How city design can end racism while healing the planet.
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Do you know racism when you see it?
What The System looks like
How to heal racism: 3 ways
Levittown vs. Concord Park
Equity by design
▲ Do you know racism when you see it?
What if you knew someone who got called racial slurs all the time growing up? What if he missed assignments and skipped school when his teachers used those slurs, too, and encouraged the other kids to beat up his kind? What if even polite friends assumed that he was dirty because of his race?
What if he ended up avoiding his kind for years as a result?
Now tell me, was that person of victim of racism?
If you're white in America, you're probably thinking "Yes, of course that's racism!" But if you're Black, I'll bet you noticed that there's something missing in my story.
My story? Yes, my story. I'm white, but I was in a small minority growing up and attending public schools in Hawaii. I faced prejudice, discrimination and violence on many occasions. But I didn't face racism.
Ask a white person or a dictionary written by a white person what racism is, and their answer usually boils down to a feeling of superiority based on ethnicity. But ask a Black person in America what racism is, and chances are, they will add the one word that the Google dictionary left out, that really gets at the heart of the matter.
That one word is: "system."
As in The System: a system of exploitation, repression and exclusion that permeates not only the laws and customs, but more importantly, the physical structures of society. A system woven so intimately into a society that it is usually invisible to its beneficiaries, while crushing its targets without mercy from cradle to grave.
But systems, unlike feelings, are a matter of design.
Let's design cities that end racism systematically from the start, so we can really begin to heal the planet.
▲ INTRO [music]
Cities designed like modern Edens for economic and ecological abundance. Because the problems we face transcend politics; they are fundamentally about design. I'm Kev Polk your guide to Edenicity.
Welcome to Episode 27, where I'll discuss how Edenicity will thrive by dismantling racism and undoing its harms.
▲ What The System looks like
Let's talk about the system of racism. This is obviously a vast, complex topic, so I'll only be able to focus on just a few examples. After all, I'm just a white guy with some unusual experiences, so there are bound to be plenty of blind spots in my thinking.
For example, like many white people, I didn't even know about redlining until this year, even though it may be the most destructive economic factor in the lives of urban Black families to this day.
Redlining is a good example of The System I just mentioned: the hidden pervasive destructive structure of racism.
Redlining comes from the color coded maps of lending risk in urban areas that were drawn by Depression era government agencies. Areas in red were deemed too risky to insure mortgages. Why? Because those were the areas where Black people lived. This presumed risk was not based on any hard data, just prejudice.
After World War II, redlining gave builders such as William Levitt, the green light to designate their suburban developments "for the white race only." In fact, Green Acres in Bloomington, Indiana, where I lived for a few years, was also designated "for the white race only" in its original plats.
The theory was that an influx of Black families would ruin the rise in home values that was a major selling point for those communities. In reality, the opposite was true. Black families often paid more to get into a good neighborhood, which moved home prices and hence home values upward. But, according to NPR, the FHA, the Federal Housing Administration was so adamant about redlining that during World War II, it required a Detroit developer to build a six foot wall between a new development and a nearby African American neighborhood.
I mean, think about that for a moment. This is an almost nauseating level of animosity built into the very physical structure of a city!
The Fair Housing Act made redlining illegal in 1968. But 33 years of redlining had already locked many Black families out of home ownership, the primary ticket to wealth for most American families. As a result, according to the Federal Reserve, the median wealth of Black families is five times lower today than the national median: $20,000 versus $100,000.
Redlining also artificially depressed home values in Black neighborhoods, which cut the tax base for public services such as school systems and health care. Long after redlining became illegal, police departments continue to intensify law enforcement in redlined areas. According to the NAACP, discriminatory policing and sentencing has led to African Americans being incarcerated at more than five times the rate of whites. And there's nothing worse than a conviction to keep a person out of the housing and job market in the United States.
In addition, companies still target redlined neighborhoods for polluting industries or nuisance businesses such as liquor stores, and online retailers continue to charge higher prices in redlined neighborhoods. In fact, in 2012, The Wall Street Journal caught Home Depot and Staples, doing just that.
The system of racism goes well beyond redlining. And of course, it's not just about Black and white. Detailed anti racism policy, will need to consider many factors and a wide range of stakeholders.
That said, Edenicity represents a unique design opportunity to systematically dismantle racism with unprecedented thoroughness. Unlike other plans, this one is specific, comprehensive, and self-funding.
Let's see how it works.
▲ How to heal racism: 3 ways
In my limited experience, I've only become aware of three basic ways to heal racism.
