The Urbanist Musings of Pete Saunders

Black Urbanists, Part 5: Nonprofits

Emmanuel Pratt of the Sweet Water Foundation in Chicago.  Source:

(Note: You know what?  Sometimes life intervenes.  It’s been two months since the last entry in my Black Urbanist series.  I’ve written a handful of other posts since, but holidays and family and work demands all conspired to keep me away from writing.  There’s still much more to come in this series, with more names of prominent black urbanists by specialization, with some helpful analysis.  In the process, I’ll highlight the features that lead me toward the insight that there is a distinct “black urbanism” practice, and why it matters for our cities.  Now it’s time to get back on track.  -Pete)

Links in the series:

Recognizing Black Urbanists
Black Urbanists, Part 1: Academia
Black Urbanists, Part 2: Community Activists
Black Urbanists, Part 3: Local Government Management

Black Urbanists, Part 4: Media
Next up in the Black Urbanists series are those who work in nonprofits to address the challenges of cities.  You’ll note that there is some responsibility overlap between the nonprofit people listed below and the work of community activists featured in part 2 of this series.  I’ve tried to draw the activist/nonprofit urbanist distinction between those who advocate individually (community activists) and those who join or create a nonprofit group through which advocacy occurs.  It’s not perfect, but it serves the purpose.  
You’ll also note that the nonprofit practitioners here run the gamut in terms of their work — economic development, housing, real estate, transportation, environmental affairs, the arts, and more.  What unites them is being a part of mission-driven work, and using the nonprofit realm to make things happen.  Here they are:

Anthony Askew.  Askew is the small business program manager for the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, and in charge of its Motor City Match program.  The program sounds deceptively simple, but is vitally critical — it matches building owners seeking to fill vacant business space with startups and other small businesses looking to start or expand in Detroit.  This is an important activity in a city like Detroit, where decades of large-scale manufacturing dampened entrepreneurship activity.  To date, Askew and Motor City Match has assisted nearly 800 businesses and filled more than 300 business spaces, serving as a catalyst for Detroit’s small business community.

Angela Glover Blackwell.  As the founder and CEO of PolicyLink, the organization that seeks to make equity a fundamental goal of public policy, Blackwell has been at the center of using public policy to improve access and opportunity for low-income people since 1999.  PolicyLink produces and sponsors research on equity issues, and provides assistance to grassroots organizations to strengthen their fights against gentrification, fair and affordable housing, equitable health and transportation, and other issues.  Blackwell does this from her base in Oakland, CA.

Tamika Butler.  Butler is currently the executive director of the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust, a “non-profit organization that addresses social and racial equity, and wellness, by building parks and gardens in park-poor communities across greater Los Angeles.”  Prior to accepting that role in July 2017, she was the executive director for the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, leading that region’s bike advocacy, education and outreach programs.  In both positions, her strength has been in broadening the spectrum of people involved in the life of the Los Angeles region.

Christopher Coes.  Coes is the Vice President of Real Estate Policy and External Affairs  at Smart Growth America, a Washington, DC-based advocacy organization that supports the implementation of policies that build stronger neighborhoods. Coes oversees the real estate component of SGA’s work; under his leadership, he oversees SGA’s real estate programs including LOCUS: Responsible Real Estate Developers and Investors and TOD Finance and Advisors, Inc., a for-profit subsidiary of SGA.  Coes has also advised cities on community revitalization and sustainable and equitable economic development, including serving as an advisor to USDOT’s LadderSTEP Pilot Cities (Atlanta and Baton Rouge). In addition, he has facilitated numerous deal-making opportunities that have produced over $1 billion in new smart growth real estate deals.

Sasha Forbes.  In her role as the project manager of the National Resource Defense Council’s Urban Solutions Program, Forbes provides capacity-building and technical assistance to communities focused on equity, inclusion, and sustainable community-building strategies. She collaborates with local and national partners on initiatives that aim to provide people and communities with quality multimodal transportation, affordable housing, healthy foods, jobs, and overall climate-smart solutions.  She’s based at NRDC’s Washington, DC office.

