Chairman’s Message: Introducing Our New Mission Statement
ULI Global Chair, Owen Thomas, shares his views of the need to revise ULI's mission statement to better capture our work across communities.
August 20, 2021
Hosted in St. Louis, MO, the 2021 WLI Regional Summit didn't disappoint!
In August of 2021, the Women’s Leadership Initiative Regional Summit drew over 250 participants to explore equity in leadership and land use.
In August of 2021, and following two years of planning, the Women’s Leadership Initiative Regional Summit drew over 250 participants to explore the topic of equity in leadership and land use. This year’s Summit, held at the Chase Park Plaza and broadcast live online, built on the equity conversations from the inaugural Summit, hosted in Louisville in 2019, and the online series hosted in the Fall of 2020.
The challenging topics raised by Summit speakers brought complex realities to the surface and provided a welcoming space for attendees to learn and grow their understanding of how equitable development might take place. From keynote speakers to panel discussions to personal stories and curated conversations, the Summit provided all with an opportunity to exchange ideas, learn, and develop a deeper understanding of how the real estate industry and individual professionals can play a more active role in pursuing equitable outcomes.
At the start of Thursday’s sessions, ULI St. Louis Chair, Kacey Cordes, began the day with suggestions for all at the conference, based on the book The Art of Gathering by Priya Paker. Kacey’s New Rules of Gathering were:
Yemi Akande Bartsch, President of FOCUS St. Louis, was the opening keynote speaker and shared her experiences in recognizing, supporting, and equipping the region’s leaders with the tools and resources they need to make or continue to make a positive impact on the St. Louis region.
During her luncheon keynote on Thursday, Maxine Clark shared with the attendees her vision of the Delmar DevINe, which is transforming the historic St. Luke’s hospital into a multi-use facility, bringing investors, vital services, and opportunities to the area. The project sits along Delmar Blvd., often referred to as the Delmar Divide as it is a physical and economically divisive roadway in St. Louis.
As part of her presentation, Maxine told the story of why she chose to retire from Build-A-Bear Workshop, a thriving company she founded, and focus her energies on a project that, on the surface, seemed to have more challenges than viable possibilities. Her response was, “Why not?”
During the Friday morning keynote, Julie Benezet shared stories from career, which included founding the real estate department for Amazon. Often faced with a charting a new path for her employers, Benezet quickly learned to embrace challenges that others might find daunting and pursue challenging tasks even when they seem unlikely. From her book The Journey of Not Knowing, she left attendees with a final thought:
“Navigating the unknown begins with a dream of something better, stepping into the Land of Awkward, and thinking of all the people who will benefit from your dream.”
During the Panel Discussion on “Equity in the Built Environment,” panelist and AfroUrbanist Lauren Hood noted that “equity is about restoring balance.” During her presentation, Lauren shared an example of a “land acknowledgment” statement to honor and acknowledge the native people who originally populated that land. Additionally, panelist and Clayco Senior VP Sandra Marks stated that it was no longer enough for businesses to put “black faces in business places” but that we now must go a step further to make sure that those faces feel welcomed and valued in their roles. The Panel also included Cydney Franklin, President and CEO of Seventy Five North, a nonprofit organization which has successfully facilitated the revitalization of a healthy, sustainable, mixed-income community in the Northern Omaha Highlander neighborhood.
During the Summit Story Hour, three individuals shared personal stories about what drives them to help the communities in which they live. The first speaker was Ashley Gurvitz, the CEO of United Northeast Community Development Corporation in Indianapolis, who spoke of her belief that the power of advocacy can effect long-lasting change. She reminded the audience that before judging a community by the images of its hardships, look to the people who are fighting every day to keep hope alive. The second presenter, Mariah Gratz, CEO of Weyland Ventures, a biomedical engineer turned real estate developer reminded the audience to “stand up for yourself, don’t be afraid to take risks, find your own path, and don’t be afraid of change.” The final presenter was Neal Richardson, Executive Director of St. Louis Development Corporation, and Co-Founder of Dream Builders 4 Equity, an organization that believes equitable opportunities are foundational for youth to realize their fullest potential. According to Neal, “we want to give students the opportunity to be exposed to careers they may be passionate about.”
“When people are connected to opportunities that matter to them and give them purpose, they thrive, and I believe we all want to see St. Louis thrive and reach its fullest potential.” – Neal Richardson, Dream Builders 4 Equity
The Equitable Economic Development Panel focused on expanding development to benefit all in the community. According to Erika Brice, Social Investment Officer from The Kresge Foundation, “We need developers who are interested in doing well in the community and equip new developers with access to the same resources and tools to revitalize that community. An issue that many cities face is attracting talent – talent who will bring their resources, ideas, and investment to the community. Travis Sheridan, Senior Vice President and Chief Community Officer of Wexford Science + Technology, stated that “the best way to attract talent [to a city or region] is to invest in the talent you already have.” To further this point, Valerie Patton, Chief Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Officer and President of Greater STL, Inc. said, “we must create/change policies to make opportunities available to everyone.” According to Mark Fisher, Chief Policy Officer of the Indy Chamber, “the Indy Chamber won a ‘best chamber’ award because it was already working in the mindset of equity.” To be able to change how development is practiced in pursuit of an equitable future, look to regions where it is being practiced and executed well and leverage those strategies.
The Future Cities panel included three subject matter experts who discussed the concept of creating livable cities for future generations. When asked how to shape impactful infrastructure solutions, Phaedra Svec, Director of Regenerative Design at McLennan Design reminded the audience of the importance of “listening to people and new voices and asking, ‘how would nature solve this problem?’” Elise Ibendahl, Global Technology Lead for Flooding & Planning at Jacobs said that city designers and planners must “look further [than the standards] and put in place mechanisms for mitigation of [future issues].” Finally, Ashely Hand, Director of Strategic Communications at the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas said, “the people who are closest to the problems are also closet to the solutions.”
The Summit also featured curated conversations, where attendees had the opportunity for small group discussions with thought leaders to discuss any one of the themes below:
In addition to the panels, keynotes, and conversations mentioned above, attendees took part in various tours around the St. Louis area, each addressing vital issues or triumphs that the specific neighborhoods face.
The Summit had 225 in-person registrants and 40 online registrations who represented 100+ companies across 20 states. The Summit was sponsored by 28 companies and seven ULI District Councils; was put together by 30 amazing volunteers; hosted 30 speakers, eight tours, nine curated conversations, three Panels, three keynote addresses; and occurred over three unforgettable days.
ULI St. Louis thanks the WLI Summit Committee leaders, volunteers, and everyone who helped put on such a fantastic event with such tenacity and grace. We cheer on and look forward to ULI Indianapolis, who will be hosting this Summit in 2022.
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