The first is by acknowledgement of racism and a commitment to reversing the harms. Now, acknowledgement and committing to reverse harms sounds an awful lot like an apology. And in fact, that's just what it is. For example, I've seen documentaries where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have expressed how much it means to them. Australia now observes national Sorry Day on May 26 every year as a way of trying to repair the past harms to their people. And if we get serious about ending racism, this needs to be built into multiple institutions in every city in America, especially Edenicity.
The second way that I'm aware of to end racism is to bring people of different races together to work toward common goals. In his 1968 book, Where Do We Go From Here, Chaos or Community? Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. observed that, "the ability to work together to understand each other will not be found ready made. It must be created by the fact of contact." In other words, getting people working together is among the most powerful ways to bridge the racial divide.
The third way to heal racism that I'm aware of is to establish Equity, which means equal access to resources and repairing persistent harms.
▲ Levittown vs. Concord Park
So let's talk about equity. When I think of equity in housing, what comes to mind is curbed.com's Nice Try: Utopian podcast about Levittown and Concord Park.
Now Levittown was one of those suburban communities post World War II that was deliberately segregated. Concord Park was deliberately integrated as a response to it, and what was really touching in that episode were testimonials by residents of Concord Park, who talked about how living there was like being in a bubble of no racism. And when they left that bubble, that's when they really experienced a feeling of racism that they were so shielded from in Concord Park.
▲ Equity by design
Edenicity by its very design expands on the lessons of Concord park in many dimensions. First of all, it's a mixed income development. There are no gated communities.
It has free universal health care, as I discussed in Episode Four, which instantly remedies the lack of access to good health care by redlined, or formerly redlined communities.
It has a farm to cafe food system that builds social capital across racial divides. As I discussed in Episode 11, the physical design involves joined up housing or apartments with rooftop gardens, ground floor cafes, and many local jobs and businesses. I believe that this would build a culture of diverse people living and working with a common sense of purpose, which is one of the three main antidotes for racism.
As I detailed in episodes 1 and 12, Edenicity has free transportation, and this is a big deal practically everywhere in America, where police departments pull people over for Driving while Black. And the end result is that 13% of Black American adults don't have a driver's license, versus 5% of whites. So again, Edenicity would give everybody equal access to much better transportation than anyone enjoys now.
Edenicity also would have free universal education. This would be modeled after Finland's school systems as I described in Episode 22. As in Finland, all schools would be equal, providing true equal opportunity in education. And teaching would be a much better paid, higher status and much more competitive profession with higher educational requirements then we're accustomed to in the States.
Edenicity would have free universal basic income as I discussed in Episode 25. This would allow everyone to take financial risks throughout their lives—not just those with big inheritance.
And finally, as I discussed in Episode 26, Edenicity would focus on restorative justice, resulting in at least a 90% overall reduction in incarceration. This would liberate resources for a much better trained police force. Instead of several weeks of training in an academy like we have in the States, training would be much more like in Norway, where you have a year of coursework, a year of internship, plus another year of coursework before you start your job as a police officer.
So from healthcare to transportation to education to justice, you can see that the basic design of Edenicity addresses the first half of equity, which is to say, providing equal access to top quality basic services for everyone.
Now, let's address the second half of equity, which is reparations for persistent harms.
Now there have been various estimates for the uncompensated wages for slavery and these have ranged into the many trillions of dollars. In a study reported by the New York Times, the original post Civil War reconstruction promise of 40 acres and a mule reparations to former slaves valued today would come to $2.6 trillion. Now, if you divide that by 30 million descendants of ex slaves, that would amount to $80,000 per person.
There's also the cost of genocide to Native Americans. And this is somewhat beyond the scope of what I'm talking about today, but absolutely fair game in the design of Edenicity. My hunch is that the easiest way to recognize the pre existing ownership stake of First Nations is to bring them in as Equity Partners in the venture.
And finally, we can address the cost of redlining. Now Human Rights Watch has published a document which focuses on restoring economic and social rights. That's my starting point for what can be done with Edenicity.
▲ Housing credit
The basic concept here is to make reparations for families hurt by redlining. I would propose that we do this with a direct housing credit pegged to the median price of housing in Edenicity. This is NOT low income housing.
The value of this credit for a typical family would be $220,000. Multiply that by 17 million Black families and it comes to $3.9 trillion, which is already slightly more than anything that we've been talking about. But when you consider that Social Security and other safety nets were originally conceived to exclude people of color, I think it's fair to add the value of universal basic income to what we count in our total reparations package. Now, to vest in a universal basic income, would cost about $490,000 per family.
