Ethical Redevelopment

Ethical Redevelopment Principle #9: Platforms

Many cities, regardless of where they are located or the combination of factors contributing to their context, suffer the same challenges—disinvestment and neglect, population loss, abandoned buildings, and pockets of almost immutably bleak landscapes. Far too often, the "solutions" offered in the face of these issues is singular, an idea that exists in a vacuum.

No single building, individual, or program can reroute a neighborhood’s trajectory. Neighborhoods are successful when compound ideas exist with expanded relationships and networks of opportunity. In order to propel work forward, attract these variables by providing the community with a platform.

A platform serves as a foundation that creates new social possibilities, a real or symbolic structure that incubates new economic or artistic prospects. Platform-building means developing opportunities for people to gather and commune. These opportunities do not have to be flashy or expensive or excessively programmed. The event—what is happening—is beside the point. The point is that folks are meeting, exchanging, and learning.

Creating a platform is to create intentional hang time, which builds community through a space that encourages deep conversation, new friendships, and, ultimately, a community of people who want to be a part of transformative work in the neighborhood. A space where like-minded folk can come and say, “What else can be done? What can I do 10 blocks away from my block? How do I share what I love to do with others?”

Platforms in Action

Owned and operated by the indefatigable Eric Williams, The Silver Room n Hyde Park is a boutique retail store—and so, so much more:

Located in the heart of Hyde Park, The Silver Room is much more than a storefront. The Silver Room is a gathering place, event space and artist gallery. The Silver Room represents community, culture and art.
— The Silver Room, Chicago

The Silver Room, in addition to its retail offerings, is renowned for its annual Block Party, its long-running open mic "Grown Folks Stories," its gallery offerings, yoga classes, and the opportunities it provides for young, local artists to create, learn, and network.

[The Silver Room] is a hybrid of retail, event space, art gallery, community gathering place. A lot of it is locally made. It uses local fashion, local art. It’s a gathering space with a social impact to it.
— Eric Williams, in CUSP Magazine

Ethical Redevelopment Principle #8: Constellations

Charismatic leaders are ineffective without teams. Both are strengthened by the presence of the other. Their complementary skills and practices can initiate exchange across specialty and advance the quality of the work. Ethical Redevelopment Principle #8 argues that projects benefit from a variety of roles among team members—visionaries, believers, implementers, collaborators, and evaluators—each exchanging unique expertise, forming a network or “constellation.”

A project taps into a particular kind of power when it refuses to be singular, when it takes up space and assembles believers from disparate corners. A vibrant constellation or a rich ecosystem is responsive to the pairings and groupings that suddenly emerge throughout the work process. Some webs of connectivity mature more slowly, gradually revealing formerly unforeseen affinities. Successful ecosystems cultivate organic exchange and foster collaboration throughout the work process.


Hive Learning Network Chicago utilizes a constellations-based approach to expand youth-learning opportunities that leverage youth agency to develop digital and internet literacy skills. Hive Chicago forms an ecosystem of 85 youth-development focused member organizations, from museums and libraries to advocacy groups and tech start-ups. These organizations work together to make space for the Internet as a tool for learning within and beyond the classroom. See the Hive Chicago introduction video to learn more. 

“Connected learning is when someone is pursuing a personal interest with the support of peers, mentors and caring adults, and in ways that open up opportunities for them.” -Connected Learning Alliance 

Hive Chicago member organizations motivate and inspire youth within an environment guided by the design values of connected learning. They provide close mentorship and offer hands-on making opportunities that act as platforms for learners from which to base and explore their ideas.

In addition to their work with youth, Hive Chicago mentors form a network designed to cultivate exchange across specialty. According to their website, they share expertise on how to maximize the “unique assets of their community, integrated digitally and face-to-face, to provide a learning ecology in which youth can discover their agency, pursue their passions, and learn.” The unique backgrounds and skill sets of mentors advance the quality of the work and form connections to resources beyond the constellation.

Over the last five years, the Hive Fund for Connected Learning has supported youth-curiosity-inspired projects such as the Community Telescope Ambassadors, Safe Passages for Teen Skaters and Bikers, ChiTeen Lit Fest, and Minecraft + Design Process + Civic Issues in the Built Environment. (See full list of projects.) The success of these programs is due in part to methods outlined in Ethical Redevelopment Principle #8, Constellations—to foster exchange among team members. Hive Chicago maximizes its connections between learners, mentors, and their respective networks to create a peer-learning community for innovation in education.

Have you participated in a constellation that advanced the work on a project? What unforeseen benefits emerged? Tell us about it in the comments section.

Ethical Redevelopment Principle #7: Stack, Leverage + Access

Successful interventions, whether a single project, location, or gesture, have impact and reverberation. Ethical Redevelopment Principle #7: Stack, Leverage + Access, asserts that excitement can lead to investment and that resource streams can come from diverse sources.


An investment in yourself, in your ideas and projects, sends a signal to those watching your work that you value place and people over profits. It is critical to have skin in the game, to have something at stake, even if the investment is sweat equity. 

