By Mathew Gates In the Building, inthebuildingla.com
On March 29, the Urban Land Institute (ULI) Los Angeles hosted the Urban Marketplace, an annual real estate expo created to bring attention to the economic opportunities that exist in the city’s most underinvested communities.
For more than twenty years, the conference has successfully pushed back against old ideas on which communities deserved investment. In the process, the Urban Marketplace became a signature event for the organization and a spark for development activity from downtown Los Angeles to Inglewood.
When the conference first launched in 2000, simply getting the industry to pay attention to communities like South Los Angeles, and the Black and Brown professionals from the community, was a significant challenge. According to event co-founder Michael Banner, the President and CEO of Los Angeles LDC, a lot has changed since then.
“Twenty years ago, the panel did not look like this,” Banner said. However, with capital now pouring into South Los Angeles by the billions, event organizers have shifted the focus in recent years towards making sure that new development adds value to existing residents rather than displacing them.
As Banner pointed out prior to this year’s event, “Yes, in the past 10 years, the West Adams community south of the freeway has seen a revival, but it’s not the people who had lived there for generations. As with so many others, those people were displaced.”
Hosted at the historic Trust Building in Downtown LA, the 2022 Urban Marketplace was all about South Los Angeles.
A showcase for some of the most innovative ideas, projects, and thought leaders from across the South Los Angeles development community, the event focused on the intentional and strategic work necessary to create greater equity around new infrastructure investments.
“Infrastructure is one of the most powerful and necessary tools for revitalizing struggling neighborhoods. And yet, past projects have caused harm to communities,” said Urban Marketplace Chair and Ashurst counsel Shmel C. Graham.
For event organizers like Graham, the program’s real focus is to “encourage development that is thoughtful and meaningful to those communities”.
Which is why, according to Graham, the program was intentionally structured to increase an exchange of ideas.
“Learning is two-ways,” Graham said. “The developers and the industry professionals along with the community. If we realize how we all work together to create the built environment, we’ll have better projects that we all can be proud of.”
From a fireside conversation with Metro CEO Stephanie Wiggins to the nearly twenty roundtable discussions led by some of the most influential development figures working in the community, everything about the event was designed to create an incredibly interactive environment.
As a result, the conference created a particularly unique opportunity for public sector leaders from transportation and housing to engage with community advocates, small business owners, urban planners, designers and neighborhood-focused commercial real estate professionals.
According to Banner, who was honored during the event for his dedication and commitment to increasing opportunities in real estate for people of color across Los Angeles, “It was a breath of fresh air coming out of the pandemic to be in a room with diverse professionals trying to solve problems.”
For community advocate, entrepreneur, and long-time real estate developer Danny Bakewell Jr., the conversation is an important first step.
“I think any time we can find ourselves in a space that can be beneficial to our community, we have an obligation to be there,” Bakewell said. But Bakewell also challenged the finance and development industry to move far beyond simple words and the countless corporate commitments to increase equity in the aftermath of the George Floyd murder.
“We can’t just have the standard rhetoric about all of these opportunities”, Bakewell said. “The true demonstration of commitment is based upon your demonstration of sacrifice.”
For Bakewell that commitment needs to extend to things that legitimately impact community empowerment, such as housing, jobs, contracts, and opportunities.
Using the $2.1B Crenshaw-LAX Transit Project as an example of a public agency’s genuine committed to partnering with community, Bakewell noted that Metro’s construction mitigation programs were created to address the community’s legitimate concerns.
“Stephanie Wiggins showed her commitment to keeping local businesses operating along Crenshaw because she gave grants. She didn’t give loans. She provided grants. That was her level of commitment. That was Metro’s level of commitment.”
For Banner and others, elevating awareness about a different way of approaching community development has been the Urban Marketplace’s purpose all along. Now thanks to Banner’s vision and ULI’s sustained commitment, the conference provides the space for solutions to be presented from people with the best experiences and perspectives to provide them.
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