The mission of the Urban Land Institute is to provide “leadership in the responsible use of land and in creating and sustaining thriving communities worldwide.” The events of the last several months have made plain that large segments of our community are not thriving. One reason is that land use has more often been used to create and sustain inequality than to promote shared prosperity.
The shared experience of the corona virus has created a wider appreciation for the types of experiences that are the everyday reality of being Black in America – being at risk based on a factor beyond your control (e.g. age, blood type, asthma, etc.), unable to fully protect yourself no matter how many precautions you take, and aware that a threat to your life and health can come without warning and seemingly out of nowhere. Watching George Floyd’s murder and enduring the pandemic, many were able to see themselves not as outraged bystanders but as the man who couldn’t breathe. As a result, a critical mass has formed that seeks to build a new type of community.
As ULI members, the good news is that the social and economic structures in which we live are as much a part of the built environment as our homes, streets, and parks. There is nothing natural about systemic racism and inter-generational inequality; like buildings they are structures designed by people that can be demolished and rebuilt (or expanded and updated) by people.
This is the work of the ULI and there are things all of us within ULI Washington can do right now to help drive change.
Understand how we got here. As members, it is imperative that we understand the significant role that policies and practices developed and promote by ULI and others played in creating and exacerbating inequality and systemic racism. Many land use, financing, insurance, environmental, transportation, housing, and social policies have been designed to produce unequal impacts on Black people. Being aware of and honest about this history is an essential first step in creating a different future. ULI Washington’s July 23rd conversation with Color of Law author Richard Rothstein is a good opportunity to begin that process.
Be Intentional. Understanding history creates an obligation to apply a racial equity lens to our work going forward. That starts by understanding who is being impacted by our work but isn’t in the room when we’re making decisions. In every transaction, we need to ask ourselves a series of questions and adjust our actions accordingly: Who is benefiting? Who is being burdened? What are the impacts of my actions and what is my mitigation plan? ULI Washington member Don Edwards of Justice and Sustainability Associates has been helping other ULI Washington members learn how to have these types of discussions.
Take measurable action: Our membership is filled with business owners and senior executives. As leaders, we have an obligation to set specific goals around diversity in hiring, promotion, employee compensation, and contracting that are treated with the same rigor as financial goals. Tie the goals to compensation, measure the results, and assign accountability to business unit leaders – not support functions. Racial equity should be treated as a strategic objective, not a community relations project. Jaime Weinbaum, Chair of ULI Washington, has treated diversity and inclusion in this manner since the beginning of his term and is doing the uncomfortable work of assessing where we fall short and holding us accountable to improve. I am proud to serve on ULI Washington’s Diversity and Inclusion working group that is identifying concrete actions ULI can take to address systemic racism and its impact on our industry and the communities we serve.
ULI is an organization of thought-leaders and practitioners with awesome power to shape the built environment and, through that environment, society itself. Just as the racial covenants and Urban Renewal concepts the ULI put forward in the past perpetuated inequity, our actions today will have significant ramifications for who benefits, who is burdened, who is include, and who is excluded long into the future. There is a lot to be done and these steps are only the beginning but this moment has provided us with an awesome responsibility and a tremendous opportunity to have a meaningful impact on our region for generations to come and I am excited to be part of a District Council with the will and resources to lead.
AJ Jackson, Executive Vice President – Social Impact Investing, JBG Smith
ULI Global Governing Trustee
Former Chair, Public Private Product Council
Member, ULI Washington Diversity & Inclusion Working Group
Member, ULI Washington Regional Land Use Leadership Institute
Member, ULI Washington Advisory Board
Member, ULI Center for Sustainability and Economic Performance (CSEP) Global Advisory Board
In ULI Washington’s new Leadership Insights column, ULI Washington will regularly feature member leader’s thoughts and insights as we adjust personally and professional to a “new normal.”