Ethical projects require belief and motivation, sometimes more than they require funding. Early, small successes demonstrate feasibility and can spur the next success or even the next project. Whether you work on a series of projects or just one, leverage the attention garnered by your idea to amplify it. Let the work attract more believers.

Have a vision. Be demanding.
— Colin Powell, 65th U.S. Secretary of State


Over time, a project from your initial days of engagement and experimentation can mature. Something that you passionately believed in, but had little external backing for, can grow in scale and scope to become a sophisticated version that many stakeholders support and believe in. Demonstrating this type of capacity permits access to greater resources.

Establishing relationships with funders, gaining access to multiple spheres of influence, and incorporating expertise are crucial to the enduring success of your project. You may not have access to sufficient funding from one distinct source. However, you can stack and bundle resource streams from diverse sources to meet the price tags of your projects. 


The Chicago Arts + Industry Commons (CAIC) is a collaboration between the City of Chicago, artist Theaster Gates’s Rebuild Foundation, and the University of Chicago’s Place Lab. The concept excited people with a new model for artist-led, neighborhood-based development for mindful city-building. It proposed using arts and culture as tools to revitalize. It attracted believers. 

The project leveraged this interest to garner financial support. CAIC acquired $10.25 million from four major foundations: JPB Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Kresge Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation, as well as individual donors and philanthropic organizations. 

CAIC’s self-sustaining, cultural reinvestment model appealed to funders.  The project description explains, “CAIC employs an evolving cultural reinvestment model that uses the revitalization of sleepy assets as part of an engine that spurs new development and new capital, a portion of which is used to support the civic commons.” Funders are more likely to support a project when their contributions will catalyze ongoing economic change.
The project stacked and bundled resource streams from diverse sources to meet its initial price tag. This provided access to a level of funding that would be otherwise unavailable, resulting in a more impactful project. Finally, the inclusion of multiple funders offered more people access points to involve themselves with the project. A larger community could take ownership over the work and have a stake in its ongoing success.

Have you worked on a project that cultivated investment from excitement? Did you stack, leverage, or access resources? Tell us about it in the comments section.

Salon Session #4 - The Session in Review

On Thursday, November 17th, Place Lab hosted the fourth Session of our year-long Ethical Redevelopment Salon. In this entry, Place Lab Operations + Administrative Manager, Naomi Miller, reports on the Session.

This Salon Session, we focused on Principle #4: The Indeterminate—a guiding tenet built on concepts of imagination, intuition, and faith. The Principle encourages an approach to redevelopment work that permits for the suspension of knowing, embracing uncertainty, accepting ambiguity; believe in your project but resist believing there is only one path to achieve it.



In response to the first three Salons, we heard from many members that they wanted more time with each other—more time for unstructured discussion and hanging out. The Indeterminate seemed like a perfect Principle for this to happen. In the early afternoon, members met at the Listening House on Dorchester Avenue for this undirected purpose. After a thorough tour and narrative arc of the Listening House and Archive House  by Place Lab team member Mejay Gula, visiting guest expert, Leslie Koch, talked about the project she had shepherded from idea to implementation for a decade: the redevelopment of Governors Island, in New York, as a dynamic public space. It being a week after the Presidential election, Leslie played a video of the dedication ceremony this past summer, pausing to remark that everything she spoke about feels that much more important.

Formerly a military base in the New York Harbor, Governor’s Island is now a public park operated by the Trust for Governor’s Island and is largely programmed by the public. Salon Members listened as Leslie described how she and her team figured out the project as it evolved and navigated funders and government without a primary vision. Leslie detailed an open submission process for exhibitions, installations, and programs on the Island. Without a formal review process, or a budget, this approach meant people were truly allowed to dictate the type of activities and programs that took place throughout the year. This democratic/anarchic, approach felt like a stark difference between the highly curated and closely considered programming that might take place in other premier public spaces. The assembled group asked questions and shared thoughts as they drank tea and ate snacks. One question probed the importance of context and place in that the project had singular factors—an island in New York, a major city with enormous cultural capital—but could such a project succeed elsewhere?


A sedate Theaster Gates opened the Salon with some thoughts also influenced by the election. He called on members to think about the challenges and complications involved in their projects—how city structures and a lack of courage make things that much more difficult in forging a path for their work. Drawing parallels with the state of the country, Theaster offered that power can be gained from embracing this moment of indeterminacy, that “things that seem symbolically and realistically out of our control—there are still ways to affect change with the people we touch and the people around us.” With Steve Edwards, they agreed to turn towards the adversity, to meet it instead of turning inwards, and to more fully engage networks of people, one of which has been formed through the Salons and is proving to be greater than its grant-based intention.

To flesh out Theaster’s introduction of indeterminacy and the topic for the evening, Steve compared the standard development process with that of Ethical Redevelopment—how the traditional process requires an endgame to satisfy risk-averse investors and to meet the litany of requirements for local and state governments. For Ethical Redevelopment, which prioritizes art and culture to lead interest in disinvested neighborhoods, The Indeterminate plays as much of a role in the process as a determined plan does. It’s an element familiar to artists as they turn an idea into substance—the unknown teaches and leads their practice so that a path is a process of discovery. Ethical Redevelopment leaves room for project iterations—a version, then another, then another—that are refined over time, leveraging serendipity and considering imagination and belief as assets.

