City Life Org – High Line Network launches Community First Toolkit, a guide to increasing equity in public spaces

Developed with the Urban Institute and Harvard School of Design, the toolkit addresses inequalities caused by infrastructural racism

The High Line Network, a High Line program that supports a group of nonprofits transforming underutilized infrastructure into new urban landscapes, announces the launch of its Community First Toolkit. Developed by the High Line Network in partnership with the Harvard Graduate School of Design and the Urban Institute, the Community First Toolkit is an equity-based action planning resource for practitioners in the field of infrastructure reuse, as well as municipal officials, city planners, leaders of non-profit organizations and other members of the community.

Infrastructure development has been a key means by which inequality has become embedded in the landscape. The building of highways that passed through predominantly black, low-income communities, redlining policies that determined who could and could not own property in certain areas, and other forms of unequal investment in different neighborhoods had lasting and disproportionate economic, health and health effects. environmental impacts across racial and income lines.

The Community First Toolkit aims to address inequities caused by historical and enduring infrastructural racism by prioritizing community in park design, budgeting, and all phases of planning. Fifteen Network members worked with research partners over two years to develop a new process and a set of practitioner-focused tools to do this work. The resulting Community First Toolkit is designed to help park organizations address inequalities caused by infrastructural racism and shape public spaces that bring social, environmental and economic benefits to communities.

Using 18 digital tools, the toolkit provides a structured process to understand the influence and impact of infrastructure reuse in their community and develop equity-based action plans. The process includes the following steps:

● Examine the history of a community: identify its demographics, organizations, institutions; mapping equity challenges and assets; establish historical timelines with key milestones with community members; combine and examine these takeaways to understand the impact of infrastructure and past policy.
● Focus equity: shaping a vision for equitable impact; describe the actions to be taken to achieve this impact; review ongoing initiatives to see what efforts are needed.
● Prepare internally: review internal governance for equitable decision-making; monitor the extent to which budgets are fairly allocated; share power and governance with community members; publicly communicate the goals.
● Build partnerships: determine if collaborators are aligned; identify gaps in the partnership; assess community engagement; maximize where the most impact can be made in and out of the organization.
● Ensure progress: establish a blueprint for the organization; track progress metrics; share the impact story with the public and funders

In addition, the toolkit is accompanied by stories of experiences from network members, showing how the toolkit can and has been used to address real-world park organization challenges.

“What we hope the Community First Toolkit will do is show all park organizations, regardless of size or stage of development, that the right time to start centering the community in your work is now” , said Asima Jansveld, chief executive of the High Line. Network. “It doesn’t matter if you’re still in design or fully operational, everyone has a starting point for making our cities more equitable and inclusive. We hope this toolkit will become the standard for creators, funders and partners of public spaces in holding themselves accountable to the people they serve.”

“Members of the High Line network and others reimagining existing infrastructure as inclusive public spaces must invariably grapple with the legacy of historical and contemporary racism that affects these places,” said Peter Tatian, Principal Investigator. at the Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center of the Urban Institute. “To ensure that public spaces are welcoming to all, the Community First Toolkit helps people address equitable development challenges in all of their work: from planning to monitoring and implementation. some progress.”

“Race is treated more as an area of ​​specialization than the endemic cornerstone of society and space that it is,” said Stephen Gray, associate professor of urban design at Harvard University, Graduate School of Design. ”The Community First Toolkit is designed to help cities and civil society organizations contextualize their projects within the legacies of racialized policies and practices illuminating the complicated relationship between systemic racism and the production of space and equip them to tackle barriers to community resilience.

The toolkit is available online at: An introductory booklet (available digitally as a PDF) accompanies the toolkit, serving as an overview and including historical context around infrastructural racism, as well as definitions, purposes and stories around the processes of network to create equitable impact. Nineteen case studies from network members across the United States are included to illustrate the use of the tools and the results they have produced.

On May 18, 2022, at 2:30 p.m. EDT, the Urban Institute hosted a virtual launch event for the toolkit. Speakers from the Urban Institute, Harvard Graduate School of Design, and network members explored the tools and processes they developed, along with their key findings. They discussed their experiences, reflecting on the lessons they learned while measuring the impact they are creating.


Brought to you by the High Line, The High Line Network is a group of infrastructure reuse projects and the people who help bring it to life. As cities become denser and land for traditional parks becomes scarce, residents are finding creative ways to bring green spaces to their neighborhoods. High Line network projects transform underutilized infrastructure into new urban landscapes. Redefining what a park can be, these hybrid spaces are also public squares, open-air museums, botanical gardens, social service organizations, footbridges, transit corridors, and more.

For more information about the High Line network, please visit


The Urban Institute is a nonprofit research organization that provides data and evidence to help advance upward mobility and equity. We are a trusted source for changemakers looking to strengthen decision-making, create inclusive economic growth, and improve the well-being of families and communities. For over 50 years, Urban has provided facts that inspire solutions and that remains our responsibility today.


CoDesign at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD) seeks to strengthen the connections between teaching, research, practice, and activism. It draws on GSD’s design studio and research tradition, spans different programs, and involves students, fellows, alumni, and faculty to match appetite and resources for applied projects within the GSD with collaborative opportunities from nonprofits, community groups, civic organizations, and government agencies in Greater Boston and beyond. In line with our Community Values ​​Statement and the Dean’s Office for Diversity, CoDesign aims to enhance the community relevance and impact of planning and design education and training at GSD, as well as to deepen experiences teaching and learning. The development of the Community First Toolkit involved graduate researchers enrolled in the “Urban Design and the Color-Line” seminar/workshop and paired with organizations in the High Line network to unpack and expand their racial equity programs.


The High Line network is made possible by the founding support of the JPB Foundation. Other major support provided by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Comments are closed.