Welcoming Nike Irvin to HR&A Advisors’ Board of Directors

HR&A Los Angeles was excited to welcome Nike Irvin to our Board of Directors earlier this month with a rooftop happy hour at our downtown office. Thank you to clients, collaborators, and friends who were able to join us to celebrate Nike’s appointment!


Looking to the future

Working with some of the most innovative clients and collaborators in the world, HR&A is focused on building solutions that address the complex, interconnected challenges facing urban communities. The unifying theme across this work is our passion for building more resilient, equitable cities for the people who live in them — a passion Nike shares.


This is a critical time for cities. Our clients are coming to us to help them leverage once-in-a-generation federal funding, integrate emerging technologies, and build tools to chart new paths forward. We look forward to Nike’s leadership and contributions to further expand HR&A’s critical work with clients and communities in over 180 cities, six countries, and three continents.


Nike Irvin Joins HR&A’s Board of Directors

“As a believer in cities as the engines to our equitable and prosperous futures, I’m thrilled to join the Board of HR&A Advisors. HR&A is at an important inflection point, and I look forward to helping the company advance an even more brilliant future.”   


HR&A Advisors is pleased to announce Nike Irvin’s appointment to HR&A’s Board of Directors.


More about Nike

A lifelong Angeleno with a deep love for her hometown, Nike is a highly regarded leader in policy, politics, and philanthropy in Los Angeles and across the country. A member of Mayor Karen Bass’ transition team, she also serves on many local and national Boards. Nike’s insights, accomplishments, credibility, and experience will be invaluable to helping shape HR&A’s future as the company continues to grow and advance our mission and impact.


Nike leads the Civil Society Fellowship, which engages next-gen leaders to build civil discourse across ideological differences through text-based, moderated seminars in Aspen, Amsterdam, the Middle East, and the American South. A member of the Aspen Global Leadership Network (AGLN), this new Fellowship is a partnership of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and AGLN.


Nike previously led the California Community Foundation’s (CCF) grantmaking for six years, overseeing grants to arts, education, juvenile justice, and health. Before this work with CCF, Nike served as president of the Riordan Foundation for seven years. She is active in American Truth and Reconciliation efforts with AGLN and in Los Angeles. Prior to her nonprofit career, she was a Brand Manager for Nestlé and Pepsi Cola. She is a trustee for The Durfee Foundation, the John Randolph Haynes & Dora Haynes Foundation, the Nonprofit Finance Fund, and the Broad Center at Yale School of Management.


Nike received a Bachelor of Art in Economics & Political Science from Yale and was named one of the “100 Most Inspirational Alumni” by UCLA Anderson School, where she earned her MBA. Nike is a Marshall Memorial Fellow and a member of the 2004 Class of Henry Crown Fellows within the AGLN at the Aspen Institute.


Looking to the future

Working with some of the most innovative clients and collaborators in the world, HR&A is focused on building solutions that address the complex, interconnected challenges facing urban communities. The unifying theme across this work is our passion for building more resilient, equitable cities for the people who live in them — a passion Nike shares.


This is a critical time for cities. Our clients are coming to us to help them leverage once-in-a-generation federal funding, integrate emerging technologies, and build tools to chart new paths forward. We look forward to Nike’s leadership and contributions to further expand HR&A’s critical work with clients and communities in over 180 cities, six countries, and three continents.

Time to Create a Fast Lane for Zero Emissions Vehicles 

This opinion piece by Eric Rothman, Ignacio Montojo, Hayley Prim was originally published in the Gotham Gazette.


In late January, Mayor Adams announced a bold and exciting goal to require New York City’s for-hire vehicle fleet to reach zero emissions by 2030. This was a welcome step forward, considering the goal is shared by major for-hire platforms, including Uber, as well as the City Department of Transportation, who recognize the climate crisis is an existential threat to our city and our planet. 


While these shared goals are a North Star, getting there is another matter. It will require coordination across the public and private sectors to make the changes necessary to reach zero-emissions. 