What question you ask is probably the most important thing you will do.
— Leslie Koch

With this initial definition in mind, Steve welcomed Leslie for a brief discussion about the initial phases of turning Governor’s Island into a public park that places arts and culture at its core. Leslie revealed that they had a Master Plan but no money in which to carry it out. Instead of clarifying a vision, she took the approach of recognizing that cities are inherently messy, drew a parallel with the artistic process, and went from there. “What question you ask is probably the most important thing you will do,” said Leslie. Her question was “What to do first?” rather than “What will Governor’s Island be?” In working with governments, the question you ask frames (and reveals) the situation even if you don’t know what it is. The language you use is also of utmost import—drop often esoteric field-specific terms and colloquialisms, instead using words and structures that are comprehensible across communities. Clear language allows for clearer, accessible projects. Learn what Governor’s Island has become based on this approach.


Three Salon Members briefly presented about their respective projects, each of which are at different stages and scales, and have different goals. Brent Wesley (aka Wesley of Wesley Bright & the Honeytones) recounted how he created the Akron Honey Company (“It was an accident, really”), and described being convinced by a friend to become a beekeeper and use Brent's newly acquired lot for making honey. Brent figured that not only would he never have to buy honey again, he would also be able fulfill his aim to add value and provide a community-use for the lot. Through a number of iterations, Brent grew the company to a place he never imagined: cosmetics. Along the way, he learned to make and sell microbatched honey, produced a Market Day on a quiet street, and was a contestant (winning and ultimately declining an investment offer) on Cleveland Hustles.

On the other end of the project spectrum was Angela Tillges, who spoke about recently relocating from Chicago to her hometown of St. Paul in order to implement (with one colleague) the Great River Passage (GRP) initiative for the city. The ambitious GRP master plan includes 321 arts-and-culture projects, which Angela is charged with seeing to fruition, in the parks, public space, and natural land along the city’s 17-mile stretch of the Mississippi River. Two months into the project at the time of her Salon presentation, Angela said she’d spent a few days in the office and the rest of the time onsite, observing and talking to people without revealing her job title. Hefting the sizable, weighty publication that is the GRP master plan above her head, Angela pointed out its determinacy while noting that the process of enacting its prescribed steps and number of projects is anything but. She thought of the projects as seeds: some will fail, others will become something else, some will bear fruit—and she will be an attentive gardener.

Somewhere in between the self-starting Akron Honey Company and a city-directed initiative lies the efforts of Keir Johnston and Ernel Martinez of AMBER Art & Design, an artists’ collective in Philadelphia. AMBER is working with the Fairmount Park Conservancy (FPC) to repurpose one of the park’s disused mansions in the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood and activate it as a museum that preserves the cultural identity of the neighborhood as it changes. Keir and Ernel described the history of the ethnic and cultural makeup of the neighborhood, which began as a WASP-y summer retreat, changed to a mixed-income community populated by Jewish people, then to a disinvested neighborhood almost exclusively populated by African Americans. Ernel and Keir said they are in the process of talking with the existing coalitions and networks in the community. By creating partnerships, securing the structure, and gaining the residents’ investment, they said they hoped to make an institution that they can hand to the residents for self-stewardship.


During the discussion with the panel and the following conversation with Steve, Theaster, and Leslie, we mined the concepts that underlie The Indeterminate—imagination, intuition, and faith—finding links and new aspects. One of them was credibility. In order to create believers in your project, you need to build credibility. This can happen through people who already know you, which is how Brent received early support—through his family, friends, and neighbors. Leslie approached it from the opposite side: she was the government and needed win the trust of the tax-payers. She built credibility through being consistent in her messaging of what she was going to do and then actually doing what she said: transparency, narrative, and being clear and consistent. Theaster needed to build credibility early on with the city before they would fund him because he didn’t have a track record, a place many people find themselves at the beginning of their work. Sometimes meeting the interests of a city first builds the credibility, which allows for flexibility further down the line. Trust, faith, and belief are highly valued foundations of any neighborhood-based, multi-partnered project and a lot of work goes into establishing them.

Theaster discovered that methods of iteration work well for building credibility. He observed: “Indeterminacy is closely related to iteration.” An iterative process allows a version to follow another, changing each time in response to feedback on the previous one. But iterations are often superseded by the hype around master plans, which is determinacy defined. Much of the discussion volleyed back and forth between these two ideas, noting the nuances of each. For example, master plans are often best used for discussions with funders and government—people who feel reassured that some sort of map and end game exists. It’s another piece of the credibility puzzle. But master plans are often of little to no interest to the public; as Leslie noted, “Humans don’t relate to master plans.” They’re exhaustive, exhausting, and exist next to reality instead of in it. Some members pointed out that master plans have been used as tools to deny access for a project. Theaster commented that there might be a way for them to be turned into a tool that works for you—make it a document that actually communicates and connects instead of being an unrealistic explosion of imagination and excitement. 

