Asakura Robinson believes that equity and justice are central to design and planning, and we know that design and planning have the power to both heal and harm communities. The Asakura Robinson Equity Committee, formed in April of 2019, has been spearheading efforts to ensure equity and accountability in three areas: our internal administrative processes, our practice, and our interaction with the communities we call home and communities where we work. The Committee and its Working Groups have facilitated internal discussions on equitable and inclusive practices around hiring, retention, pay, and benefits; worked to refine our equity-driven practices around inclusive design, community engagement, and an explicit equity framing for our work; and we are continuously improving how to nurture underrepresented local talent and provide support and resources for local organizations and communities. We have an immense responsibility to the communities who work with us. Since the murder of George Floyd and the national movement that sprang from the uprising in one of our home cities, Minneapolis, we have become even more aware of the spaces in which we need to grow. We want to state unequivocally that Black Lives Matter.
As members of the design and planning communities, and as a minority-owned firm with majority white senior staff, we acknowledge that our professions have a history of racial division and damage and that we have benefited from and participated in structures of oppression. Ranging from destructive urban highway construction, segregated housing, and exclusionary zoning policies to a public realm built to uphold systems of oppression. Our professions have been complicit and at their best have not done enough to remedy these past and ongoing injustices. Asakura Robinson primarily works with underserved communities, and while we seek to create positive change, we recognize we have been lacking in making sure those communities are represented within our firm, and specifically in our leadership, and that that has prevented us from achieving truly community centered design and planning. We must, both within our firm and through our practices as a whole, use our privilege to dismantle racism and systems of oppression.
Our desire has been to provide actionable and measurable items for which the firm can be held accountable, to make space for the many Black and Brown voices already doing this work in our fields and to support our employees of color and those living in areas of unrest. In response to the murder of George Floyd and the protests that have followed, we have expanded our Equity Committee to create initiatives which focus on specific topics that we’re working on improving upon. We want you to know we are digging in, exploring and taking this call to action seriously.
1. As a firm we have committed to annual diversity, equity, inclusion and allyship training for our firm’s leadership and HR department, as well as “listening sessions” for all staff.
2. We will keep working to improve our hiring and recruiting practices to hire more BIPOC and promote BIPOC into leadership positions.
3. Many of our staff have been actively championing these issues in the community groups, alumni and professional associations we are a part of. As a firm we will continue to support the engagement of our staff in using their voices to contribute to positive change with our time, expertise and funds.
4. As individuals and community members, we will protest, listen, learn, read, volunteer, partner and donate to causes that support racial justice.
1. We have set aside funding to be donated to local projects, organizations and scholarships collectively chosen by staff.
2. We are reinvigorating our Neighbors Program, our pro-bono services program, with the goals of lowering the barrier to accessing design and planning, closing the gap between designers and the community, promoting inclusive design processes and keeping the design and planning professions accountable to the community, specifically seeking to increase our pro-bono efforts in our home cities, and especially in historically Black communities. We are now accepting applications. Visit here to learn more about the program and apply.
3. We will continue to advocate for the role of design and planning as opportunities to solve society’s biggest problems.
4. We pledge to pursue planning and design project work that actively amplifies and supports what is working in communities, and creates public realm and open spaces that are open and accessible to all, and to understand how our work can combat historic trends of inequality, racism, and violence. We will challenge ourselves and our clients to make anti-racist choices in policies, plans, and design work.
5. We will spread the burden of undoing structurally racist facets of the built environment to majority white and higher income neighborhoods through education as to the role of such neighborhoods and communities in creating and maintaining racist structures and encourage greater racial, class, gender and national inclusion in all types of communities.
6. As partners, we will highlight and promote the efforts of BIPOC-owned firms, community members and clients.
7. We will begin a quarterly Equity in Planning and Design blog series in an effort to highlight issues that we’ve faced as practitioners in our work. We aim to be transparent in bringing light to these issues and hope to create an open dialogue on how we can create positive change and solutions for the communities we serve. The first post in this series will be going live Wednesday, October 28. Look for it on our website and social media and join the conversation!
We are still discussing which changes will have the most lasting and effective benefits to the communities we work alongside, and we urge all our peers to do the same and to hold us accountable for the changes we are committing to today. Below are resources we have found helpful as we continue to hold company-wide discussions on our next steps.
#Black Lives Matter – Ways to Help: Click the link to find different ways to get involved including signing petitions, donating, advocating, and protesting.
Design as Protest – Design Justice for Black Lives: Advocate with local governments, design professional organizations, academic institutions, and firms to adopt anti-racist and anti-police brutality practices at this link.