Uber has already committed $800 million in resources globally to help support drivers’ transition to electric, covering an array of EV and charging discounts and incentives around the world to make the switch. Last year, Uber hired HR&A Advisors to help them assess what strategies and policies need to be implemented in order to help spur such a transition in New York City, and whether the City’s current plans for charging infrastructure could support a full adoption of Electric Vehicles (EVs) in New York. The resulting report found that critical gaps in New York City’s infrastructure will pose significant challenges to achieving this transition in the next seven years. 


While there are currently critical gaps in the infrastructure needed to achieve these goals, by taking direct and clear action now, we believe the City, utilities, EV charging companies, and mission-driven landowners can work together to accelerate the path to a 100% zero-emissions future. 


Supercharging NYC’s EV Infrastructure 

Despite rapid growth in EV sales, today, New York City is currently lagging far behind other U.S. cities in adoption among for-hire drivers. EVs represent fewer than 1% of for-hire vehicles on city streets, compared to 9% in San Francisco and 11% in San Diego.  


To transition to EVs, many ride-hailing drivers need access to overnight and off-shift charging at or near their homes. Given their high daily mileage, for-hire drivers also need convenient, low-cost, and fast public chargers in areas where they make most of their trips. 


New York City has only 2,000 public chargers, of which only 200 are the direct current fast chargers that drivers can depend on throughout their day. The trend in the ratio of new public chargers to new registered EVs also poses challenges. 


The highest concentrations of public chargers are in high-cost business and residential districts in Manhattan, Downtown Brooklyn, and Long Island City and are often behind a paywall in for-profit parking garages. Those chargers are convenient for commuters or high-income residents, but not for the for-hire drivers who drive more miles than residents do and disproportionately live in neighborhoods throughout Queens, Southern Brooklyn, and parts of the Bronx, where there is currently minimal access to charging — let alone high-speed charging. 


Strategies to Electrify New York 

If the City and its public and private stakeholders, including rideshare platforms like Uber, work together, we can meet the moment. This is an ideal time to be engaging in this work, and leveraging unprecedented federal legislation, including the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act, to support EV infrastructure and help drivers purchase new and used EVs. The work has already begun with the City’s Department of Transportation “Electrifying New York” plan, which includes a goal of 40,000 low-cost chargers and 6,000 fast chargers by 2030, through a combination of public and private investment, and the recent electrification recommendations of the Taxi and Limousine Commission in their “Charged Up” report. 


Our report recommends 10 strategies that will support enhanced access and affordability to EV charging infrastructure, build the processes and systems to support for-hire driver needs, and help achieve the 2030 zero-emissions goal: 


  1. Identify high-need neighborhoods that overlap with where for-hire drivers live to prioritize where to place low cost and fast chargers.
  2. Work with utilities to identify high-volume pick-up and drop-off areas in which the grid currently has capacity to support new fast chargers.
  3. Develop a comprehensive EV infrastructure deployment plan to strengthen coordination with utilities, optimizing the City’s ability to achieve its emission reduction and environmental equity goals, and electrify the for-hire vehicle fleet. 
  4. Aggressively pursue new federal funding opportunities to direct investment to target neighborhoods.​ 
  5. Streamline the permit process for EV charging as part of the City’s ongoing efforts to improve land-use processes. 
  6. Leverage real estate assets owned/managed by public or faith-based entities to provide land for accessible, affordable chargers in targeted neighborhoods and near high-volume trip areas. 
  7. Explore land use incentives for private developers to integrate public chargers with no gate/parking fees into new developments. 
  8. Continue targeted outreach and engagement specific to the for-hire vehicle industry. 
  9. Support EV charging operators in communicating electricity prices and charger availability with drivers, as well as in developing driver-centric incentives to reduce charging during peak load times.   
  10. Further develop a new pricing structure for the cost of power for charging operators that makes charging more affordable. 


Working Towards 2030 Zero-Emissions 

There is unprecedented momentum and alignment among the various players in the mobility and for-hire vehicle industry in New York City. For government, regulators, public utilities, Uber, Lyft, and the taxi industry, the zero-emissions target for 2030 is a North Star. Meeting this goal will require coordination among all parties and achieving success means creating an accessible, affordable, and ubiquitous ecosystem of charging solutions. The time to act is now. 


