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We Are City Summit – Are We? – We Shall See!

“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.

We are City - Summit 2012

We are City – Summit 2012

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

Thursday, August 22, 2013 (12 - 5PM) The Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center home of the Indiana Historical Society

Thursday, August 22, 2013 (12 – 5PM)
The Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center home of the Indiana Historical Society

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!

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An Olympic reality in the wake of a legacy. Part -1

“Inspire a Generation!” was the London 2012 motto. It was everywhere, billboards, buses, cars, the underground (tube) and television commercials. It was powerful enough fuel for the Great Britain (GB) athletes, as evidenced by the most amounts of medals (65) for team GB in 100 years of Olympic Games. With the feats of Jessica Ennis, Mo Farrah’s, Gabby Douglas (USA) and other Olympians, their successes will be inspiration for many young men and women for years to come.

Jessica Ennis  won the gold in the heptathlon – Mo Farah double Olympic gold medalist and Victoria Pendleton Olympic gold cyclist

For some, the dream will continue with  increased training time on the tack, in the pool or in the boxing ring. Their focus will be in stepping-up their dedication with increased execution. For others, a vast majority, the challenges will start with having to navigate their Council Estate’s (Projects), more often located in the lowest of income neighborhoods with dodgy dealers, thieves, punters and toe-rags. For these young men and women, their lives are a far cry from Hyde Park, The Mall, Trafalgar Square or Earls Court.  It’s more like Finsbury Park, Kilburn,  Holland Park, Neasden,  Stratford,  and the likes; the “cobbles”  is where their respective futures are being shaped. Much like  inner city low-income communities  in the United States, the challenges for these neighborhoods at times seem insurmountable  appearing to outweigh the allocated resources.

Nearly every city that has served as host to the Olympics has left some sort of legacy.  In all cases, the legacies have been paved with good intentions. London’s Olympic 2012 project  investment was originally estimated to cost  $4.8 billion; the final cost was $18 billion dollars.   The London Legacy Project:

  • The construction of five new neighborhoods, each with its own distinct character, will see up to 8,000 homes built-in the Olympic Park by 2030
  • Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park will provide an escape with its green, open spaces beside tranquil waterways. Elsewhere will pulsate with a multitude of events. The five world-class venues built specially for the Games, will now be host to local, national and international sporting competitions, concerts, festivals, temporary attractions, installations and more in its many public spaces.
  • The London Legacy Development Corporation see’s employment and business growth as key to the regeneration of east London. To deliver this, they intend to promote high-quality education and job training opportunities; making sure they meet employers’ workforce requirements. This will allow unemployed local residents the opportunity to access jobs throughout the Park.
  • Development plans include 1.3 million square feet of housing, 480,000 square feet of office space and 200,000 square feet of hotels, shops, a health center,  community centre, nursery school, gym and parking.

The Athletes’ Village at Stratford will be retro-fitted to create nearly 3,000 new homes after the 2012 Olympics

The final result is a complete reshaping of the East End.  Winning an Olympic bid was both huge and historic for London and Great Britain. Serving as a  lasting legacy of English and London pride; where “Club and Country” is as sacred, if not more so, than “God save the Queen”.  As expected, Brits’ and Londoner’s alike shined in extending the United Kingdom’s hospitality. However, this hospitality  maybe considered a new normal for the likes of  an Indianapolis, Indiana. London is a City where one’s olfactory senses are tantalized with unique scents and your hearing and vision are greeted with varied dialects and appearances  of  African, South African, East Indian, Eastern European immigrant, Asian, Latino and West Indian culture at every turn. In every  pub (bar), bus, tube,  newsstand, restaurant, cinema, football (soccer) game, concert and corner store. London, is not short on diversity, in fact it serves as the future of what communities and neighborhoods are to become in United States, including  Indianapolis.  London’s ability to embrace its ethnic and cultural differences as part of the new enhanced British culture, represents the new normal. As such, I find it increasingly difficult to hear this current  mantra and position of “art, beauty and nature” from leadership in the fields of  philanthropy, economic and  community development in Indianapolis; when some of  these very organizations in the  field continue to plan with a blatant insensitivity to the changing demographics.

“Transformation” seems to be the constant language being used as Indianapolis wrestles through its identity crisis. Yet, the methods used in economic and community development and philanthropy  are “transactional”; defined by  “asset mapping”, “investments” and “asset-based planning”and are devoid of any real transformative  and restorative imperatives. In essence,  my estimation is  there are three  significant challenges (assertions) in the current practice of Indianapolis’ “theory of change”, a) continued planning from a place of cultural tunnel vision, b) cherry-picking of communities and neighborhoods and c) Structural Racism embedded in the process of philanthropic, economic and community development. At a glance, these may seem to be far-reaching assertions but from the various seats on the bus (which I occupy), it cannot be any more glaring.  But this paragraph will be expounded upon at a later time, in another blog.