Our discussion exploring the tension between master plans and iterations also highlighted the tensions between the priorities of different groups of people involved in a project's process. Developers, funders, neighborhood members, and artists each have different relationships to risk, and can easily and often find themselves in opposition. While funders and investors work to lower the unknowns and manage fear, artists inherently embrace risk by taking leaps of faith in order to bring something new to light. Suggestions were made about how to work around these conflicts. Artists could work with their social and cultural capital (and what exists with neighborhoods and partners) before even broaching economics—they might be surprised how far this goes. Another approach underlined the usefulness of iteration for several groups: they can show investors that there are people who will use the space, and the neighborhood sees that the space is for them. In general, members agreed that it’s easier to begin at a low-cost basis, or as Leslie phrased it, “Think big, act small.”

Leslie also emphasized the importance of narrative, language, and framing. She encouraged members to use real language and to be honest with all individuals on the power spectrum. You need to be clear on what you are about and why you are different. Shaking her head, she described some of the language she used in her narrative early on because it acted more like filters and veiled messages rather than stating clearly what was going on. And it’s important to know when you’ve run ahead of your own narrative—assess when it needs to be revisited and revised. Theaster nodded in agreement that language can work against you later in the process: “Don’t box yourself in by using a certain kind of specificity when no one’s asking for it.” Leave space for change.

Space is also needed for inefficiency, a point Theaster made by saying “Iteration makes room for inefficiency.” He underlined that inefficiencies are a part of the process, and need to have a meaning and carry a value—if they are perceived as a waste, then people become fearful of iteration. What if the government valued The Indeterminate as much as any other box to check off in their process? Room for error, for iteration, for learning and living is needed. This musing lead to another one by a member who asked how we could include developers in these conversations, how to show them the pros and cons of ambiguity versus results. It’s assumed that only artists are skilled with working with the indefinite when city planners, programmers, and project implementers work very much in the same way.

Part V

Salon Session 4 Takeaways

  1. The role of curiosity—ask questions, listen, learn, pursue your interests
  2. Master planning works for funders and government, not as effective for residents
  3. Build room in a master plan for The Indeterminate
  4. Use iteration to begin at a low-cost basis, build credibility, allow for efficiencies, and minimize risk
  5. Be intentional and consistent with narrative, language, and framing
  6. Ask the right question for the project
  7. Use social and cultural capital for buy in
  8. Risk means different things to different people
  9. To build credibility, be honest, clear, and transparent
  10. Leave room for the project to evolve and be discovered

Part VI

At the close of these various threads of conversation, Steve invited members to talk to each other, tell each other stories about the work they do, and generally socialize. Again, we wanted to make sure the members had time to connect and have casual, intimate conversations. We also set up a Confessional Couch where members could tell a story about their project in front of a video camera. Videos will be made available at a later date on our website and Ethical Redevelopment group page on Facebook. Feel free to join the group and learn more about the projects our members are doing around the US and engage in discussion.


Pedagogy. Place. Liberation.

D. Denenge Duyst-Akpem, S uper Space Riff: An Ode to Octavia Butler and Mae Jamison in VIII Stanzas . Photo: Matt "Motep" Woods

D. Denenge Duyst-Akpem, Super Space Riff: An Ode to Octavia Butler and Mae Jamison in VIII Stanzas. Photo: Matt "Motep" Woods

D. Denenge Duyst-Akpem is an Afro-Futurist space sculptor, performance artist, designer, writer, and educator. For the last 15 years, her award-winning work has bridged the disciplines of interior design, site-specific sculpture, public art practice, and science fiction. Duyst-Akpem is the founder of Denenge Design+Studio Verto which offers specialized, holistic design services and site-specific sculpture for residential and commercial clients. 

In this guest blog, Duyst-Akpem reflects on the methodology of liberation.

As a scholar and practitioner, I utilize the teaching of Afro-Futurism as a methodology of (Black) liberation. The foundation of this is exercising the visionary and imagination muscles in sculpting new futures that affirm the present and are rooted in the past.

Afro-Futurism is more than a desire to take a ride on a spaceship—though, of course, I would welcome the chance for an orbiting spa vacation or a lunar exploration—rather, it is about possibility and learning to activate that in a concrete, effective ways. In this, the connections with Place Lab and Principle #3: Pedagogical Moments are in concert.

In my courses on Afro-Futurism, we cover a range of texts and practitioners to gain the broadest vision of this genre, beginning with Sun Ra’s iconic film Space Is The Place. Other works which address issues of place and space, of community and individual agency, include: W.E.B. DuBois’s The Comet; Paul Miller’s Rhythm Nation and Book of Ice; and Wanuri Kahiu’s award-winning short film Pumzi which presents a post-water wars settlement in what is present-day Kenya and merges environmental consciousness with representations of science, technology, archiving, and costume beyond the usual Euro-Western frame.

