It’s one thing to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and to remember his most oft-quoted speech, “I have a dream.” But to get beyond racial inequity, Americans have to do more than dream.

“In order to get beyond racism, we must first take account of race. There is no other way,” said Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun.

That is the approach than animates the work of Glenn Harris, the Race And Social Justice Initiative manager for the City of Seattle. Imagining a city where, as Harris and his staff describe it, “every schoolchild, regardless of language and cultural differences, receives a quality education and feels safe and included, where race does not predict how much you earn or your chance of being homeless or going to prison” and where “African-American, Latinos and Native Americans can expect to live as long as white people,” the RSJI has developed a set of benchmarks to evaluate what its city does, and measure change in a concrete way.  

A first of its kind in the nation, the Race and Social Justice Initiative holds all elected officials in the City of Seattle accountable; from urban planning to garbage collection, the city’s decisions and potential decisions have to be assessed for their impact on racial justice, just as they would be assessed for say, environmental impact. Are the policies your city is pursuing today helpful or hurtful to racial justice? Building on the groundwork done by grassroots organizations and activists, Harris says RSJI works within city government and with community leaders to get to the root cause of racial inequity: institutional racism.

In this conversation, recorded at Facing Race 2012, Harris explains how centering race in discussions about urban planning makes our cities better for everyone and he has advice for those planning New York’s recovery after Storm Sandy.

In the case of school closings, urban policy is a tale of racial injustice. Watch Melissa Harris-Perry’s segment on race and education policy.