A new generation of Black developers is working to reshape several cities by focusing on how their deals will benefit underserved communities.
The New York Times reports Black developers are creating affordable housing, opportunities for businesses owned by women, and minority groups in Philadelphia, Chicago and other cities.
The projects include Mosaic Development Partners’ redevelopment of 109 acres of the Navy Yard in Philadelphia, which includes a $1 billion pledge for diversity and inclusion. Other projects include the $3.8 billion Bronzeville Lakefront project and the Affirmation Tower in Manhattan.
However, critics of these projects say many of these community-focused plans are more like informal agreements than regulated efforts. Additionally, community groups, researchers, and even some developers have said the projects lack bite and give small concessions to the neighborhoods they reside instead of truly sharing the wealth with the community.
Many of these projects are also expected to take more than a decade, making it difficult to maintain oversight from community leaders and transparency from developers as unforeseen issues pop up.
One of the first redevelopment projects designed this way was the Staples Center redevelopment downtown Los Angeles in the early 2000s. Instead of offering land to developers, the Staples deal included hiring and wage guarantees and promises of specific community benefits. The deal also gave the community control of which tenants could operate within the new development.
Ben Beach, the legal director for PowerSwitch Action, cited the new Yankee Stadium, which opened in 2008, as one example of shortcomings in community-based redevelopment projects.
The development was led by local officials, instead of community groups. The investment fund was run by a Yankees-controlled charity, which sent money to other parts of the Bronx, instead of the community around the stadium, one of the poorest in New York City.
When Kimshasa Baldwin, a Black architect in Chicago, heard the city was planning to sell the defunct Michael Reese Hospital, a 48-acre lakefront property that closed in 2009, it offered her a chance to reshape the neighborhood. In 2017, Bladwin became part of the Michael Reese Advisory Council, a 29-member group that includes neighborhood experts, pastors, and historians. The council provides community input for the $3.8 billion projects and is working to ensure the community benefits from the project.
“Development is generally done in a manner where the developers take resources from the community,” Chicago Alderwoman Sophia King told the Times. “The community is generally perceived as being not only kind of robbed of its resources, but almost in a worse position.”