By centering and studying in earnest the creative representations of place and community in African Diasporic and Indigenous works, we move past ingrained Eurocentric notions of how things “should” be or how things are, and open space to imagine ourselves in the future which brings students back to the present, to their own agency as they see themselves reflected. I emphasize through the curation of the syllabus students’ ability to shape experience and movement through the world. Space becomes malleable; time can be spiral; and underground digital pathways are sites of radical re-envisioning of self and community.

Still from  Pumzi  (Wanuri Kahiu, South Africa, 2009, 23 min)

Still from Pumzi (Wanuri Kahiu, South Africa, 2009, 23 min)

It is about exercising that visionary muscle. I watch the development of students over the course of four months, entering the study of Afro-Futurism with careful interest, excitement, curiosity, wondering how the concepts may apply to their work. As Stevie Wonder sings in “A Seed’s A Star/Tree Medley” from the iconic Secret Life of Plants in reference to Po Tolo in Dogon cosmology, the seeds grow to sturdy young plants over the course of the semester. Students who may not have found space to express their voices or who have never been centered before find fertile ground here. I present Afro-Futurism through a lens of liberatory practice, an Africanist foundation that honors infinite ways of being; through art historical study and embodied ritual—recognizing the body as a space also that can be activated through location with location and sculptural objects—students find their own power and radiate the outward into their relationships, their communities, and their work as artists and conscious cultural producers.

This year, the Huntington Library in Pasadena, California, in collaboration with Radio Imagination has hosted a monthly series of events, film screenings, and commissioned works by practitioners such as Mendi + Keith Obadike whose sound works reconfigure how we understand memory, history, space, and time. As Butler wrote her future into being, we learn to manifest our own futures, declaring as she did “So be it!  See to it!”

A hopeful and inspiring development in this vision of Afro-Futurism as a pathway and methodology of liberation was last week’s final Afro-Futurism course media presentations at School of the Art Institute Chicago (SAIC). Of particular interest to the Place Lab discussions, one student chose to contextualize newly elected Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx as an example of Afro-Futurism in action through her commitment to seeking justice for the disenfranchised and using her position to fight the prison industrial complex. Additionally, students also presented on the intersectional art of Juliana Huxtable as representative of Afro-Futurism’s shape-shifting qualities and on Theaster Gates’s projects that seek to reshape space and our understanding of community engagement. We had a lively discussion of Place Lab and its role in Chicago and beyond.

Recommended Reading

Rockeymoore, Mark. What is Afrofuturism?

Hairston, Andrea. Octavia Butler—Praise Song for a Prophetic Artist

Nelson, Alondra. Afrofuturism: Past-Future Visions

For further information, and please feel free to contact me at or Visit and I’d be happy to discuss this topic and its relationship to Ethical Redevelopment further at any of our future Salons.

Salon Session #3 - The Session in Review

On Wednesday, October 19th, Place Lab hosted the third Session of our year-long Ethical Redevelopment Salon. In this entry, Place Lab Operations + Administrative Manager, Naomi Miller, reports on the Session.

This Salon Session, we focused on Principle #3: Pedagogical Moments—opportunities for knowledge transfer that can happen at any stage of work and where the roles of teacher and student continuously shift. The Principle advises that when involved in mindful neighborhood-, community-, and city-building, we must practice a consciousness of these moments or anticipate how these moments can be structured as part of the development process. It is our social responsibility to bring people along for the ride.


To show a nontraditional model of pedagogy, we visited Chicago’s Iron Street Farm, which is part of Growing Power’s urban agricultural community food system. Utilizing a 7-acre abandoned food hub, Erika Allen and her staff oversee year-round food production, vermicompost, mushroom production, an apiary, and urban pygmy goats. Salon members were given a tour by a staff member who once was a part of the organization’s program that trains and employs over 300 city youth annually, teaching them about these systems, methods, and production. By demonstrating and educating about equal access to healthy, high-quality, safe and affordable food, Growing Power’s achieves its mission to grow minds and to grow community. 

Isis Ferguson, Place Lab’s Associate Director of City and Community Strategy, visited Growing Power prior to the Session; you can read about her visit here. Recently, Growing Power added a CTA bus to the Fresh Moves program, a mobile produce market that serves disinvested local neighborhoods.

The next site visit was to the University of Chicago’s Arts Incubator, operated by Arts + Public Life (APL) and the home of Place Lab’s offices. At the Incubator, the education department team asked us about an instructive moment or person in our lives, a question that elicited stories about family members, epiphanies, and time-delayed realizations.

APL staff members Marya Spont-Lemus, Quenna Barrett, and Gabe Moreno run a number of teen programs, including APL’s Design Apprenticeship Program, Teen Arts Council, and Community Actors Program, engaging teens in design/build, performance, and arts and culture administration, among other activities. These programs not only educate but employ teens, who learn essential job-related skills, leadership, and social development in addition to cultivating their creativity. A number of neighborhood teens have participated in the education offerings at APL, which have assumed a graduated structure to accommodate higher levels of engagement as the students master skills and look for more responsibility. The programs also maintain a level of flexibility to accommodate interests of the participants. For example, this past summer after redesigning and building new planters for our neighbor Chicago Youth Programs, the teens considered the play area and decided to build a new playhouse.


