“While growth is important, it is also imperative that growth becomes more inclusive because if certain regions, sectors or groups of people are denied economic opportunities for long periods, the spread and sustainability of growth itself is threatened. Hence, growth, to be inclusive, must take into account the betterment of every section of society.” Dr. Anil Kumar, Professor of Economics, Banaras Hindu University, India.
Next month we have the Second Annual We Are City Summit – Thursday August 22, 2013 http://wearecity.us/ . I expect it to be an interesting half day.
It’s goal: “The goal of We Are City is to enhance the conversation about city-building and celebrate the people and organizations that are doing it well.” http://wearecity.us
Last year it’s goal, “’We Are City’ is an effort to build consensus around a variety of topics, to form a shared narrative of our values and vision for Indianapolis.”
A month after the 2012 We Are City Summit, I wrote about the juxtaposition between the theme of We Are City and the fact that the presenters were the only diverse part of the summit. In fact I went further in my analysis, feedback and critique to say the following:
“We are City” displayed a focus of “Advancing ideas that make a better city”. However, like the Urbanized Summit, the company was sparse on diversity; so much that I could count the number of people of color in the room (including several of the presenters) on one hand. Yet this was “We Are City” Summit“. Not even a quarter of the persons in the room, let alone the majority looked like me, nor many others like me, engaged and invested in Indianapolis…Scanning the program, I immediately noticed the list of presenters was more diverse than the make-up of the audience…What a contrast, that the presenters at a summit entitled “We are City”, should be more diverse than the audience in the room…”
Now let me make this clear last year’s We Are City Summit’s content was interesting, relevant, applicable and innovative. The presenters by all estimation were good. In the break there was what seemed to be genuine interaction grounded in meet n greet, colleagues catching-up, some slipping in work by sending an email, others texting and the presenters being bombarded by inquisitive folks like myself who seek connectivity to their work as they walk through this life. As for the format it was rather academic with a traditional presentation style. The presenter speaks, Q&A’s at the end and an emcee popping-in and out between presentations with your standard break.
In my response to last years summit I quoted one of the organizers from an interview in the Indiana Business Journal about a month before the event:
“’We Are City’ is an effort to build consensus around a variety of topics, to form a shared narrative of our values and vision for Indianapolis,” said Michael Kaufmann, director of special projects and civic investment at Health and Hospital Corporation, one of the co-founders and organizers of the event. “The goal is to propel us forward through both an analysis of our past, an acknowledgment of our present, and a hope for our future.” (IBJ News Release – August 30, 2012)”
In the summation of my article I highlighted that We Are City Summit in it’s attempt to claim an absolute “We”, had failed; given it’s glaring lack of representation of people of color from all walks of life in Indianapolis who play a vital role in shaping this City’s future. In fact here is what I said and what I continue to purport not just for We Are City (Summit) but for Indianapolis at this pivotal time in it’s development.
“The “We are City” Summit may have started the process of building consensus around these topics. As for creating a shared narrative of our values and vision for Indianapolis, it will surely have to include a broader, more inclusive and reflective audience in a City that is moving toward a majority minority. If the hope for this City’s future is centered around truly shared values of all stakeholders, cultures and ethnicity’s propelling Indianapolis forward, “We are City” will require an even more thorough analysis and acknowledgement of the present, with a willingness to move outside of its traditional relationships and comfort zones.”
Following my blog two of the organizers met with me, wanting to get to know more about me but to really talk about the observations/critique in my blog. Both of the meetings were civil, a healthy exchange of ideas an elaboration on my closing remarks from my blog and a brief update by me on the emergence of project that was sparked by one of the presenters. In fact, they were so excited about the project, this February I was asked to write a brief for the We Are City bi-weekly emailed newsletter/brief. Needless to say the brief never made it to press.
So here is the “Brief” that never was:
My experience being part of Indianapolis’ community of change makers hinges on uncertainty and hope. Uncertainty because one never knows what’s the next feel good initiative popping up to meet some foundation or funders imperative; usually under the guise of making Indianapolis an innovative, transformed and inclusive City. My hope, this change maker community will reflect on its thinking and behavior and recognize the change they envision is hampered by their cultural tunnel vision.