Hayley Prim is a Senior Policy Manager at Uber based in New York City. Uber’s mission is to create opportunity through movement. We started in 2010 to solve a simple problem: how do you get access to a ride at the touch of a button? More than 36 billion trips later, we’re building products to get people closer to where they want to be. By changing how people, food, and things move through cities, Uber is a platform that opens up the world to new possibilities. 


Eric Rothman is CEO of HR&A, and a former official at Transport for London and Ignacio Montojo is a Principal in HR&A’s Infrastructure Practice based in New York. HR&A Advisors, Inc. (HR&A) is an employee-owned company advising visionary clients on how to increase opportunity and advance quality of life in cities. Their work focuses on creating vital places, building more equitable and resilient communities, and improving people’s lives. 



2022 HR&A Anti-Racism, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (ADEI) Progress Report

In 2022, HR&A updated and refined our commitment to anti-racism, diversity, equity, and inclusion (ADEI). We focused on accelerating our progress from past years and working to further embed ADEI into the fabric of our culture and processes.


This is an ongoing journey. We are continuously learning, unlearning, and implementing new initiatives, including:


Launching a BIPOC Sponsorship Program that provides dedicated professional development support and resources to BIPOC employees. With the goal of improving wellness, retention, and pipeline towards career advancement, each participating employee has been paired with a senior leader to receive direct sponsorship, which includes monthly meetings and participation in professional networking events.


Developing an internal ADEI resource hub, which serves as a one-stop-shop for HR&A staff. The Hub contains resources for individual learning and tools for embedding ADEI best practices into our work with clients. We also use the Hub to monitor our progress against internal commitments.


Reorganizing our internal structure into “Studios.” As part of the firm’s ongoing commitment to excellent employee experience and positive retention outcomes, we developed “Studio” communities that provide multiple layers of support — especially for junior and BIPOC staff. All employees have an assigned mentor and dedicated manager who help them navigate projects and professional development opportunities. Additional support, including a peer with longer tenure, an experienced project manager, and a Partner, is also available. At the end of 2022, our retention rate significantly increased, and our employee experience surveys reflect higher levels of satisfaction, with 85% indicating they would recommend employment at HR&A to a friend compared to 51% in 2019.


Redesigning recruitment to remove bias and reflect the diversity of the communities we serve. Our hiring process is designed to minimize bias. This includes asking all job applicants to remove the name of their educational institution(s) from their resume. Instead, we ask candidates to define their most significant academic and/or professional accomplishments based on their unique lived experiences. Our Recruiting team continues to engage candidates across diverse campuses and professional networks. We are proud that as of December 2022 our employee-owned firm is more diverse than ever, with 47% of employees identifying as BIPOC, up from 36% in December 2020.


Creating new Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) to affirm and celebrate the full breadth of employee’ identities. We do this by building community among members, sharing successes, identifying common issues, promoting ideas for impact, and deepening cultural dialogue across the firm. This year, the Accessibility and Foreign-Born ERGs were launched, joining five existing groups — the Black, Asian American and Pacific Islander, Latino/a Comunidad, Women’s, and Queer ERGs.


Continuing to empower employees who serve on the Anti-Racism Core Team to design and implement firmwide initiatives. This group is composed of employees across identities, roles, and office locations, who meet regularly to discuss and advance initiatives in collaboration with senior leaders.


We remain humble, curious, and dedicated in this work. We are committed to the ongoing review, reflection, and refinement of our efforts and impact.


Click here for more information about our ADEI commitment.

Listening to New Yorkers about their government

This opinion piece by Sheena Wright, Shango Blake and José Serrano-McClain was originally published in the Daily News.


Bold investments to strengthen New York City’s civic infrastructure are key to a more equitable future and to meet the scale of the challenges we face as a city.


We know that historically the design and execution of city policies and programs are less equitable and generally less effective when decisions are made in isolation from the community.


We know that New Yorkers aren’t afraid to speak up and tell the government what they think, but government too often doesn’t know how to listen. Even when it does, government doesn’t have the infrastructure to effectively act upon community input.


Luckily, almost every New York City agency engages New Yorkers in one way or another.


But, community engagement is not coordinated among the 50-plus city agencies. On top of that, engagement teams are often understaffed and under-resourced, and efforts to engage New Yorkers have historically been more reactive and designed in ways that exclude working New Yorkers, parents, immigrants and disabled New Yorkers. All of this leads to duplicate, overlapping and contradictory engagement efforts that further distance New Yorkers from their government — sending the message that their input is not valued.


