mayors discuss urban planning for racial justice at Graduate School of Design panel | News

On Friday, the Harvard Graduate School of Design brought together mayors from across the country for a virtual roundtable on how urban planning and design can be used to address racial injustice in their cities.

The event, titled “Mayors Imagine the Just City,” was a collaboration between the Mayors Institute on City Design and GSD’s Just City Lab. The panel consisted of the seven members of MICD Just City Mayoral Fellows: Stephen K. Benjamin, Mayor of Columbia, SC; Chokwe Anatar Lumumba, Mayor of Jackson, Mississippi; Shawyn Patterson-Howard, Mayor of Mount Vernon, NY; Errick D. Simmons, Mayor of Greenville, Mississippi; Yvonne M. Spicer, mayor of Framingham, Mass. ; Vince R. Williams, Mayor of Union City, Georgia; and Randall L. Woodfin, Mayor of Birmingham, Ala.

Trinity Simons, executive director of the MICD, said the purpose of the fellowship is to encourage collaboration between mayors and professionals who work “to use justice not only to build better places”, but also to “bring the justice in people’s lives” in these cities. .

The first panel, “Memory, stories of places and the just city”, focused on the initiatives undertaken by mayors to help the inhabitants. Simmons, the mayor of Greenville, Miss., opened the panel with a quote from activist Jane Jacobs.

“Cities have the capacity to provide something for everyone only because and only when they are created by everyone,” he said, quoting Jacobs.

Simmons also explained one of his city’s initiatives, which aimed to create “a state-of-the-art affordable housing complex” for low- and moderate-income families.

Brent Leggs, executive director of the African-American Cultural Heritage Fund, highlighted some of the work being done nationwide to help preserve African-American historic places and provide “equity investment” in black neighborhoods. He added that as preservation practitioners, they “help cities manage change in ways that don’t disconnect” areas from their past.

The other panel focused on restorative justice through economic means. Woodfin, the Mayor of Birmingham, spoke about the people and “free space strategies” he uses in his city to achieve greater economic equity, inclusion and ownership.

“I think the most important thing is that I always talk to our citizens where they live, in the neighborhood they live in, on the street they live on, on the block they live on,” said- he declared.

He went on to explain that his administration had allocated more than $28 million over the past three years to pave streets and improve public parks in Birmingham neighborhoods.

Patterson-Howard, of Mount Vernon, NY, said that due to “divestment” in the past, Mount Vernon has “two cities in one city”, with more investment – and therefore more opportunity – going to part of the city. She proposed comprehensive planning to create more mixed-income neighborhoods, rather than segregated neighborhoods.

“We really need to focus on restorative justice,” Patterson-Howard said. “We want to make sure it retains residents who have had the courage and resilience to stand with us while we have struggled, but also provides opportunities for new families who want to move in, who can invest in our community. »

GSD Professor of Urban Planning Practice Toni L. Griffin, founder and director of the Just City Lab, emphasized the importance of holding these discussions public in an interview ahead of Friday’s event.

“It’s really important that our design students have access and can talk to elected officials, especially mayors who I think are really at the top of the food chain in terms of building cities – their policies and programs help to create and shape the built environment in which we all live, work and play,” Griffin said.

“These are the types of mayors we want our design students to partner with as they embark on their careers, or perhaps even become mayors and elected officials,” she added.