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  In my last column on real estate industry responses
to Covid-19, I concluded, “the crisis has also put social inequity front and center.” I wrote that just weeks before our world changed abruptly again on May 25, generating civic unrest in 150+ cities and highlighting the role race and inequality plays in the design, planning, finance, construction, development, and results of real estate.
There is strong factual evidence that racism is woven
into the historical structure of real estate and land use.
As Richard Rothstein argues persuasively in his must-
read book, The Color of Law, racial segregation was long required in local, state and federal policies regarding lending and housing. Public and private lenders “redlined” African-American neighborhoods in particular, denying blacks the opportunity to accumulate wealth through homeownership, while excluding them from white neighborhoods. FDR himself supported segregationist public housing policies. The infamous Pruitt-Igoe housing project had separate towers for blacks and whites.
Private developers like J.C. Nichols, the founder of ULI
in 1936, also played a huge role in discrimination. While celebrated as the visionary behind Kansas City’s Country Club Plaza, Nichols also created dozens of subdivisions with private covenants restricting African Americans from buying in.
While such practices have been reversed or outlawed,
their heritage lingers. Many cities remain largely segregated. Gentrification pushes people of color out
of neighborhoods they have inhabited for generations. According to Brookings, “At $171,000, the net worth of a typical white family [was] nearly ten times greater than that of a Black family ($17,150) in 2016.” This gap, which
is directly related to home ownership, has not budged since 1968. In most cities and suburbs, single-family zoning continues to exclude people of different income levels from living near each other.
I’ve been with ULI for 15 years and love the organization’s mission, people, and the accomplishments or our members in 26 different land-use professions. We are proud of ULI Colorado programs like the Real Estate Diversity Initiative
and Building Healthy Places Workshops. These have made ULI more inclusive and brought ULI expertise to disadvantaged communities.
However we have a way to go. As the ones who create
our built environment, it is our responsibility to address inequity in our society. Race is central to this issue. But
it also transcends race and, I hope, political parties and viewpoints. (As does ULI, one of the only truly bipartisan organizations.) We need to incorporate the ideas of different types of people and their perspectives. For example, how can we continue to revitalize neighborhoods without such dramatic displacement? Our founding notion of “best practices” needs to expand vastly.
ULI’s global leadership has placed Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) front and center in our mission to “provide leadership in the responsible use of land and in creating and sustaining thriving communities worldwide.”
ULI Colorado would love to hear from you as we chart this new course. I’m optimistic we can all make changes that will help our businesses and communities thrive to an even greater degree. All viewpoints welcome, but no cuss words, please. Please email your thoughts to
Low-income apartments at Aria Denver, a mixed-income community developed by ULI members Chuck Perry and Susan Powers near Regis University.
Urban Perspectives From COVID to BLM
by Michael Leccese
Michael Leccese became executive director of the 1,400-member ULI Colorado in 2005.
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