Our civic infrastructure — the practices, processes, supports and data that ensure that New Yorkers can easily and effectively collaborate with government — needs a refresh. We must bring rigor to community engagement — set a standard of excellence to which we hold agencies accountable. And we must provide the resources and tools agencies need and want to support and expand their efforts to engage community residents, partners, clients, participants, and neighbors.


Crucially, the city must have a way to coordinate these efforts, so that they add up to greater than the sum of their parts.


The Adams administration is pioneering new, exciting ways to deepen democracy by expanding meaningful opportunities for direct participation in government.


Starting on Day One, the Adams administration invited the partnership of NYC Speaks, a collaborative effort of City Hall, philanthropic partners, and a vast network of community leaders and civic institutions to learn from tens of thousands of New Yorkers from all walks of life about their priorities, their problems, and their solutions in order to shape the priorities of the incoming administration.


Over the last year, NYC Speaks collected more than 3 million data points from New Yorkers representing every residential zip code through the largest public policy survey in New York City history, convened nearly 5,000 residents as part of more than 220 community events, and collected moonshot policy ideas from nearly 450 city staff.


The community-generated data showed that New Yorkers are aligned around housing-first solutions, mental health investments in our public schools, climate-resilient neighborhoods and community spaces, jobs in the green economy, and participatory policymaking.


The rigor of this data served as a center of gravity for bringing senior government officials to help solve the problems New Yorkers said they cared about most. Through a series of workshops, senior government leaders, non-profit service providers, activists, academics, and philanthropists together developed policies that were both responsive and actionable.


The culmination of the survey data and Community Conversations, and coordination between civic institutions and mayor’s administration, five “North Stars” emerged:

    • North Star #1: Formerly incarcerated New Yorkers will have the support and resources they need to succeed when they return home.
    • North Star #2: NYC public school students will have access to culturally competent mental health resources.
    • North Star #3: Historically disinvested neighborhoods will be prioritized for capital investments in community and recreation spaces that support social, economic, and climate resilience.
    • North Star #4: Young New Yorkers and residents in Environmental Justice communities will have access to green career pathways created by city-led decarbonization and resilience efforts.
    • North Star #5: NYC government will be transformed into a national model of collaborative, inclusive, and accountable governance that strengthens democracy, expands civic engagement, and enhances civic trust.


    Last week, NYC Speaks unveiled its first annual Action Plan that includes a set of tangible policy commitments that will serve as the basis upon which the administration, private philanthropy, and civil society will continue to build over the coming year.


    NYC Speaks demonstrates that despite the fragmented nature of civic discourse, there are methodical ways to find common ground, and that our government can act in ways that are bold and strategic when provided with a quantified mandate.


    NYC Speaks is just scratching the surface of what must be done to strengthen our city’s civic infrastructure if we are to develop solutions commensurate with the scale of the challenges we face.

  • Wright is deputy mayor for strategic initiatives. Blake and Serrano-McClain are the co-executive directors of NYC Speaks.

Smart Cities New York Urban Tech Summit 2022 Key Takeaways

Giacomo Bagarella shares insights from the 2022 Smart Cities New York Urban Tech Summit. This piece was also featured in The Envoy.


Urban technology comes in many shapes and sizes, and they influence the lives of city-dwellers in myriad ways. Take, for example, your commute home from work: You can call a ride with an app on your phone, step into an electric vehicle when it arrives, and then use another app to turn on the heat in your apartment so it’s comfortable when you arrive. These technologies have various financing mechanisms, lifespans, energy needs, and interdependencies. Together, they make up a slice of everything that’s required to keep a city operating and our lives moving, and to do so with fewer carbon emissions.


The 2022 Smart Cities New York Urban Tech Summit focused on this topic with two packed days revolving around “The Climate Mobilization: Harnessing NYC’s Urban Tech Ecosystem.” Hosted and organized by Cornell Tech, the conference offered a convenient (and transit-accessible) way to reconnect in person with this community after several years of remote-only events.


