Pandemic Urbanism

May 22, 2020

Engaging Disparities: Race, Class, Trust in an Age of Civic Peril

By Anne Taufen (
School of Urban Studies, UW Tacoma

The author will give this presentation at the Pandemic Urbanism Symposium in the closing plenary session, from 4:30 – 5:30 PM on May 29, 2020.

The Roadmap to Civic Engagement, a project between graduate students at UW Tacoma and the City of Tacoma, drew on open workshops, city events, and over sixty in-depth interviews to examine how city staff understand their role in building resilient, reciprocal networks of communication between government and residents – across departments, sectors, and service areas. The findings highlighted ongoing disparities that are exacerbated by narrow definitions of civic engagement, in terms of who is heard and how their needs are met. Using a constructivist, grounded theory approach, the inaugural cohort of the MA in Community Planning emphasize that how and where residents are engaged, and the trust that is built among different constituencies and neighborhood groups, are essential. Five key findings around purpose, practice, access, communication, and flashpoints are only more pertinent as the city strives to respond to the threat imposed by Covid-19. Responding to the Tacoma 2025 Strategic Plan goals of Access, Equity, and Engagement, the Roadmap shows that building trust is a long-term investment that involves every touch point between government and residents. A targeted universalism approach (powell 2009) that prioritizes deep inclusion over tokenized participation (Quick and Feldman 2011) is a democratic and human rights imperative for sustainable, livable cities – as well as a strategic approach to building the capacity to respond to crisis, and thrive under conditions of shared vulnerability. The project anticipates the importance of identifying and reducing, rather than reproducing disparities in access to information, health care, advocacy, and household wellbeing.