Looking ahead, I have no idea what the next, We Are City Summit will offer or if the outreach efforts will develop a more inclusive and diverse audience. However, organizers did reach out in response to my blog: http://equitabledevelopment.com regarding We Are City’s lack of a diverse audience. I refer to the attendees as “usual suspects.” Were the organizers encouraging building of relationships in an attempt to understand “those neighborhoods” or were they covering their bases? I do not know.
Here is what I do know. As a result of the last We Are City, myself and a group of stakeholders (Prosecutors Office, Juvenile Probation, HITS and Collabo) have come together to replicate the “You Got Arrested-Now What?” comic book, presented by the Center for Urban Pedagogy. This would be a response to the issue of Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC), reflected by the increasing number of young men of color entering the juvenile/adult criminal justice system. The belief being that education is the best prevention for young men of color becoming another statistic.
Simultaneously, panel discussions surrounding job creation exploring the feasibility of the Evergreen Cooperative and it’s like being replicated in Indianapolis are taking place at Ki-EcoCenter, http://kiecocenterorg.ipage.com hosted by Executive Director, Imhotep Adisa, Jim Naremore and Amy Rubin – Partners of 3rd Sector &Whitepaper Bluesky-http://whitepaperbluesky.com and myself. These conversations will hopefully open doors for additional job-created cooperatives in Indianapolis creating pathways of prevention for community residents and the same young men targeted by DMC.
Another outcome of We Are City aligned with the current conversation regarding Mass Transit. Javier Barrera (Latino Youth Collective) presented on how to make T.O.D. user-friendly, essential, relative and lucrative. Improving infrastructure and converting bus stops and buses into Wi-Fi hot spots, will give patrons from all walks of life continued connectivity.
My hope is We Are City is bold and authentic enough to challenge this community of change makers by creating space for authentic engagement with individuals and communities that do not look like its organizers, sponsors and gatekeepers.
I plan on attending the We Are City Summit next month (http://wearecity.us/) as you should too. From the line-up it is shaping up to be a good mix of interesting, innovative and creative presenters.
We are City Summit 2013
We Are City Summit – 2013 Goal
“We Are City SUMMIT”, presented by Indianapolis Downtown, Inc., reemerges this summer with an eclectic mix of national and local speakers who work and play in the trenches and front lines of city-building. The second annual SUMMIT is designed to amplify city improvement conversations throughout Indianapolis and challenges local leaders to think innovatively and act boldly. The half-day conference will celebrate smart, unique and bold city-building with discussions, presentations and interactive projects.” – Thursday August 22, 2013 – http://wearecity.us/
So, if you live or work in/with communities that are far too often traditionally under-represented at these events, if you represent the “priority population” one of those “marginalized communities” which is deemed “hard to reach” you may consider freeing-up your afternoon on the August 22nd. In the same breathe, may I remind the organizers, funders and sponsors of the summit, because there is innovation and creativity with a feel good sense of change that does not inherently translate to progress.
The “We” in We are City is a bold statement that is grounded in the authenticity of community representation at all levels, from all races and backgrounds. However, if the “We” is a reflection of the current planning efforts and initiatives that far too often is built on an illusion of inclusion through buzz feel good language like “transformation”, “community” or “creative ways that people engage with cities” then the sponsors, funders and organizers have once again mirrored the “cosmetic diversity” we are all to accustom and taken one more step in widening the gap.
Julianne Maleaux, economist, educator and author expresses it best: “You cannot have an inclusive society unless everyone has access. You cannot exclude people of color from commerce and expect them to be full participants in our economy”
Change does not always equal progress and Progress does not always equal change. However, it is the delicate balance of intentionally marrying both of these, at times competing tensions, which are the central tenets that breathes life into the “We” whether it be an individual, neighborhood, community or City.
We Are City (Summit) – Are we? – We Shall See!