Over the course of Salon Session #3, many issues we’ve explored in the first two Sessions came up, including the intricate web of questions and ideas around community engagement and engaged participation. While it felt like we were at risk of repeating the conversations previously had, what emerged over the course of discussion were sincere efforts to talk about how complicated the issues are and dig deeper into them, unpacking and looking more closely.

To open this third Session, Place Lab screened a short highlights video from the first two that demonstrated pedagogical moments within the Salon. 

Many of the issues raised in the previous Session were revisited throughout the night, such as the double standard that requires nonprofits to offer transparency and be mission-driven while traditional developers do not. Discussion also centered on the “triple tax” of doing neighborhood-based development projects—the extra costs associated with ethical and inclusive work. Ethical Redevelopment demands greater effort, which goes into listening, teaching, and working through layers of oppression in order to move projects forward. This triple tax often becomes a barrier to scaling up, while in traditional models of development efficiency is prioritized and projects become disconnected from the communities that are purportedly being represented. 

In Ethical Redevelopment, it is not for you to become a better colonizer.
— David Stovall

David Stovall, professor at the University of Illinois Chicago and high school teacher, took the mic and gave a stirring talk about pedagogy itself. Pedagogy is not just a theory of teaching, but also a method of inquiry on the very practice of teaching and the comparative value of instructional design models. 

David gave an example from his own classroom. Speaking specifically of his high school students, David shared a question that he proposes to them: “What does a pedagogical practice look like using a racial justice frame?” The question is meant to get the students to address the underlying barriers to knowledge acquisition. In this instance, students are prompted to identify and examine structural racism, colonialism, isolationism, and marginalization. David acknowledged that he also gains valuable insight from the process, learning from his students even as he teaches. This is the heart of a pedagogical practice: it is liberating knowledge acquisition from the rigid model of instructor/student, compelling both sides to deepen inquiry and thereby strengthening the quality of understanding.

Through the pedagogical principle, David explained, redevelopers remain constantly aware that they are also part of the community they seek to serve, a driver and a beneficiary of the project. Instead of the singular question “How do I make my project work?,” the inquiry is multifaceted and the questions become: “Who has been excluded and under what terms? What is the redress for what has been taken? How do we reclaim agency?” From this deep, constant process of checking-in, a new framework emerges: “How do we make our project work?”

As David summarized it: “In Ethical Redevelopment, it is not for you to become a better colonizer.”

Following this academic discussion about pedagogy, Sam Darrigrand provided an example of direct application. Darrigrand, Workforce Development Manager at Rebuild Foundation, defined the program he manages as a business model with a community purpose: what can be learned while being on payroll? The program employs individuals who were formerly incarcerated and who are often deemed “unemployable.” Sam described meeting people where they’re at, finding opportunities for soft-skill development, and unpacking moments of conflict to see what’s behind them. The Workforce Development Program is being incorporated into a number of upcoming projects led by Theaster Gates, including Kenwood Gardens where participants will acquire skills in construction, landscaping, design, and related trades. 

For the night’s final presentation, artist Carol Zou spoke about the project Trans.lation and her role as its project manager in the Vickery Meadows neighborhood of Dallas, Texas. Trans.lation began as a monthly series of pop-up markets by artist Rick Lowe and the Nasher Museum of Art in a mixed neighborhood of immigrants and refugees from 120 countries as well as American minorities. Today, the project is an arts and cultural platform used for resident-led councils, resident-taught workshops, professional development, and pop-up exhibitions, and asks “How do we build cross-cultural learning platforms in order to develop community capacity and leadership?” 

The project employs art as a cross-culture translation mechanism, but over time it has, by necessity, had to evolve to meet the “ordinary” needs of its community. Carol shared some of these needs, such as how the offering of Arabic language class becomes far more complex when participants are facing barriers like inconvenient or broken transportation systems. Carol also expanded on how teaching often becomes an opportunity for learning in Trans.lation, such as when the organizers of a general American Sign Language class discovered from participants that their language-learning concerns were specifically tied to helping them study for their citizenship exams.

Carol emphasized the importance of language justice, and holding space for everyone’s preferred mode of communication. As Trans.lation has grown, Carol has had to realign expectations for the project's outcomes, and has established success measures that are neither sexy nor grand, but are authentically centered on the experiences and knowledge of the people in Trans.lation’s communities. 

This idea of relinquishing power to a community and facilitating self-determination is a theme that reverberated through the night and in past Sessions.


Following the presentations and panel discussion, members broke out into groups to discuss the following questions:

  1. What responsibilities do we have to the people and places in which we work?
  2. How can city-building prioritize community knowledge and build on its foundation?
  3. How do we recognize and interrogate our own skills or talents? How do we unlock our work so that teaching/learning can happen?
  4. Moments of learning and teaching can unfold in all aspects of work and across relationships. Give us an example of when you’ve seen the paradigm of education and knowledge-sharing enhanced, disrupted, or changed.

After a short break to mingle and refuel, the group reconvened. Most groups chose to discuss the second question, which resonated deeply with members. The discussion centered around assumptions, structural faults, and knowledge gaps that lie beneath the surface of determining a community, working with it, and making sure that its needs and opinions are heard and prioritized—or whether these concerns are even considered at all.

