Thursday, May 13, 2010

Equity Chicago

"In the 1980s, Robert Mier...coined the term 'equity development.' Mier's vision and practice were influenced by his years serving as director of development for Mayor Harold Washington."

Carlton C. Eley, "Equitable Development: Untangling the Web of Urban Development through Collaborative Problem Solving. SUSTAIN: a journal of environmental and sustainability issues, Fall/Winter 2010.

Mier died in the mid-1990s before the emergence or reemergence of smart growth and regional equity movements. From his days running the Center for Urban Economic Development (CUED) at the University of Illinois at Chicago, however, he was aware of the needs and challenges of inner-ring suburbs like Markham, small African-American communities with few resources but many big-city challenges. From regional studies and task forces on economic sectors, he was also sensitive to the regional footprint of many collapsing industries like steel that devastated not just Chicago but southeast Chicago and Indiana communities.

Still, I wonder how he would have viewed today's smart growth/regional equity strategies, not as intellectual constructs or policy approaches, but as opportunities for pursuing equity in action. I think he would have preferred taking on the big and small equity development issues of Chicago and other cities -- like the proposed Olympics, tax increment financing, the public housing "transformation."

In these plans and development transactions Mier would certainly have identified the missing equity opportunities and the missing narrative of race and development. Would he have survived all these years in opposition to Mayor Daley? Few have -- and many applaud the Mayor for all things green -- the "progressive" mayor.

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