Here are some themes that stood out:


The green transition will depend on new financial and financing models. Supporting the coming generations of technologies and infrastructure requires making investments affordable and desirable across potential users — from households to businesses to governments. This will involve a combination of up-front and life-cycle incentives, payment plans, new ways to generate revenue streams, insurance that appropriately allocates risk, and structures that protect early adopters of rapidly evolving technologies. While recent federal legislation provides some of this, the green transition will need many more solutions and capital to occur at the required pace. Regional, state, and local entities — like green banks and even other forms of public banks — could become key players in this space.


Energy storage is a land use challenge. Storage will be an increasingly in-demand use outdoors (on open lots), indoors (within existing buildings), and in garages (for vehicle-to-grid solutions). Cities need to resolve big questions around site selection and zoning, the type of leases that’ll be needed for this kind of long-term infrastructure, negotiating community perspectives and impacts, and more. Storage may also offer a solution to underutilized or lower-quality office space and real estate.


Building decarbonization will require integration to scale. The design and construction industries are not vertically integrated, are fragmented among urban markets, and build buildings that are effectively bespoke. To achieve widespread decarbonization, there will need to be much greater integration across all of these dimensions to scale solutions and reduce costs for both new construction and rehab.


A growing number of organizations are entering this space. There was very strong representation by venture capital firms like Perl Street, Third Sphere, and Blackhorn Ventures, some of which focus exclusively on green transition technologies, and a plethora of startups like Enerdrape, Just Air, Hydronomy, and Ninedot Energy. While Cornell Tech itself is now 10 years old, the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture + Urban Planning had several staff attend and talk about a new urban tech degree it is launching, demonstrating an appetite for this field by universities and students. Philanthropic intermediaries like CIV:LAB, a co-sponsor of the conference, joined to present about their impact models. Lastly, there was intriguing representation from consulates and trade missions. Representatives from Canada, Sweden, Finland, Switzerland, and London attended. Canada and Switzerland have New York City-based accelerator programs, and Sweden has a Sweden-U.S. Green Transition Initiative that will heavily intersect with the tech world.


Despite the many panels, workshops, and substantive conversations that took place, the summit could have explored two areas more critically.


There was limited coverage of workforce challenges and opportunities. Despite a dedicated panel, the event seemed to only scratch the surface of this issue and could have done a stronger job providing a more comprehensive view of this area and more humanizing insights on user journeys and personal stories that demonstrate effective approaches. Perhaps this emerged more strongly in breakout rooms, but speakers could have focused on this more to explain where we are today, where we need to be in the future, and pathways from the former to the latter.


Panelists discussed many important challenges without questioning their fundamentals and the need to change human behavior. A common theme throughout the conference was the need to manage the growing volume of deliveries and its impact on congestion, carbon emissions, waste, and more. However, speakers didn’t spend time digging into the root causes of this issue – how much and how inefficiently people order online — and focused instead its symptoms. Just as we have become comfortable questioning the need for car-centric planning and lifestyles, we should stop taking current modes of purchasing, delivery, and energy use — among others — as givens. Driving a car alone or ordering a single item online each have externalities that critically and environmentally-minded people should seek to address. Similarly, panelists discussed the aversion people could have to battery storage being built in city neighborhoods. We have come to accept some level of risk in our places and lives, like gas stations or large SUVs speeding around the city, and should have conversations around accepting some new risks, like batteries, to prevent bigger ones like climate change. Ultimately, human behavioral change will need to accompany technological change in a more sustainable, less carbon-intensive future, and we should be comfortable discussing this directly.


*          *          *


Throughout the event, it was refreshing not hear to hear terms like “crypto” or “blockchain” bandied about as theoretical “someday” solves for very pressing, real challenges. This indicated a focus on tangible solutions as opposed to hyped-up tech. In fact, participants often returned to the idea of trains as the most undervalued but perfectly tested urban technology.


A greener future requires better signals and interconnections. Whether it’s policymakers establishing clearer signals through incentives and disincentives, communities expressing their preferences, investors and consumers pursuing the right solutions, and different technologies integrating with each other, the flow of preferences, information, and resources will need to evolve to shape a new urban paradigm. The Urban Tech Summit is a good start in this direction.




