” My role has been to ask architects to use their skills to bring equity into society.”

While Dr. Mindy Fullilove is well known for her role in research on urban redevelopment and serial forced displacement and its public health impact, not many know of her role in the world of architecture. Recently I had the pleasure of speaking to Dr. Fullilove about her honorary membership award from the American Institute of Architecture (AIA). The question of “what does a social psychiatrist have to do with architecture” was on my mind at the award ceremony at the 2016 AIA convention in Philadelphia.

Mindy Fullilove: I was elected to AIA as a public director because of my research/publications and interest in public health and equity and society. After 3 years on the board I was nominated to be an honarary AIA. My role has been to ask architects to use their skills to bring equity into society.

Marisela B Gomez: Why are architects important for equitable and sustainable development?

MF: They are important because inequity has been designed into cities due to segregation and redlining. So everything is involved, infrastructure, landscape, land use …all involved in how people are knit together. Architects have skills in analyzing systems, thinking through how to solve spatial problems, are profoundly committed to ecology.

MBG: Why is ecology important for changing inequity?

MF: With inequity it’s impossible to create sustainability which is urgent. Inequity has organized the social landscape, implicates everything, all the systems. If we don’t understand how the ecosystems work, we make plans that undermine the functioning of the whole system.

MBG: Share with me how Redlining and segregation affected how people interacted with their environment, with the places they lived. And the role of architects in this

MF: Redlining is a policy instituted by the US government in the 1930s. It used race, racial exclusion clauses, and income to stratify neighborhoods then suggested that banks invest in the “best” places, and avoid the “worst” places. People acted in the same ways, and with the same assumptions about good and bad. This has meant that our environment has developed unevenly – some places have had the money and the “good” reputation to prosper, while others have suffered from lack of investment and the imposition of a “bad” reputation. We can walk around any American city and see this pattern. Architects have “participated” by not fighting this system and the inequity it creates. Civil rights leader Whitney Young told the AIA that they were “irrelevant” – and that remains all too true today.

MBG: As you move around the country talking about your books “Root Shock” and “Urban Alchemy” are you seeing any changes in the understanding and practice of ecology and development? If so can you share an example?

MF: My books challenge the ideas that places are interchangeable and disposable. The biggest impact this had had is to make people look at what they have and try to make it better. One of the people I interviewed for my book Root Shock is writing a forward for the second edition. He said that naming what had happened to him helped him to move forward emotionally and helped the neighborhood of the Hill District to fight to stay.

MBG: I noticed how many white people and men are present in this award ceremony. Besides you, there were two other persons who appeared to be black recipients, amongst the more than 40-individual and 25-firm. In my opinion part of changing the ecology of development toward sustainability will require including the people who bring a different experience-racially, class, etc- into the process. In your opinion is this important?

Award recipients at the AIA 2016 Conference.

Black Award recipients at the AIA 2016 Conference.(Left to right): Steven Lewis, http://www.aia.org/practicing/awards/2016/whitney-young/r-steven-lewis/, Dr. Mindy Fullilove,http://www.aia.org/practicing/awards/2016/honorary-membership/m-fullilove/, Denise Everson, http://www.aia.org/practicing/awards/2016/associates/everson/

MF: It’s very important to have many voices at the table. We each have a piece of the puzzle, so we can only solve it if we put our pieces together.

MBG: We just had the first verdict against one of the 6 police officers indicted in the death of Freddie Grey. He was found not guilty of all charges. Could you talk about how laws and policies enacted differently for white and black/brown communities is a legacy/outcome of inequitable community/neighborhood development?

MF: Inequity has been created and intensified by laws and policies, like segregation, redlining, urban renewal, planned shrinkage, deindustrialization, mass incarceration, and gentrification. Each of these policies has disrupted the political capital of minority and poor communities, making it harder for people to fight for equity. Inequity feeds inequity. What is essential for all people to understand is that inequity is a threat to health and to democracy. We are all implicated in the oppression of some.

Audience feedback on ‘Planning to Stay’ in Baltimore

Hello folks,

IMG-20140320-01382At the presentation with Mindy Fullilove and myself last week Thursday March 13,(held at Red Emma’s and co-sponsored by Red Emma’s and Baltimore Racial Justice Action) the focus on ‘planning to stay’ in our cities and the elements of urban restoration were discussed (featured in her latest book Urban Alchemy: Restoring Joy in America’s Sorted-Out Cities). Participants were invited to stand up and take the pledge of ‘planning to stay’ by turning to their neighbor and speaking this out loud. Folks were then asked to write down on a piece of paper the things they wanted to change and add to Baltimore to make it a place they would want to stay. There were 75 responses from approximately 150 people in the audience. The categories of what should be added included better schools, housing for all incomes, employment that sustains families, better transportation, increased safety, diversity, solidarity, recreation centers, arts, political engagement and competence, and increased co-mingling of our sorted out city in all its areas of living.

