With more than 97,000 residents, Renton is the fourth-largest city in King County, Washington, and the eighth largest in the state. Between 2000 and 2010, the city grew by 82 percent. Its minority population also grew by 165 percent, and non-white individuals now account for more than 50 percent of the population.
Recognizing its changing demographics, the city, led by Mayor Denis Law and Chief Administrative Officer Jay Covington, launched “Building an Inclusive City.” Renton council members and top officials supported the program fully and made it a priority by (1) revising the city’s strategic business plan to include inclusiveness and diversity as part of its mission statement and adding specific goals; (2) integrating diversity at every level of the organization and as part of every program and service; and (3) regularly scheduling open conversations with community members. They also hired a consultant who is an expert on equity and social justice.
The program relies on a network of community liaisons who represent 10 diverse ethnic and cultural groups. Through this network, the program has facilitated civic engagement for all members of the community (especially those who have not traditionally participated in local government), ensured equitable offerings of programs and services, and above all, promoted an understanding and appreciation of cultural differences through fun, celebration, and festivals.
Among its many specific accomplishments, “Building an Inclusive City” has
- Offered free workshops to city employees to facilitate conversations about race.
- Hosted community forums to educate residents about critical issues such as crime prevention and emergency preparedness.
- Provided emergency preparedness training and workshops in four different languages and distributed emergency preparedness kits to community leaders.
- Appointed members from community liaison groups to serve on key citizen task forces.
- Targeted ethnic media to provide key information to minority residents.
- Helped create Renton’s Small Business Development Center to provide business assistance to nearly 115 businesses, nearly half of which are minority owned.
Because community liaisons keep changing, the city builds and nurtures these relationships on an ongoing basis, encouraging frequent and ongoing communication among city staff, community liaisons, and other members of the community. The city also provides training and workshops to its employees on an ongoing basis; it has learned that each community group has its own needs and priorities, which must be addressed even when resources are limited.
The city of Renton learned that working in coordination with the local school and hospital districts, community college, the chamber, and other organizations enables all partners to leverage resources rather than duplicate efforts, and enhances their credibility within the community. This knowledge has been critical to the program’s success and led to its recent recognition by ICMA with a Community Partnership Award for Communities with Populations of 50,000 or greater.