Back to “Inspire a Generation!” For other persons, a vast majority, the challenges start with having to navigate their Council Estate’s (the Projects), more often located in the lowest of income neighborhoods with dodgy dealers, thieves, punters and toe-rags.

These concerns and sentiments are echoed by London Funders. In a recent article in The Guardian (August 21st 2012), The Legacy 2013 Fund partnership, whose members include Comic Relief, the Community Development Foundation (CDF) and London Funders network, says “good work is being done on grassroots legacy but the funding will largely run out by 2017”. Its answer is a call to the government to commit at least £100m to an independent endowment fund that would provide a lasting source of cash for nationwide sports projects aimed at transforming communities by improving social and physical wellbeing. To focus on sport just for sport’s sake is to miss the point, it argues: why limit results to medal tallies when you could also have safer, happier communities, more confident, successful people and all-round better health?

These concerns and sentiments were echoed by London Funders network, whose members include Comic Relief and Community Development Foundation (CDF). In a recent article in The Guardian (August 21st 2012 – Rachel Williams ), The Legacy 2013 Fund partnership and London Funders network agreed “good work is being done on grassroots legacy but the funding will largely run out by 2017”. Its answer was a call to the government to commit at least £100 million to an independent endowment fund that would provide a lasting source of cash for nationwide sports projects aimed at transforming communities by improving social and physical wellbeing. To focus on sport just for sport’s sake is to miss the point, it argues: “why limit results to medal tallies when you could also have safer, happier communities, more confident successful people and all-round better health?”

CDF’s chief executive Alison Seabrooke, “We want to fill the gaps,” she says. “There’s a lot of noise around the different government departmental provisions in sport and where it’s lacking and what it doesn’t tackle is the people who aren’t sporty, who aren’t active. Everything we see is all about sports’ outcomes – the number of footballers you produce, or the number of boxers, and the increase in sporting achievement. What we don’t look at is sport as a tool for doing other things in the community. We want a fund that will cut across different political cycles that will protect the money and make it work really hard.”

The challenges that  low-income young males  and females of color face in London is no different from any urban or suburban area in the United States. The main distinctive difference seems to be class, especially in the Council Estates (America’s equivalent to Public Housing). There is council housing (Flat’s & rented houses) available outside of the estates, in middle-income communities, adding to the diverse population representing community.  However, even with the vibrant colors that make up London, young men of color (often in the lower-class)  are so weighed down by social and psychological deprivation they borough-in rather than dig out. Seeing themselves as the beneficiaries of the London Olympics’ Legacy Fund will require more than ambitions of developing a Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park or building a new generation of elite athletes. With an eye on success in Rio in 2016, whether it be London or Indianapolis, there is a need for more tangible imperatives than “art, beauty and nature” in transforming low-income communities. Developments the likes of an Olympic Legacy or Super Bowl Legacy need to reflect the faces and culture of the current residents. Taking into account changing demographics; ensuring long-term employment and stability over gentrification.

Planned Development after the London Olympics - The East End

London Olympic Legacy Redevelopment Plan

In Ilford, community youth worker Mehbub Ahmed agrees. The 24-year-old runs a non-contact boxing project at Frenford Clubs’ Jack Carter centre…”[The government is] only looking for elite athletes and nothing more than that. It’s not looking to help the community as a whole. It sees it as more about collecting medals than looking out for where young people are going with their lives.”

Whether, Haughville, South Bronx, The East End, Martindale-Brightwood or the barrios of Rio de Janeiro, planning, redevelopment and regeneration must include those who are disenfranchised. There must be clear, honest and authentic dialogue that forces reflection  of one’s assumptions of a shared vision of community and, what is looks like? Planning investment and attracting assets are central to restoring the economic base of local  low-income communities, cities and regions, which makes  inclusion an even more vital piece to the redevelopment process. The notion that communities that are “dis-invested” also lack the intellectual capability to grasp the technicalities of community restoration is a sorely perpetuated myth. There is no doubt that the East End will thrive, pockets of Indianapolis will continue to grow, communities will feel safer, school facilities will improve, housing will be created, jobs will increase and some of the local residents will benefit.  But to inspire a generation, the next generation needs to continue to see like faces in the process, occupying program manager, project manager, senior or  lead planner positions. Being part of the management and executive team, in a manner that is  more than “cosmetic diversity.”  Listening to a  radio show about community and economic development a caller by the name of Grandpa said the following;  “the recent calls reek of people who are completely cool with gentrification and who see cities as playgrounds instead of what they really are. The hierarchy of America and the world elites laugh at how the people are worried about the look of the city when there are absolutely enormous problems with racism, education,  jobs and pollution. Poverty and ignorance are all over the place in every city  but hardly ever mentioned. Be careful when you try to make empires places where you can go and play pretend all day.” 