Wyking Garrett.  Garrett is the community engagement and program development strategist for Africatown Seattle, an organization committed to developing a Seattle community based on African American culture.  Garrett has taken his activist background into the nonprofit realm: he is a founding director of Seattle’s Umoja P.E.A.C.E. Center, and brands himself as a social entrepreneur specializing in program development, project management and strategic implementation.

Stephanie Gidigbi.  With the impressive (and long) title of SPARCC Policy, Capacity, and Systems Change Director and Senior Adviser, Urban Solutions at NRDC, Gidigbi leads efforts to develop public policy solutions that promote economic, social, and environmental benefits for communities.  She’s the director for NRDC’s Strong, Prosperous and Resilient Communities Challenge (SPARCC) Program, a $90 million initiative advancing equitable infrastructure investment.  Prior to her role at NRDC, Gidigbi served in the Obama administration in the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Jacky Grimshaw.  Grimshaw has been the vice president of governmental affairs at Chicago’s Center for Neighborhood Technology since 1992.  She’s been instrumental in building and expanding CNT’s public policy advocacy program, specifically around transportation planning, environmental justice and community and economic development.  Prior to CNT, Grimshaw was a political advisor for the late Chicago Mayor Harold Washington, and was director of the Mayor’s Office of Intergovernmental Affairs in his administration.

Tyree Guyton.  Guyton is an artist who, through waging a personal war against urban blight on Detroit’s East Side, created an organization and a movement.  Guyton is the force behind the Heidelberg Project, the art installation on Heidelberg Street that has been in existence since 1986.  Over the years the Heidelberg Project grew from one man’s artwork on vacant lots and abandoned buildings to a robust nonprofit organization that supports its work and seeks to expand the message of art as a community development tool wherever it can.

Jason Hercules.  Hercules is a location and planning specialist with the U.S. Green Building Council, the organization charged with developing and implementing strong and sustainable buildings and communities in the U.S. and around the world.  Hercules relies on his expertise in Smart Growth, transit-oriented, mixed-use development, and green building to provide technical development of USGBC’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating system; project review and certification; and education on many of the sustainable development elements espoused by LEED.

Odetta MacLeish-White.  MacLeish-White recently became the first managing director of Atlanta’s TransFormation Alliance, a collaboration of advocates and experts working to bring equitable transit, and transit-oriented development opportunities, to the Atlanta region.  Before moving to TransFormation Alliance, MacLeish-White was a Senior Program Director with Enterprise Community Partners, assisting community development corporations with community and economic development programs and strategies.

Emmanuel Pratt.  Pratt is the executive director of the Sweet Water Foundation in Chicago.  Sweet Water is a leader and innovator in the area of regenerative development — utilizing “a blend of urban agriculture, art and education to transform vacant spaces and abandoned buildings into economically and ecologically productive and sustainable community assets that produce engaged youth, skilled workers, art, locally-grown food, and affordable housing.”  Starting from an urban agriculture site in the Englewood neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side, under Perry’s leadership Sweet Water has developed assisted in the development of art and educational installations around the country.

Otis Rolley.  Bringing extensive public sector experience into the nonprofit realm, Rolley is the regional director for city and practice management, North America for 100 Resilient Cities.  Rolley is charged with working with cities to develop effective resiliency strategies and practices, and tracking their outcomes.  Rolley is a former planning director for the City of Baltimore, chief of staff under Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon, and former CEO of the Newark, NJ Economic Development Corporation.  He also was a candidate for mayor of Baltimore in 2011.

Scot Spencer. Spencer is the associate director for advocacy and influence for the Annie E. Casey Foundation in Baltimore.  Spencer’s role is at the core of the Casey Foundation’s mission –
advancing community-focused policies, practices and strategies that increase opportunities for children, families and the places where they live and foster their success. Spencer has extensive community development experience in greater Baltimore, serving as deputy director for the Historic East Baltimore Community Action Coalition and as co-chair of the Opportunity Collaborative, Baltimore’s regional plan development through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Sustainable Communities Initiative.

Next up in the series: urbanists as politicians.

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