HR&A at ULI 2022 Fall Meeting

HR&A is excited to engage with fellow urbanists and changemakers at the 2022 ULI Fall meeting. Below is a recap of where you can find us at this year’s event:


2022 ULI Americas Awards for Excellence

You’ll find Senior Advisor Marilynn Davis and Chair of the 2022 ULI Americas Awards for Excellence jury at many of the Fall meeting events and also presenting the 2022 ULI Americas Awards for Excellence. Marilynn recently shared insights about this year’s Award winners:

“Amidst the evolving pandemic and the social, economic, and environmental disarray that it has highlighted, I am inspired by the range of projects that were submitted for the jury’s consideration, that elevate our sense of community and extol the human spirit through the built environment. Whether designed for the public realm or for more focused audiences, and whether large or small, these endeavors employ the highest development and design principles to serve a range of objectives, be they urban revitalization, environmental stewardship, equity, or community-building.”


Speaking Events

October 25, 1 2pm CT | Principal Aaron Abelson will be moderating a Panel with representatives from the Trust for Public Land and Parks for Downtown Dallas on Green = Gold; Parks, Trails, and Open Space as a Catalyst for Generating Economic Value.


October 25, 1 2pm CT | Partner Mason Ailstock will be speaking as a panelist for a discussion on Innovation Districts in Midsized Cities with representatives from Ancora Partners and the City of Richmond.


October 25, 2:30 3:30pm CT | Partner Stan Wall will be speaking as a panelist for a discussion on Equitable Transit-Oriented Communities: Shaping Ecosystems of Equity, Health, and Affordability.


October 27, 10:30 – 11:30am CT | CEO Eric Rothman and Partner Amitabh Barthakur, AICP will lead a panel on Industry Insights and Trends Sessions: The Public/Private Partnership Council.


Connect with all of our HR&A attendees at the Fall meeting:

Aaron Abelson — Principal, Dallas

Mason Ailstock — Partner, Atlanta, University Development and Innovation Council

Amitabh Barthakur, AICP — Partner, Los Angeles, Public/Private Partnership Council (Blue Flight)

Joseph Cahoon — Senior Advisor, Dallas

Kate Collignon — Partner, San Francisco, Public Development and Infrastructure Council

Marilynn Davis — Senior Advisor, Atlanta, University Development and Innovation Council

Jeff Hebert — President, New York

Thomas Jansen — Principal, New York, Urban Revitalization Council (Blue)

Ignacio Montojo — Principal, New York

Ada Peng — Director, Los Angeles

Eric Rothman — CEO, New York, Public/Private Partnership Council (Gold Flight)

Alex Stokes — Principal, Chicago

Stan Wall — Partner, Washington DC, Transit Oriented Development Council

Martha Welborne — Senior Advisor, Los Angeles, Placemaking Council


Additional Updates About HR&A and ULI in 2022

ULI Prize for Visionaries

HR&A congratulates Jeanne Gang, founder of Studio Gang, for her recent ULI Prize for Visionaries. Partner and Board Chair Candace Damon served on the jury that selected Jeanne Gang. Randy Rowe, ULI Prize Jury Chair and chairman of Green Courte Partners in Chicago shared insights on the jury’s rationale for selecting Gang:

“Jeanne’s work is elevated further by her commitment to helping others envision a new future for design. Through research, publications, and exhibitions, she has educated urban designers and architects about how they can make meaningful change with their own projects. This could not be more in line with ULI’s mission, and it’s clear her efforts continue to have a lasting, positive impact on communities worldwide.”


Staff Spotlight: Taylor Kay talks Inglewood, economic development, and the lessons she shares with her students

Taylor Kay, a native Angeleno, joined HR&A in 2021 after serving in the Planning Division at the City of Inglewood. Prior to HR&A, she worked at Thomas Safran & Associates, a developer and operator of affordable and luxury mixed-use residential communities.


She supports a range of Inclusive Cities, Real Estate and Economic Development projects, participates in the Black Employee Resource Group, supports firm recruitment, and taught a Policy, Planning, and Development course at the University of Southern California (USC), where she also received dual master’s degrees in Urban Planning and Public Administration.