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Carrying-Capacity Launch

Do you think she's overwhelmed?

Whatever has landed you on my blog page, word of mouth, a shared link, curiosity or just boredom; Welcome! Stay awhile and if so inclined, add to the discourse and share.

I’ve been toying with  the idea of blogging for some time. Contemplating such a committment, I asked the questions: “What will I say? Why will anybody read what I have too say?” However, those were not the real questions causing the struggle. The experience I was struggling with was the feeling of “fear”; the thing that paralyzes us in the most unimaginable way. I always remember the words of my Professor Dr. Grallo, “Push yourself uncomfortably.”   How can I not? The tensions we are experiencing locally and globally are bearing down: depletion of natural resources, social and economic inequity, global recessions and a trajectory that seems less than promising. “Fear” has a cast of characters including: disparity, unemployment, poverty, greed, racism and inequality. All are co-culprits in the ongoing saga and contention of the human spirit.

The alternate is equally true. There are fears of succeeding. Fear of embracing ones true self. Fear of finding one’s authentic swing. Fear of who we really are. These are so far removed from the culture we currently experience; we wonder, where do I fit? Where can I work on my passion? Where can I unleash my creativity and take a risk in a place where they embrace the notion and idea that “it’s the hardest conversations that need to be pursued” and “it’s only when one leaves their comfort zone, life begins.”

Carrying Capacity seeks to attack that “fear”. In connecting you to sustainable initiatives and highlighting local and global sustainability efforts, you will come to see and hear success stories of individuals and communities that have been deemed “the hardest to serve.”

What is Carrying Capacity?

Carrying-Capacity

Carrying Capacity is the population that can be supported indefinitely by its supporting systems.

In ecological terms, the carrying capacity of an ecosystem is the size of the population that can be supported indefinitely upon the available resources and services of that ecosystem. Living within the limits of an ecosystem depends on three factors:

  • the amount of resources available in the ecosystem,
  • the size of the population, and
  • the amount of resources each individual is consuming.  (Sustainable Measures – West Hartford, CT)

Carrying Capacity was born out of the concept and practical application of Sustainable Development (SD.).  According to  Wikipedia,  Sustainable development  is a pattern of resource use, that aims to meet human needs while preserving the environment so that these needs can be met not only in the present, but also for generations to come (sometimes taught as ELF environment, Local people, Future). The term was used by the Brundtland Commission which coined what has become the most often-quoted definition of sustainable development as development that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

My work for the past 20 yrs has been in the area of sustainability; first in New York City and now in Indianapolis. I am amazed at the efforts that local communities are taking to ensure their sustainability; tending to their individual and collective “carrying-capacity” to create a better life. These efforts were evident in RedHook or Marcy Projects in Brooklyn, East Harlem in Manhattan, the South Bronx or Martindale/Brightwood and Mid-North Quality-of-Life Plan in Indianapolis. These stakeholders continue to draw on one of their most important sustainable assets, their core values.

Carrying-Capacity will showcase stories and conversations that may not make it into the foundation, charitable organization, or corporate report. Many writings may not fit neatly into that quantifiable results-based model.

Carrying-Capacity will share stories of amazing everyday people, activities, new voices and organizations. It will showcase individual and group work in pushing through daily fears, asking critical questions and providing more than a ray of hope. The aim: to bring attention to sustainable opportunities through discourse, networking and action. To move this forward, Carrying Capacity operates from a position that  the “idea” and “action” of Change rests in the following belief: “The hardest conversations need to be pursued.” Hard conversations require “hard thinking”. Throw-in some “hard and respectful modeled discourse” and we start to touch hearts and minds; connecting people around difficult matters that often get in the way of making us better.

Hard Conversations:

Sustainable?

Sustainable?

Economic Disparity, Racial Inequality,  Failed models of Sustainability, Structural Racism and Community Building, Discrimination, Philanthropy as preservation of wealth; I think you get the point.

Important to this discourse are two important questions: “What is working well?” and “How do we plug-in or create what’s needed to fill the void in our individual neighbourhoods, communities, cities and state?” Throughout the country and the globe, there are places having enormous success building community. Cities tackle head-on those questions and become action oriented, producing amazing “change results.” Get on board. Decide where you wish to sit in this bus and challenge yourself to the following: 

Western Army Officer: “What do you want from me?”

Samurai: “What do you want for yourself?”

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