So when you add housing and universal basic income together, you get $710,000 per family or $12.5 trillion for the total package. This is by far the most ambitious reparations proposal that has ever been made.
Now in practice, it would be more complicated because it would probably prorate according to the case by case damages done by redlining and also include other people of color who have been hurt by redlining as well. But the exciting thing to me is that this gigantic reparations proposal would have only a modest impact on construction margins, meaning that you can still sustain a business case in the private sector for making total reparations for redlining.
Now my business numbers are proprietary, but I will say that when we consider the realities of inequality and mixed income development, which I'll discuss in Episode 34, the numbers hold up really well for the developer, even with total reparations for redlining.
Now of course, it's likely that a more involved political process will have to set the different housing credits for different circumstances. And in order to build the right housing mix, this needs to be decided pretty early on in the development of Edenicity.
But it's a thrilling opportunity. And it's more than that.
▲ Economic benefits
Dismantling racism systematically also provides enormous economic benefits and ecological benefits. Let's start with the economic benefits. In Episode 25, I talked about how the way anyone succeeds in our lottery economy is by being able to take risks multiple times in their lifetime, and how families without significant wealth simply do not have the cash reserves to take those risks. As a result, we've missed out on countless talents as vast as JK Rowling and Steve Jobs and Elon Musk and other people who could have really made a difference in our world. And what Edenicity does through its design, and through the housing reparations, is instantly increase the number of people who can take risks in society by 14% or more.
Diversity is profitable. We need people to think different, as the Apple Computer ad campaign used to encourage us to do. And after lifetimes of not being able to conform, these new economic players will think differently.
I have personal experience with this in two ways.
First, when I attended Princeton University in New Jersey, suddenly I looked like the majority of people for the first time in my life. So for the first time, I was expected to act like everybody else. But culturally, I was nearly as different as my third or fourth generation Asian American classmates from Hawaii. Because I didn't even know how to conform, independent thinking was like breathing for me.
Second, much later, while working for the Planetary Society, I met the brightest minds I have ever encountered. This was in South Central Los Angeles in 1999, seven years after the Rodney King riots. I drove through miles of graffiti, shattered pavement, stripped and burned cars up on blocks, houses with bars in the windows, and pitbulls in yards fenced with razor wire.
I pulled up to a Boys and Girls Club that was like an oasis. Inside I met a couple dozen Black and Hispanic middle schoolers and spent a few afternoons with them building Lego Mindstorms robots and talking about an upcoming Mars probe.
The questions they asked were by far the best I've encountered in many years of public outreach to schools from kindergarten through grad school. The performance of the robots was literally off the charts. This one girl helped a boy whose robot was not working the way he wanted by tearing it down and basically rebuilding it with a design that didn't resemble his or hers, but worked within a couple of minutes.
I mean, I've never seen such engineering and science skill in anyone so young in my life. These are the minds I'm talking about that the systems of racism have wasted for centuries.
When we deal millions of people who by birth cannot be conformists into the economy, we vastly expand what's possible in the realm of innovation, and we will all live richer as a result.
▲ Environmental benefits
Now let's look at the ecological benefits of dismantling racism in Edenicity. People of color are more environmentally aware, because redlining has disproportionately brought more environmental problems into their communities. Marine biologist Ayana Elizabeth Johnson makes the point that 57% of Black Americans are concerned about climate, versus 49% of white Americans. But according to her, "We are spread too thin. How can we expect Black Americans to focus on climate when we are so at risk? We can't expect people to do it all. We need all hands on deck at this moment."
So ending racism is critical to successfully solving the problem that Edenicity was designed to solve in the first place. That is to say, as much as possible, healing the world of all of the past harms that we have caused to the environment.
▲ Close [music]
Racism is an institutional tool that has been wielded by businesses and politicians for centuries to divide and conquer their workers and their rivals. There's a lot of short term money to be made dividing interest groups by race, or income or social status, or urban versus rural. That's why the overarching strategy of Edenicity is to integrate housing with gardens, city with country, and the incredible diversity of human existence for the benefit of each other, and the planet.
Bringing all these things and people together with the economic power to thrive and the ecological efficiency to survive is what will make Edenicity that beautiful place that heals the world.
Imagine living in that place, and getting to know your neighbors and benefiting from their diversity in a place free of fear. That's what Edenicity is all about.
If you enjoyed Episode 27 please be sure to subscribe so you don't miss a show. And don't keep it a secret: please let your friends know about Edenicity. Be sure to join me next time when I'll discuss how Edenicity addresses the divide between city and country life.
I'm Kev Polk and this has been Edenicity.