How has community development evolved in LA since the start of your career? 
With scarce resources and an ever-changing world, traditional systemic approaches to community development are being reconsidered in favor of more proactive and innovative approaches. It is no longer acceptable to adopt a plan for a neighborhood, structure a (real estate) deal within a neighborhood, or infuse capital into an area without being thoughtful and strategic about the people impacted by the project. It is a beautiful thing, in my opinion, that there is now a platform to talk about concepts that were once “swept under the rug,” such as barriers to opportunity, inequality, the concentration of poverty, and “social problem recidivism” (credit to Jeffrey Snell at University of Wisconsin-Madison for this last term).


What’s the best part about working across so many different neighborhoods at the same time? 
Every day at HR&A challenges me! Our work connects us with neighborhoods in a way that requires a level of intuition, humility, and creativity that I have not experienced before. Working across several communities, cities, and states simultaneously enables me to bridge the gap between the realities communities are facing and solutions that empower communities to thrive.


What story about your hometown of Inglewood should remain in the post-Superbowl headlines?
For Black and brown people, Inglewood has been a city of economic opportunity, a safe space, and hub of culture for decades. Events such as the Superbowl, the Olympics, etc. have re-instilled pride in community members in ways that the city has not seen since the Lakers and the Kings used to play at the Forum. These events also infuse much-needed capital into an economically disadvantaged area. The caveat to all of this, however, is that these major events put immense pressure on the community as visitors come to the city and see what a hidden gem it is. In the absence of an inclusive economic development strategy, Inglewood is vulnerable to the same level of gentrification and displacement that has been felt in neighborhoods such as Boyle Heights, Leimert Park/Baldwin Hills, West Adams, and other parts of Southern California in recent years.


Our team recently spent a day visiting community landmarks in Inglewood, including SoFi Stadium, Image courtesy of Taylor Kay


What is one lesson that you tell your students to remember about planning and public policy? 
We (developers, planners, policymakers, etc.) carry a unique and nuanced responsibility to the communities we inhabit, as both people with lived experience and practitioners in positions of power. Our ethics, values, and politics inform the decisions we make that influence outcomes for people and planet. Therefore, it is important to operate from a place of servant leadership and global citizenship no matter what aspect of the industry we decide to pursue.


What are a few of your favorite locally owned businesses?There are far too many, but here are a few!

How to win a $63 million federal grant as a first-time applicant

Written by Kate Wittels and Giacomo Bagarella


The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs and Inflation Reduction Acts present communities with once-in-a-generation opportunities to pursue federal funding. Historically, communities with more resources or experience navigating the complexities of the federal funding landscape have had greater success. Politics also plays a major role in decision-making. Both facts, along with a lack of equity-driven thinking in the design of these programs has reinforced long-standing inequities.


We have shared federal funding success stories from HR&A’s clients in previous features, but working with the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, a non-profit economic development organization active in southwestern Pennsylvania, was perhaps the single most exciting instance of disrupting this status quo. In early September, the Economic Development Administration (EDA) announced that the Allegheny Conference and southwestern Pennsylvania were one of only 21 Build Back Better Regional Challenge (BBBRC) awardees and one of only five that received over $60 million.


Our work supporting clients pursuing federal funding opportunities suggests the critical importance of having tools and processes to simplify the complexity. Even trying to identify programs for which you are eligible can deter organizations that haven’t engaged in the process before; our recently launched Infrastructure Funding Navigator helps with that particular challenge. In Allegheny Conference’s case, a dynamic impact model and a robust application management strategy were keys to success winning the federal funding game.


Although the Allegheny Conference had the support of the community and was well-positioned to lead the effort, it had never submitted a federal grant application before. It brought on HR&A to support the effort, because as Vera Krekanova, Chief Strategy & Research Officer put it, “HR&A had the tools, lived experience, and internal organization to understand how to navigate the federal funding process.”


At the conclusion of the effort, Allegheny Conference leaders, including the organization’s CEO Stefani Pashman, sat down with us to reflect on what drove success.


Identify the problem and envision a unifying solution that will have lasting impacts for all.


The 11-county southwestern Pennsylvania region is home to 2.7 million people, one in five Pennsylvanians. Like 12 other former coal and industrial communities that received BBBRC grants, southwestern Pennsylvania has struggled to recover from the decline of those industries. With major employment loss came significant population loss — particularly in rural counties.


