Andrea Batista Schlesinger gives master talk at IDA 2019

At the October 2019 International Downtown Association Annual Conference, HR&A Partner Andrea Batista Schlesinger gave a master talk on the contradictions and repercussions of “proud urbanism”, the central theme of the fall summit. Speaking in Baltimore, MD in front of practitioners from downtown organizations, city agencies, municipalities, and private-sector professionals, Andrea, who leads the firm’s Inclusive Cities practice, began with the premise that economic development is not a neutral act and addressed how planning and economic development tools have been actively deployed to create and reinforce racial divides.
“It’s easy to talk about in the context of redlining,” said Andrea, who understands a praxis of inclusive and equitable growth as a former leader in government, think tanks, philanthropy, and political campaigns. “It’s less easy to see in the naming of a community as blighted as a means of evicting undesirables to make way for those who are more desirable. It’s less easy to see in the building of a park downtown that makes clear this isn’t for us in its design, in how it’s policing, in the photographs of it on our websites of who’s enjoying it.”
Equitable economic development is about the questions we ask to understand the impact of our work, posited Andrea, and probing the ways planners and placemakers inherit a legacy of American urban racism as well as the class privilege to shape the places and systems in which we live and operate. (She lays out a three-question exercise to think outside the boundaries of a project in minute 9:50).
Rather than relying on traditional policies that position redistribution at the fulcrum of equitable economic development, Andrea implored planners to consider cooperative investment models and new, unexpected partnerships in black and brown communities. A more effective way to address gentrification, displacement, and other longstanding racial divides would be “[a model] that re-imagines the central function of the development and management of a place as a means of tackling inequity,” she clarified.
Check out her master talk on the fallacy of the downtown growth strategy and the importance of redefining the meaning of success to create better policy agendas that think beyond what they build.

Learn more about Inclusive Cities
Learn more about Andrea Batista Schlesinger
Check out HR&A’s Equitable Economic Development and Mobility Strategy for Grand Rapids