our city, not it city
To the organizers and speakers of the 7th Annual Construction Project Management Symposium,
As Nashville residents, scholars and community leaders, we share your interest in the question guiding this year’s meeting: What’s next for the “IT” city? As people who are directly affected by and/or study the negative effects of uneven development, inequality, and “revitalization,” we are acutely aware of the ways development and construction practices can either deepen or work to ameliorate existing inequalities. In reviewing the agenda, we notice a preponderance of topics and presenters representative of commercial interests. With topics such as “Build it and they will come,” and “Capturing an amenity,” we found ourselves asking: Who is the city being built for? Who is imagined to enjoy the city’s amenities? Who is included--and who is left out--of the “IT” city story?
A report developed for and published by the Metro Nashville Planning Department last year calls for the city to adopt an “equitable development approach” to planning. Such an approach “is rooted in the values of equity and diversity, driven by an understanding of the positive and negative impacts of revitalization, holistic in strategy and design, informed by a racial equity lens, and enacted through strong community partnerships” (2015, p.6). We wonder what an Equitable Development approach to building the “IT” city looks like, and how it might shape both the content and speakers at a symposium such as this one? Perhaps it would include some of the following:
- The role of development and construction in addressing Nashville’s affordable housing crisis.
- At least 35% of Nashville residents currently pay more than 30% of their income on housing costs, which is the federal threshold for cost burden. Further, the backlog for affordable housing is enormous: public housing has a 3,000-person, closed waiting list and Section 8 has an over 14,000-person, closed waiting list. This need is only expected to increase. Metro projects a million new people in the greater Nashville area in the next 25 years, which requires that the city build over 1500 affordable units a year. This only addresses the future need, and does not account for residents already living and struggling in Nashville today (Fraser, 2015).
- The role of development and construction in providing jobs with justice.
- Economic inequality is one of the most pressing concerns of our time, and the gap between the rich and poor is greater in the United States than in any other major developed nation (http://inequality.org). Paying family-supporting wages and providing strong benefits is key to closing that gap. Wages for working people have not risen with inflation: in the past 40 years, the federal minimum wage has lost 30% of its value (http://www.nelp.org). Furthermore, the rights of workers, including construction workers, are frequently abused. According to a 2008 study by the National Employment Law Project, 26% of low-wage workers were paid less than minimum wage, and 76% of those who worked more than 40 hours per week were not paid the legally required overtime pay. In Nashville, with the help of organizations like Worker’s Dignity, workers have recovered over $200,000 in stolen wages, including from large development projects such as the Music City Center (http://www.workersdignity.org/).
- The role of development and construction in creating equitable access to opportunities in the city.
- Too often, geographic concentrations of risk and opportunity tilt the scales of opportunity, health, and well-being in favor of residents of affluence, while concentrated risks pool in areas that are disproportionately home to poorer residents and people of color (Lipsitz, 2007; Pulido, 2000). Local research has demonstrated racial and economic disparities in access to healthy food (The Tennessean, 2014), equitable educational opportunities (The Tennessean, 2014), transportation (CityLab, 2014), and healthy living environments (The Tennessean, 2015).
We believe that, as people working in development and constructions management, you have a leadership role to play in addressing Nashville’s affordable housing crisis, providing jobs with fair wages and strong benefits, and developing equitable access to opportunities in the city. This responsibility is not yours alone, but it is your responsibility to do your part, and to do so in collaboration with other industry/technical experts, planning professionals, as well as community groups. There are a number of local organizations actively researching and advocating for Equitable Development--such as Nashville Organized for Action and Hope, A Voice for the Reduction of Poverty, TN Jobs with Justice, and Worker’s Dignity -- that could bring critical insight to this symposium. Particularly valuable are the perspectives from those workers building the city today. We contend that you cannot answer the question of What’s Next for the “IT” City without the voices of workers, community members, and advocates for equity. Yet, not only are these perspectives excluded from the agenda, the $375 registration cost all but ensures they will be kept out of the room.
What’s next for Nashville affects us all. Perhaps it is time to change the question from ‘what’s next for the “IT” city’, to ‘what’s next for our city’. We hope that your leadership in this area will foster inclusivity and justice for all city residents.