ULI Washington's Young Leaders National Harbor River Cleanup
On Saturday, June 12th, members of ULI attended the Potomac River Keeper Network’s monthly river cleanup at National Harbor. During the even
Washington, DC is my adoptive city. I moved here from Europe 10 years ago; this is where my kids call home. So far, I have never had the chance to really know the city in a deeper sense, to understand the layers of history that have shaped it. I arrived in DC as a mid-career professional with my student years behind me. Anything I wanted to learn going forward would have to be self-taught. Long gone were the days of leisurely exploring a new urban environment, as a new mom and a full-time employee there was not enough time.
Putting together ULI Washington’s 2021 Summer Equity Challenge was my opportunity to have that deep dive into the history of the city through the lenses of race and exclusion. I am looking forward to discussing these resources with the real estate community, with the professionals that intervene and shape the built environment. These are my people, and we can influence decisions towards a more just and equitable urban realm.
When developing this challenge, we wanted everyone to take away something positive no matter where they were in their journey towards a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by Black and communities of color. We started with the basics, setting up the context and the historical origins of the concept of race on the first month – June: Raising Awareness – Understanding Race and Racism. As a Black woman of African descent, my race always claimed the central stage in my life, no matter where I lived. This hyperawareness pushed me to question why these divisions were created between people based solely on something as superficial as skin color.
Some of the June resources, like Scene On Radio’s Season 2 – Seeing White, address these questions. That season discusses how the nascent Atlantic slave trade in the 16th century made it necessary to dehumanize enslaved Africans to make it compatible with the morals of a Christian society. Additionally, the book “Superior: The Return of Race Science”, explained how racism gets codified in science even though these theories have been disproven over and over again. Implicit bias still prevails in science, medicine, and other disciplines.
The second portion of the June content focuses on Racism in Land Use and Real Estate. We aimed to give an overall perspective showing how racial exclusion imposed on Black communities through decades of prejudice and government exclusionary polices have shaped the cities we live in today. I remember how shocking it was for me to realize that what we view today as appalling segregation was created by design. If you only have time to read one of the suggested books, I would strongly recommend “The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America” by Richard Rothstein. Considered by many an essential reading, this book gave me the underlaying scaffolding, the organizing matrix, that will eventually bring all the content together. It exposes the forces that shaped our environment, so powerful that we are still dealing with their pernicious effects decades later.
As professionals that spend a considerable part of their time dealing in drawings and plans, we found it useful to add some visual content like the Mapping Inequality: Redlining in New Deal America, where participants can explore redlining maps of several major US cities. As well, Zillow’s Satellite View Shows the Ghosts of Neighborhoods Erased By America’s Highways is a surprising place to find traces of the destroyed urban fabric inhabited by working class and Black communities in order to make way for the highway system.
It has been extremely rewarding to bring together the 2021 Summer Equity Challenge with ULI Washington’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Education and Awareness Committee. I have always been frustrated with the lack of spotlight on the issues regarding racial segregation, one of the most powerful forces that shapes American cities even today. I hope that this program, in conjunction with many others, will bring this body of knowledge to light and make it part of the mainstream discussion advocating for racial equity and racial justice.