Efficiency is inversely related to inclusion.

Members pointed out that the structures created to engage a community often end up excluding them. For example, meetings are scheduled according to a 9–5 work schedule, but not everyone keeps those hours; this is particularly true in low-income areas where residents often work unpredictable shift jobs or multiple jobs.

“Community knowledge” was grappled with as an inherently complex term. Communities are not monolithic, and carry a diversity of experiences and opinions that require time to understand. Certain kinds of knowledge become prioritized over others, such as quantitative data that influences decisions and often disregards qualitative research. Salon members reiterated that traditional developers should take the time to recognize that the people in the community have a "Neighborhood PhD." The community development train moves quickly, and developers who disregard or fail to seek out what the community knows, risk undermining their own work. As it was phrased: “efficiency is inversely related to inclusion.”

A thought that emerged later on the topic of inclusion asked how both developers and community members can share in the benefits. As a member posed it: "How do I [a developer] become a target demographic and not just a fringe beneficiary?”

Justice should never be determined by those who wrote a false history.
— David Stovall

Salon members also pointed out that when members of a neighborhood have found the time and the place to express their opinion, these members are often the most vocal individuals in the community and tend to monopolize conversation, leaving little to no room for the inclusion of other voices. It is also possible that these strong voices are not representative of the disinvested communities where so many of the members are doing work. As one member observed: "A grassroots organization could be a group of well-organized, rich white folks." Some members brought to discussion the fact that what we talk about at the Salon Sessions never makes it into “the room where it happens," and speculated what Ethical Redevelopment could really mean when the most impacted have no agency in the decision-making process.

I wasn’t taught how to win at capitalism.

One member reflected on the gaps in his own knowledge: “I wasn’t taught how to win at capitalism,” he said, and went on to explain that he had to learn a great deal about existing systems before he could even consider how to change them. It is not possible, the group agreed, to propose an alternative model to a system of which you are either unaware or do not understand. This ultimately raised an even tougher issue: that the “community” can become an obstacle to a project’s completion. Members suggested that this obstacle could be eased or overcome if developers took the time to ensure that knowledge flowed both ways.


Salon Session 3 Takeaways

  1. Seek out and listen to black youth, as they are often not in the room.
  2. The engagement spectrum runs from efficiency to efficacy, depending on the factor of time.
  3. Be authentic in the way that you are, more so than the way you are doing.
  4. Teaching while working requires investments of time and patience.
  5. Learn both the history and the context of a place.
  6. Expose and examine the “bootstrap” cliché.
  7. Complicate expertise.
  8. Always think in layers.
  9. Be mindful of how inclusivity is utilized.
  10. Immutable policy prevents/is an obstacle to change.
  11. There is a triple tax in the extra work it takes to combat structural racism and oppression.
  12. Build coalitions together—look at past models, like Italian and Irish immigrants.
  13. Recognize the multiple sources of knowledge within a community.
  14. Ask yourself if community development efforts support people's right not only to self-determination, but to defining for themselves what that means and looks like.


After this rigorous discussion, Salon Members were invited to a performance staged in the foyer outside of the the Arts Bank's Johnson Publishing collection. 

Three members of Honey Pot Performance—Abra, Joe De, and Meida (who is a Salon Member)—staged what they defined as a simulated rehearsal, an open showing of how they workshop ideas and movements. A long poem, read in alternating stanzas by each of the three performers, morphed into movement exercises that prompted Salon Members to call out a relationship between Meida and Abra. As Media and Abra entwined and broke apart, embracing and letting go, Joe De deejayed a cycle of evocative music ranging from jazz to R&B to blues.

Honey Pot Performance draws on ethnography, sociology, and fieldwork data to feed experimentation with methodologies of moving through space and exploring relationships. Honey Pot participated in the 2015 Crossing Boundaries residency at Arts + Public Life, and describes itself as “an Afro-diasporic creative collaborative community centered on feminist and fringe sensibilities.”

After applause and appreciation for the performance, Salon Members socialized freely in the Arts Bank, extending thoughts from the evening and sharing their own experiences. As one member gleefully called out, "Let's keep exchanging knowledge, people!"

Salon Session #2 - The Session in Review

On Thursday, September 8th, Place Lab hosted the second Session of our year-long Ethical Redevelopment Salon. In this entry, Place Lab Operations + Administrative Manager, Naomi Miller, reports on the Session.


Before each Session, Place Lab offers opportunities for visiting and local Salon members to explore community and redevelopment projects happening in Chicago as well as projects overseen by Theaster Gates. Both projects correspond to the Principle on which that month's Session is focusing.

For the September Session, which focused on Principle #2: Engaged Participation, members visited the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum as the organization was making preparations to celebrate the social reformer’s 146th birthday. Located on the edge of the University of Illinois Chicago campus, Hull-House is a historical marker of the 19th-century social settlement movement and highlights the significant public policy advocacy work done by Addams, her colleagues, and residents. 

