoods that face legacies of post-Industrial American life: environmental contamination, economic stagnation, and a failed social safety net where cradle-to-career pathways have been overshadowed by a systematized school-to-prison pipeline.

In response to these destructive legacies, Groundwork practitioners’ approach is rooted firmly in the belief that solutions to these intractable challenges lie within the community. Groundwork Trusts connect with residents and nurture connections among neighbors. We forge an array of inclusive and equitable openings for residents to organize, plan, implement, and sustain relevant, hands-on actions to change the disproportionate impacts of environmental, economic, and social injustice and disparity.

The goal of such efforts in Groundwork communities across the US is to disrupt and begin to correct decades of systemic disinvestment, marginalization, and racism, and pave the way for a more equitable balance of power across communities and more equitable redevelopment efforts overall.

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Bridging the Conservation “Diversity Gap”

Groundwork youth in Yellowstone National Park, 2013
Groundwork youth in Yellowstone National Park, 2013

For decades, the white-dominated conservation and environmental movements have focused heavily on protecting distant wilderness landscapes, perpetuating a disconnect from the realities of urban life, as well as grassroots efforts to enhance and protect the urban environment. Groundwork focuses on connecting these two worlds deliberately through our youth programming.

The lower-income youth and youth of color we work with often don’t know many people who work in or visit public lands. And when they do venture into national parks and wildlife refuges, they don’t often find many people who “look like them.” With 80% of Americans now living in urban areas, Groundwork Trusts are leading the way in shifting the culture and focus of the mainstream conservation and environmental movements so they are truly inclusive and inviting of urban populations, people of color, and the realities of urban life.

Through our youth development programming, Groundwork USA and our network of Trusts is working to reverse the systemic under-representation of diversity in national parks and public lands. We take a dual approach, helping urban youth develop their leadership potential through service-learning opportunities in national parks and public lands, while engaging those same youth in relevant, hands-on work to transform their own communities in tangible ways.

By connecting urban youth with National Parks and National Wildlife Refuges, and the federal conservation agencies with urban communities, we seek to instill an appreciation of the natural environment along with an understanding that the environment isn’t something inaccessible and “out there” — it’s a built and natural resource that youth can change and protect within their own communities.

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