Anthony Foxx to Local Officials: Transport Policy Should Tackle Segregation

Local transportation officials should actively work to reduce segregation and promote equal access to quality schools, three Cabinet members say in a “dear colleague” letter released last week [PDF].

Are good schools accessible by transit, or foot and bike safely? Federal officials say transportation officials have a role to play in improving equality. Image: Streetfilms
Are good schools accessible by walking, biking, and transit? Cabinet members say they should be. Image: Streetfilms

The message from Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, HUD Secretary Julián Castro, and Education Secretary John King urges transportation, housing, and education officials at all levels of government to work together to ensure that people aren’t excluded from economic and educational opportunities.

The call to action builds on HUD’s 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which requires local governments that receive federal housing funds to analyze segregation patterns and develop plans to reduce it.

“We recognize that a growing body of research supports the benefits of socioeconomic and racial diversity in schools and communities, and that such diversity can help establish access points for opportunity and mobility,” Foxx, Castro, and King wrote. “We also recognize that children raised in concentrated poverty or in communities segregated by socioeconomic status or race or ethnicity have significantly lower social and economic mobility than those growing up in integrated communities.”

In the transportation sphere, the letter recommends a few steps to take. To paraphrase:

  • Schools should be sited to be broadly and conveniently accessible, served by transit and with safe pedestrian and bicycle routes and ADA complaint sidewalks.
  • Transit plans should be conscientious about ensuring access to key educational services, like community colleges, Head Start programs, and magnet schools.

That may sound like a common-sense acknowledgment that the problems of segregation and economic exclusion require a coordinated response. But the conservative Daily Caller seized on the letter as evidence that federal officials are trying to “urbanize suburbia.”

Ultimately, the letter is an exercise in awareness-raising and persuasion — it’s advice about good governance from three Cabinet members, not a mandate. Even advice about achieving basic measures of fairness isn’t immune to today’s polarized politics.

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