Loeb 45 Journal: Equity Scorecards

The final Interchange on the third day of the Loeb 45th Anniversary Celebration and Alumni Weekend concerned measurement, sliced several different ways. But before the panel got underway, Jim Stockard (LF 78), former curator of the Loeb Fellowship, and his wife Sue took the stage to thank the Loebs for Jim’s retirement gift: the opportunity to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity anywhere in the world. They acknowledged the generous present with a brief slideshow of their work in Vietnam, 3 hours southwest of Hanoi. Images of mixing mortar, moving boulders for the foundation and passing bricks depicted the grit required for construction. Jim characterized it as “the hardest work I’ve ever done in my life.” At the end of six back-breaking days, the Stockards and their crewmates could beam at the stone building they had helped build with their hands. This on-the-ground work provided a topical prelude to the Interchange presenters, who explored measuring equity at the human scale.

Jamie Blosser (LF ’15) interim executive director of the Santa Fe Art Institute, opened the panel by discussing how designers conceptualize equity: “We feel like if we can grab it, pin it down and define it, then maybe we can fix it.” As Antwi Akom, co-founder and executive director of ISEEED, said, “many certification systems like LEED have identified top-down tools or the ‘hardware,’ but how can the software or bottom-up approach support equity initiatives?” Illustrating the infinite ways in which designers can tackle equity, Blosser concluded, “An equity score is not the end goal; we are talking about equity advocates.”

Jair Lynch (LF ’06) has tried to support equity advocates with his 1+1=3 mantra. Through real estate development, Lynch has seen the need to redefine the "second American Dream," premised on the growth of cities, through access to affordable housing and income equality. Given that mixed-use real estate development projects can have a hefty price tag for homeowner and city budgets, innovative tax policies are needed. Lynch offered as an example a tax credit for the entertainment industry in Georgia that provided hundred-fold benefits compared to the conventional model of earned income tax credit. An urban policy where “the growth of a place can be reinvested back into it,” he said, will vastly transform North American cities.

Pointing out that policy can undermine as well as support equity, George McCarthy, president and CEO of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, talked about the pitfalls of maps, abstract tools that tend to show existing conditions and problems, but do not necessarily provide strategy for moving forward. McCarthy learned this the hard way: after 14 years of Ford Foundation initiatives aimed at alleviating concentrated poverty in inner city neighborhoods, an analysis showed the programs had been exacerbating the problem. The local interventions ignored regional realities, with the result that investments were misaligned with areas of opportunity. From then on, McCarthy enlisted the support of the Kirwan Institute to create ten sets of metropolitan maps of opportunity, which shifted the focus from neighborhood to region. And this larger systems thinking began to have payoff. Metropolitan organizations might not have been able to utilize the same maps for devising strategy, but they recognized the need and began making their own images. Through this self-reflexive process, local agencies worked out what was lacking and what could be done to improve access across the regional scale.

Further refining how mapping can become a useful tool for agencies, Akom talked about his co-founding of Streetwyze, a “21st Century stakeholder tool that provides real time, two way communication with everyday people.” The mapping capability enables residents to have authorship of the narratives that are pertinent to their communities. It becomes a tool to help “redesign and reimagine cities for communities that have been locked out of sustainability conversations, locked out of smart city conversations and locked out of social justice conversations.” Cities can then use these crowdsourced maps to create actionable items. The SMS platform will be launched across 12 ecodistrict cities and become part of the 100 Resilient Cities.

From Akom’s social media tool, our attention shifted to the brick and mortar designs of Deanna Van Buren (LF ’13), founder of FOURM Design. Denouncing that “the United States is the number one developed country in incarcerating its citizens,” Van Buren said cities have begun to realize the prison model doesn’t work. Restorative justice, focused on helping people repair and restore relationships, offers potential for transforming the criminal justice system. Van Buren has been shedding light on this model through her design of the Near Westside peacemaking project near Syracuse and Pop-up Resource Village for adjudicated youth in San Francisco. When people came to Van Buren asking what could be done in Oakland, she decided to design and become developer for the Restorative Justice Center, a project she hopes will make Oakland the first restorative justice city in the United States. The project will have a large community presence and include a restaurant where low-wage workers can receive training in high-end jobs. With the partnership of a developer, Van Buren will explore new models to develop equity at this scale.

During Q&A, moderated by Steve Lewis (LF '07), harnessing local knowledge, identifying champions and mapping assets were emphasized as key to tackling structural inequality. Although there is no formula for creating greater access and opportunity, there are both precedents and people demanding new models to shape our cities.

Photos by Maggie Janik
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