While tremendous strides have been made in the revitalization of Detroit—the coined ‘comeback city’ has seen incredible redevelopment over the last 10 years—a substantial amount of work remains to create greater inclusivity and equity across the city.
Programs and initiatives that promote equity and provide opportunities to all are key in the resurgence of Detroit. Creating equity helps to reverse long-term impacts of systemic disinvestment, while also providing access to services and economic participation for individuals and communities with the skills and potential to propel themselves forward. Metro economies grow faster, stronger and for longer spells when prosperity isn’t limited to a few segments of the population. Equity and inclusion allow metro areas to develop wider talent pools to draw from a more educated workforce with a broader range of skills and offer higher rates of upward mobility. This adds to productivity and economic growth.
I am proud to have been selected to participate in a program working toward these goals called the Equitable Development Initiative (EDI). Along with 19 of my peers, this was an opportunity to deepen and expand our knowledge into real estate development and project management.
EDI was launched by Capital Impact Partners to chart a new path toward inclusive economic opportunity. The program’s goals are to better ensure Detroit’s pool of real estate developers truly reflects the city’s diversity, and real estate developers of color can actively influence and participate in the myriad revitalization efforts currently taking place throughout the city.
It’s about intentionality. One of the challenges we face as it relates to disinvestment in communities is often a result of bringing in developers from the “outside,” who don’t fully understand the needs of our local neighborhoods. True equitable development happens with people, not just for people. It’s about identifying the needs, priorities and opportunities of the community and then working alongside residents to help them achieve their vision for their neighborhoods. However, while many of us have the desire to engage in this kind of community led development, we don’t always have the practical skillsets. EDI is working to change that.
The program combines local knowledge, partnerships and capacity building —including program design and project financing—to support developers of color in Detroit. EDI offered me and my peers the opportunity to connect with the people driving revitalization in the city, and it took away the “mystery” of the development process. My peers and I were able to learn the processes involved in mixed-use developments by working alongside experienced leaders in the field. It also created a forum to better understand how developers of color like me can overcome historic barriers we’ve faced in breaking into this field.
I am currently working on my first mixed-use, mixed-income project, and this program has helped me navigate the development through engaging a co-developer and partner who can mentor me and serve as a resource through the process.
In addition, Grandmont Rosedale, the development corporation I lead as executive director, is part of the Strategic Neighborhood Fund (SNF) recently launched by the City of Detroit. As a result of my training and opportunities like the SNF, we have a number of development projects in the pipeline.
I not only feel better equipped to lead these initiatives, but I have a better understanding of who I can call on for support, ask for referrals and receive advice to successfully complete these projects. I have additionally built so many relationships with the rest of the EDI participants, mentors and trainers that I might not have met otherwise. In any city, communicating with those who have similar goals and a willingness to come to the table with an open mind and interest in working collaboratively is beneficial to success.
Overall, programs such as EDI have an important impact on fueling both inclusive growth, and inclusive opportunity, across Detroit. I am honored to have been part of the program and know that my growth is a direct result of its implementation. But we (my EDI cohort) are just the tip of the iceberg.
There are countless other talented developers of color waiting for their chance to show Detroit what they can do and the value they can bring to the revitalization of this beautiful city. It’s time we give them a chance by not relying exclusively on programs such as EDI to provide development opportunities so that we can inspire the next generation of minority developers to follow in their footsteps, knowing that abundant opportunities are available to them.
Sherita Smith is the executive director of the Grandmont Rosedale Development Corporation and was a participant in the second cohort of the Equitable Development Initiative