To address these issues, Allegheny Conference developed a proposal to rebuild a knowledge-driven economy that will transform assets into a system to benefit everyone within the region. In the view of Conference leadership, this twin focus on systems and equity helped them secure one of the largest BBBRC grants and funding for all five of their proposed projects.


Within the region, energy, healthcare, and advanced manufacturing are recognized strengths. HR&A worked with the Allegheny Conference to identify a unifying economic driver that would build on these strengths, improve opportunities for a diversity of communities, and leverage world-class research and development at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and other local institutions. As a result of a robust community engagement process, Allegheny Conference leadership identified an opportunity to “supercharge the … globally recognized robotics and autonomy cluster and ensure that its economic benefits equitably reach rural and coal-impacted communities,” thereby improving the lives of nearly 15,000 workers.


Erect a big tent and invite your community in, building a vision together without diluting its impact.


The Allegheny Conference started by leveraging its existing connections to bring more than 90 public, private, philanthropic, labor, education, and economic development stakeholders together for regular conversations. The application’s focus on robotics and autonomous mobility emerged from these conversations.


We began with a discussion of how establishment of a unifying theme that could demonstrably benefit every coalition member would strengthen the application. In these early conversations, it became clear that everyone — from farmers to pharmacists — could benefit from the adoption of robotics. While funding for research and development was critical to make sure ideas emerging from educational partners turned into companies, it was equally important to ensure that regional businesses were ready to be customers of these robotic technologies and that the local workforce was able to use robotics and had the skills to help scale the robotic companies themselves. The overarching vision that emerged was of a focus on the entire supply chain rather than one aspect, which would have narrowed the impact to a single party, geographic community, or stakeholder type.



Create an application management plan.


We needed a system for efficient decision-making. HR&A recommended core principles for application management that the Allegheny Conference relied on throughout the process:


  1. Inform everyone
  2. Bring together local experts
  3. Be open to feedback
  4. Make sure you have people who call the shots
  5. Inform everyone again


Allegheny Conference and HR&A supported the stakeholder coalition, developing templates for members to develop BBBRC-compliant programs, which would later be synthesized and summarized in the application. Among the tools we developed for coalition members preparing these program descriptions was a cost-benefit model to evaluate relative impact if money were reduced or added to a specific project. Another tool developed for coalition members was a prompt to facilitate consideration of the rationale for each project and the role it would play in equitable, systemic change.


The Allegheny Conference also assigned tasks and responsibilities, pushing as much content drafting as possible to local experts, while retaining management of the overall process, narrative, and quality control.


With consistent communication and adherence to the application management plan, the Allegheny Conference built trust across the coalition. This proved critical when amendments to the proposal were required by EDA in the final stages of the award process.


Translate federal priorities and principles so they make sense to your local stakeholders. 


The Allegheny Conference recognized how important it was for the entire coalition — not just the applicant — to speak EDA’s language. EDA’s articulated priorities differed somewhat from past federal funding opportunities, requiring proposals that offered “transformational investments to develop and strengthen regional industry clusters…while embracing equitable economic growth, creating good-paying jobs, and enhancing U.S. global competitiveness.”


The Allegheny Conference and HR&A identified five projects that could transform the region’s robotics, automation, and manufacturing economy and aligned with EDA priorities, including closing “not just racial and ethnic, but also geographic” equity gaps, and then wove them together, both in the imaginations of project sponsors and in the application narrative, advancing a theory of change that relied on the five projects functioning as an integrated regional system. As Allegheny Conference CEO Stefani Pashman said, this win “will bring renewed vitality to our 11-county region and enhance opportunities for a wide band of people, businesses and places in ways we have not seen before. These projects are designed to open doors to anyone who wants to participate in the region’s thriving robotics cluster. This includes expanded opportunities for women and people of color, as well as provide geographic equity throughout the region.”


Presentation of the projects as an integrated system enabled both the coalition and EDA to see the importance of funding the entire package and the tradeoffs if one or more projects were not funded. EDA ultimately funded all five projects — distinguishing the submission from many others, where EDA funded only one or two. The Allegheny Conference proved that with the right tools and a well-considered framework for impact, even organizations that have never played before can win the federal funding game.


Images courtesy of Allegheny Conference.