Leila Bozorg, above, is one of six members of the CoLaborative Thesis Group. All six theses examine New Strategies for an Old Crisis: Regenerating Local Economies, each in a different American City.
On Thursday, April 22, Leila Bozorg presented her thesis research, titled Spatializing Social Justice Through Place-Based Initiatives: Lessons from The Green Impact Zone in Kansas City, Missouri to members of the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning community.
Bozorg started her presentation by giving an overview of the theoretical framework for her analysis and arguments. She outlined the basic discourse regarding people-based vs. place-based strategies as well as theories associated with spatial justice issues as described by David Harvey, Edward Soja, John Calmore and others. Through that overview she concluded that though inequality and poverty are social challenges, they have spatial associations and geographic ties, which policymakers must account for when framing urban policy and devising new programs.
She also integrated concerns of sustainability into the conversation, arguing that since sustainability has been thrust into the urban policy dialogue, we must consider how and where urban poverty and issues of sustainability intersect. Because the Green Impact Zone of Missouri (GIZMO) attempts to address local poverty issues and simultaneously attempts to tie them into the region’s sustainability planning, Leila formed the following questions: What are the elements of a comprehensive place-based initiative that promotes spatial equity and regional sustainability? What are the challenges to organizing and implementing such an initiative? What are the implications of these elements and challenges for urban policymakers and practitioners?
Bozorg then provided a historic background on the private-sector decisions, public policies and planning interventions that have generated unjust geographies in the City. The list is comprehensive. It includes deed restrictions, race restrictive covenants, urban renewal, public housing, block busting, redlining, and neighborhood attendance zones. She evaluated the City’s political climate, which is characterized by a weak Mayor system and six council districts. She also identified Congressman Cleaver’s instrumental role in initiating project. Cleaver has very strong ties in the community and has demonstrated commitment to issues of equity.
After a brief description of the project area and initiatives, Bozorg evaluated the procedural, structural, financial, regulatory, and temporal challenges of the Green Impact Zone initiative. She acknowledged that a lack of funding has resulted in limited implementation on priority project elements. The project has suffered limited visioning, strategic planning and community engagement process due to initially rapid organizing to meet Recovery Act funding deadlines. Lastly, Bozorg addressed the fundamental difference between dealing with poverty and sustainability initiatives, as the first puts individuals in a position of taking a short-term view of their needs, while the second requires a long-term vision and suggests a longer timeframe.
In closing, Bozorg invited discussion of key elements of the place-based strategies. An engaged discussion followed her presentation, addressing a number of key issues, including: the limitations of the project’s implementation and lack of funding sources; the delineation of the Green Impact Zone boundaries, the appropriateness of their scale, and potential spill-over effects of the project on the level of the City; a conversation on appropriate levels of government intervention and implementation roles; the regional approach, and regional government role in place-based strategies; as well as lessons learned and implications for other communities facing similar undertakings.
Article by Aspasia Xypolia. Photo by Danielle Martin.