To wrap up Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Army Contracting Command-Redstone’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council held a virtual observance to help raise awareness and highlight the contributions of Asian American and Pacific Islanders.

David Madriaga, a council member and a contract specialist with Army Contracting Command-Redstone’s Post Awards Division, played a key role in organizing the event. Madriaga’s father was a Filipino scout during World War II. He escaped the Bataan Death March where nearly 66,000 Filipino prisoners of war marched 66 miles to prison camps.

“Our group is a small minority of America. It takes a strong, confident and thoughtful nation to take the time to recognize us and our accomplishments in order to learn more about each other,” Madriaga said.

Madriaga invited Lady Franciscar Nicolas-Kassama to serve as the guest speaker. Kassama is a professional planner for the city of Huntsville. Her presentation focused on the purpose of community planning and its relationship with diversity, equity and inclusion.

Kassama was born and raised in Paranaque City, Philippines. The city is within Metro Manila, which is the central hub of the country. Paranaque City had beaches and salt farms. As a child she would visit her aunt who worked as a secretary at Clark Air Base.

“I noticed how different houses, buildings, and streets were organized and landscaped,” she said. “Meanwhile, Paranaque City grew very, very fast. The salt farms were gone and the beaches were inaccessible by the time I reached high school. The natural areas where water pooled and drained were now impervious surfaces. We would experience flooding in the coming years. This was my first exposure to the importance of well-thought-out urban planning for an area. It needs to be done to ensure resources are being utilized efficiently and effectively for future generations.”

As Huntsville continues to grow, planning professionals are essential to the community’s expansion. Kassama’s work involves analyzing land use policies and regulations, reviewing proposed land development projects, and providing recommendations to the planning commission and city council based on consistency with adopted policies and ordinances. There are five key elements of planning for diverse communities: economic opportunity, transportation and access, housing affordability, health and safety, and placemaking.

According to Kassama, there’s a need to expand the planning profession into the realm of issues facing people of color, to ensure a better quality of life in diverse communities. Based on recent studies, planners have the ability and resources to counter the negative impacts of segregation. A dual approach can be adopted to disrupt such patterns. “First tactic can be investing in marginalized neighborhoods. The second approach is to provide opportunities for people of color to live in more integrated communities. This can be achieved by planners advocating for mixed income housing development, housing mobility, and income enhancement programs,” she said.

As the Rocket City is predicted to be the largest city in Alabama within the next few years, Huntsville rolled out a new comprehensive master plan known as the “Big Picture,” which is based on inputs from public participation and various stakeholders. The initiative will help direct the future of economic growth, neighborhood redevelopment, parks and greenways, transportation, and quality of life for all citizens.

City planners referenced ESRI’s diversity index to help gauge an area’s mix of races and ethnicities. The index ranges from zero to 100, with 100 being the most diverse. According to the index, the most diverse area in Huntsville is west central, due to its near equal numbers of white, black and Hispanic residents.

One of the outcomes of the Big Picture Plan is the city’s updated Greenway Master Plan that consists of 312 miles of interconnected trails to include river trails, pedestrian and bike streets, and paved pathways and hiking trails. “Greenways contribute to people’s high quality of life in their community,” Kassama said.

There are plans and projects that focuses on the west central area. These are purposeful, well-thought plans to ensure the area grows sustainably and continues being a resilient community. This includes the Mill Creek Choice Neighborhoods Transformation Plan. This is a joint effort between the City of Huntsville and the Huntsville Housing Authority, which aims to transform the area south west of downtown to new mixed income housing, walkable commercial and retail opportunities, and access to essential quality of life service.

As the city moves forward with these initiatives, planners like Kassama will be engaged to advocate for all. Together, diversity, equity and inclusion signifies collective efforts to intentionally create environments of access and fairness that are free from exclusion.

To view the presentation in its entirety, visit www.milsuite.mil/video/44295. You must have a Common Access Card to access this website. For more on the Big Picture, visit https://bigpicturehuntsville.com.

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