by Jean Riesman, Strategy Specialist, Newport Health Equity Zone
After a 10-month sprint to success, Newport Health Equity Zone (HEZ) residents recently won equitable amendments to the city’s zoning ordinance for its new Innovation District, a mixed-use 40+-acre technology hub adjacent to the North End neighborhood. With the HEZ’s support, the Local Advisory Group (LAG) pushed through three zoning amendments to spur workforce housing in large development projects, sharply define parks as well as civic and open space, and set the ground rules for community benefits agreements based on independent community-impact reports. The North End has been cut off from the rest of the city since the 1960s by the Pell Bridge’s elevated ramp structure; now that those ramps are coming down, much of the Innovation District will be built on that newly-valuable land. With the prospect of displacement and gentrification swamping the residential neighborhood, the Newport HEZ helped launch the LAG in 2021, recruiting Smart Growth America as consultant to convert resident priorities into an equitable-development strategy for the North End. Passed unanimously by the Newport City Council in on May 11, the zoning amendments were the first concrete policy change as a direct result of this process.
This work crosses over into the Newport HEZ’s role as the Women’s Resource Center’s Prevention Department, by helping the community create conditions that will prevent domestic violence as well as providing pathways to independence. By incentivizing developers to build housing that is attainable for working families, the amendments will create more options for our neighbors who are survivors of domestic violence survivors seeking safety for their families.
The amendments also clarify the types of green and open space in the required set-aside for major developments, focusing on usable, accessible spaces for the neighborhood – again, supporting the prevention of domestic violence in our community. Studies show that proximity to trees and parks is correlated with reduced rates of domestic violence, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) highlights increasing access to green space as a promising community strategy for preventing domestic violence.