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By Kacey Bradley

Cities are the product of coordination between a broad spectrum of people, but urban infrastructure and programs don't always reflect this. Though planners have made significant progress in accounting for individuals with disabilities — and disadvantaged communities have seen support — it's an ongoing transition.

However, there is reason to believe that tourism can contribute both to equity and economic growth within a city. Recently, mid-sized creative cities like Nashville and Austin have begun to attract many tourists by improving their openness to new people and ways of thinking.

In this article, we'll detail five tips for building more connected and inclusive cities, from entrepreneurial initiatives to funding for public institutions. Through implementing these changes, people of all ethnicities and ability levels will enjoy the privileges and opportunities they deserve.

1. Entrepreneurial Initiatives

Spaces and programs which foster entrepreneurship in diverse neighborhoods have proven value. Union Market has shown the efficacy of these initiatives through competitions like Launch Pad, allowing aspiring business owners of all backgrounds to pitch their restaurant ideas before a panel of chefs and venture capitalists. The winners had the opportunity to pursue their concept under the mentorship of restaurateurs.

Launch Pad has cultivated a diverse group of successful entrepreneurs. Of Union Market's 37 businesses, 32 percent belong to people of color, 24 percent to women of color and 40 percent to women. More cities should promote entrepreneurial initiatives like Launch Pad to provide a platform on which disadvantaged people can reach their full potential and encourage inclusion in communities.

2. Changes to Infrastructure

Inclusion manifests in infrastructure, whether it's the addition of ramps for wheelchair users or handicapped spots for the impaired or elderly. While these conveniences are now commonplace in today's cities, planners must show greater commitment to making public spaces accessible to those with disabilities. They can begin by restructuring existing playgrounds for children of all ability levels.

Many of these changes are simple to implement, and planners won't have to start from scratch with a substantial budget. They can make adjustments to their current playground with surfacing upgrades and designated quiet areas. These improvements — and others like them — are essential to the growth and happiness of young children who deserve the same facilities as their non-disabled peers.

Considering the 5.2 percent of children in the U.S. with ambulatory, visual, hearing and other disabilities, and the one in six children with developmental disabilities, changes to infrastructure are necessary at every level of city planning.

3. Support Bold Leadership

The United States has seen a shift toward inclusion in high levels of government, with Kansans electing LGBTQ politician Sharice Davids to Congress. It’s essential to encourage other Native Americans and people of color to pursue public office. They’ll serve as the driving force behind important policies, which change the political landscape of this country for the better.

On a smaller scale, voters living in cities can take an active interest in local government. In researching candidates running for office in their area, they can find someone who aligns with their values and beliefs. Electing these individuals will make a significant difference in the community and contribute to forward progress, reflecting in their choices and programs.

4. Involve People With Disabilities

Non-disabled professionals in city planning can only view physical or intellectual disabilities from an outside perspective. Their understanding of these handicaps isn't always accurate, and this can lead to discrepancies and poor design choices. Since they’ve never experienced the difficulties of impairment first-hand, it’s often difficult to fully account for them.

The inclusion of more people with disabilities in the planning process can bridge the gap between professionals and those they’re helping. City planners will gain an understanding of the different types of exclusions and barriers by speaking to individuals who face them every day. They’ll gain valuable insight to inform future choices, improving on past mistakes.

5. Funding Public Institutions

A transition toward digital inclusion will ensure all disadvantaged individuals and communities have access to the modern technology they need. Through digital networks and services, digital literacy training and technical support, these communities can close gaps that have kept them from making progress. To grow connectivity in underprivileged areas, investment in public institutions is essential.

Public libraries play an integral role in improving digital literacy. Individuals without the means to purchase their own technology can visit these institutions to use computers and other devices, advancing their education and developing valuable skills. Through the internet, they can fill out online job applications, share their entrepreneurial ideas with like-minded professionals and organize business plans for the future.

Connectivity and Inclusivity

People of all ethnicities and ability levels must work together to realize the vision of connected, inclusive cities. It's only through this collective effort that progress is possible, and given time, palpable changes will begin to appear. They'll manifest in playgrounds, as new technology in public libraries and as programs to assist disadvantaged communities.

Whatever form these changes take, they'll undoubtedly shape the future of the country.

About Kacey Bradley

Kacey Bradley is the lifestyle and travel blogger for The Drifter Collective, an eclectic lifestyle blog that expresses various forms of style through the influence of culture and the world around us. Kacey graduated with a degree in Communications while working for a lifestyle magazine. She has been able to fully embrace herself with the knowledge of nature, the power of exploring other locations and cultures, all while portraying her love for the world around her through her visually pleasing, culturally embracing and inspiring posts. Along with writing for her blog, she frequently writes for sites like US Travel News, Thought Catalog, Porch.com, Style Me Pretty, Tripping.com and more!

Follow Kacey on Twitter and subscribe to her blog to keep up with her travels and inspiring posts!

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