Chicago's development process has created segregated and unequal neighborhoods. The city needs to change its way of doing business to address historic and structural inequities
Image courtesy Getty Images via Crain's Chicago Business
This casual question reminded me how much time and effort is spent on the unwritten rituals of "kissing the aldermanic ring" and brokering support from power players, and how little time is spent empowering local voices to shape a project so residents get what is wanted and needed.
Regardless of the development type (affordable housing, retail, etc.), if achieving racial equity in our housing and community development is a priority, we need to change the way we do business.
Closer to home, advocacy organizations Grassroots Collaborative and Raise Your Hand for Illinois Public Education filed a lawsuit challenging who benefits from tax-increment financing dollars that could force the re-examination of whether the process, as it has been applied in Chicago, is racially discriminatory. And while we applaud efforts by some in the development industry to increase diversity on the construction and supplier side, by incubating small businesses and actively hiring minority-owned firms, much more is needed.
Successful equitable development requires a shift in industry culture and practice. Talking with residents, not at them. Inclusive planning and ongoing evaluation to measure outcomes. Engaging in the hard work to incorporate affordable housing in high-cost areas. Returns on investments that benefit both shareholders and community members.
Will these interventions move the needle on long-term results? Many factors influence the ultimate success or failure of a project. But the results of our status quo are well documented: Revitalization efforts have created and sustained neighborhoods that are separate and unequal. What we know is that starting from an equity framework has shared advantages. The Metropolitan Planning Council's "Cost of Segregation" study quantifies that narrowing equity gaps increases overall economic returns as well as social benefit.
Mapping out a process for racially equitable development is a formidable task. It starts with naming racial equity as an outcome with intentionality to achieve it, committing to a process of authentic engagement and building a deep community of practitioners—all of us.