The categories of what should be changed were similar with an additional 3 responses that the vitality and culture of the city should remain the same. Individual responses are here: What would you change/add in Baltimore.

A recording of the presentation and discussion is here: Presentation

This was such a thoughtful, comprehensive, and spontaneous contribution of what parts of Baltimore want to see happen for them to enjoy and celebrate their city, making it a more equitable and sustainable city for all to enjoy. We are contemplating sending a letter to the editor of one of the periodicals with a summary of your responses. Our voice as part of envisioning and implementing a democratic process-a revolutionary step- of claiming, changing, and maintaining the city is vital for us who all plan to stay and participate in making Baltimore a city we are all proud to call home, today and tomorrow for the old and the new!

Thank you for participating!!

Justice without community building from the ground up? Is it possible?

Recently a colleague attempted to convince me that the powerful stakeholders directing the process of redevelopment in East Baltimore ‘get it’. Later I thought, who ‘gets’ what justice is? We seem to all ‘get it’ differently. And even more deeper to understand is whether our understanding of justice involves community building from the ground up, without discrimination and violation of human rights.

Perhaps my difficulty in understanding what my colleague and his friends ‘get’ is based on my own experience with these stakeholders and the pattern of inconsistencies surrounding their words and actions: the leadership directing the current redevelopment project in East Baltimore. The past 12 years suggest that the collective understanding of justice and community building, by Baltimore’s Mayor in 2001 (now Governor of Maryland) and the past and current leadership of Johns Hopkins and the Annie E. Casey Foundation runs something like this: it is okay to repeat history from 50 years ago as long as we convince people that we really ‘get it’. Fifty years ago in the 1950‘s, Baltimore City Department of Planning and the Mayor assisted the Johns Hopkins Medical campus’s expansion by 59 acres through displacement of more than 1000 majority African American and low-income families during the Broadway Redevelopment Project. In 2001, the Mayor and the Department of Planning and Housing and Community Development again assisted the Johns Hopkins Medical Campus expansion into another 88 acres through displacement of another 1000 African American and low-income families. This time the Annie E. Casey foundation threw in its power to assure this could happen after erratic outcomes in their ‘Making Connections’ projects across the country. Both East Baltimore projects were sold to the public under the heading of urban renewal and public benefit. And yes, community building was hailed as the core; however it was not the existing community that was the interest of either of these development projects, it was the community of the powerful developer of Johns Hopkins and its partners. Certainly a different brand of ‘justice’ than those involved in social justice movements and most importantly community residents directly impacted by the development ‘get’.

The powerful stakeholders understanding of ‘justice’ in 2001 was to use eminent domain to take the land of residents for the Hopkins Science and Technology Park expansion project. However it met with unanticipated resistance when residents organized and challenged these outside stakeholders and their partners to declare their understanding of ‘justice’ – benefit to the existing community through a right of return to the rebuilt area and a ground-up approach to community rebuilding involving residents (see details in Chapter 5 of the Book page on this website). For 8 years they proceeded to show the powerful stakeholders what ‘justice’ meant for them, through organizing residents and demanding consistency in words and actions. And today, another growing community base continues to challenge the projects’ brand of ‘justice’ known for its inconsistency, non-transparency, and inequitable benefit to existing residents of East Baltimore (Daily Record Series in Resources page on this website). The different understanding of justice, by those with great power and little power -and all those in between- continues and this post will present some evidence of this and challenge us to reason how we can bridge the gap between the words and the actions across the divide of inconsistencies.

Table: EBDI Pattern of Inconsistencies

The inconsistencies come in many forms and suggest that we pay close attention to how each one intends or acts toward who the community is being rebuilt for. While the language used by the developers has been about ‘community building’ the social engineering experiment has consistently left the existing community out of the discussion and decision-making. For example, it has been more than one year since EBDI had a regular open meeting for community residents to learn about the status of the project. And as shown in the table insert, when ‘public’ events occur residents are hand-picked for attendance or informed after-the-fact.

Perhaps we must agree on what the term justice means to all stakeholders to begin to bridge the inconsistences in words and action-to meet on a path where everyone is moving toward a collective understanding of justice. Until then those with less power must organize to demand equity in benefit because the powerful stakeholders are currently running the show-creating a reality for the public consistent with their view of ‘justice’.

Finally, if we abide by the law defining what is ‘justice’ in regard to the use of eminent domain in community building, it is clear: ‘a taking of private land should be struck down if it is clearly intended to favor a particular private party over another, or if only an incidental public benefit exists’ (Supreme Court 2005). Because public:private partnerships have been the power behind this redevelopment project and substantial public funds have contributed to removal of residents, acquisition and demolition of property, preparation of land, update of infrastructure, tax incentives for developers, subsidies for developers, public:private status of development agency and new community school, ensuring equitable and sustainable benefit cannot be a side-effect but a major measurable outcome. Anything else would be an injustice-socially and legally.