Members also toured the Dorchester Art + Housing Collaborative (DA+HC), which is a part of the projects portfolio of Gates’s Rebuild Foundation. As described by Rebuild, DA+HC is “a rehabilitated public housing project that offers an art-centered residential community.” DA+HC consists of a block of 32 townhomes that provide housing for artists and community members, with the intent of fostering dialogue and collaboration between both groups. The DA+HC is mixed-income housing and features an even distribution of artist, public, affordable rate, and market-rate housing.


For the second Salon, members dug into the Principle of Engaged Participation, a subject that came up frequently during the first Salon as many practitioners considered its meaning and relationship to their projects, and how best to implement it. To frame our exploration of the meaning of Engaged Participation, Theaster posed a question that became a refrain throughout the Session—“How do we listen?”—using listening as a place to begin. 

We listened to the experience that guest expert Camille Odeh shared about her work with the Southwest Youth Collaborative of Chicago (SWYC), the former comprehensive, coordinated system of neighborhood-based youth services. Camille currently teaches in the School of Social Work at Chicago State University, and previously was the executive director of SWYC. In describing how the organization put the Principle of Engaged Participation into practice, Camille said they learned that the community needed to be literally inscribed into its infrastructure.

Various kinds of groups in the neighborhoods were identified—by ethnicity, age, race, geography, etc.—and the organizers made sure these populations were written into the by-laws and represented on the board of directors. Only by this purposeful structure building would SWYC have a chance at reaching community consensus. From this foundation, a wide variety of projects, programs, and partnerships evolved that truly served the residents and the neighborhoods in which they were based.

When asked by co-facilitator Steve Edwards about the challenges of building consensus within SWYC, including differing values and limited resources, Camille said that by establishing a basis of inclusion, everyone had access to existing resources, trust was created, and they could work towards consensus.

It’s a process of time, it’s a process of transformation, it’s a process of building, and it’s also a process of having a vision, a vision for a future in which the quality of life will be improved for everybody. I mean, that’s what this work is about. So that we can all have a good quality of life so that there can be justice for everybody. That should be the focus of our consensus.
— Camille Odeh

Keeping in mind Camille’s insightful approach to Engaged Participation, Steve then gave the mic to Demecina Beehn, Outreach and Engagement Manager at Rebuild Foundation, to talk about the DA+HC. Demecina shared DA+HC’s method of embedding artists in the community and its programming, which creates a cultural shift in the neighborhood. DA+HC worked with neighbors early on, discussing access to amenities—like laundry facilities—and general improvement in the quality of living, and giving artists who are qualified applicants preferential treatment.

When you add an artist to the mix and they show everyone a different world view, it opens their minds. And then they can begin to explore.
— Demecina Beehn

The value of creative programming being built into the reimagining of a neighborhood was echoed by Salon Member Alysia Osborne, who shared what she’s learned as the Director of Charlotte Center City Partners (CCCP) Historic West End initiative. The area is home to the oldest surviving middle-class African-American neighborhood in the North Carolina city. CCCP received an actual invitation by the residents (which Alysia noted isn’t always extended in redevelopment work) to develop economic vitality in the Historic West End.

She talked about her own version of the 9 Principles—with titles like Lose the Cape, Learn the Landscape; Be the Host, Not the Producer; and Party with a Purpose—that are predicated on the pillar of building trust. She’s helped the residents understand more about how to make change in communities, that it “actually starts before you see anything, before you start to see a building, before you start to see grating, anything—it starts with a policy.” As she’s walked residents through the process of interpreting and changing policy, they’ve identified the small-scale events and interventions they could undertake in the interim and have begun to think of a phasic approach to their work.

Alysia encouraged her fellow Salon Members to practice patience and be creative, de-emphasize ego, and focus on the people and the lives they lead in their neighborhoods.


After Alysia’s presentation, members broke out into small groups to discuss the challenges of engendering trust in city-building and to identify other pillars of the Principle. Certain themes surfaced when everyone reconvened and shared, including awareness of communication methods and learning a neighborhood’s cultural language, identifying the subjects and what their level of agency is, who does or doesn’t have power and how to create equity, what balance to strike between communities’ needs and one person’s vision, the complicated ecosystem of a community, unpacking values and access, and scaling Engaged Participation up and down to even one-on-one interactions at different stages, for various contexts and purposes. 

Based on what was discussed, Steve culled a list of pillars of Engaged Participation:

  • Build the Structure
  • Build Trust
  • Collectivize Efforts
  • Respect, Inclusivity, Communication
  • Shared Values and Process
  • Understanding History
  • Adaptive Patience
  • Listening

Each of these pillars was given an early definition that Place Lab will work to flesh out and share.

Before the session ended, Steve and Theaster teased out an important thought: For those involved in city building, residents and developers alike, Engaged Participation needs to be an ongoing process that begins with the project’s organizational foundations and is managed through construction and beyond with the production of cultural activities for people in the spaces throughout the lifespan of the project. It’s a new definition of development that takes into consideration moments in which power is relinquished or transferred, how the role of gender influences the process (Theaster wondered: “What’s the gender dynamic of women being developers?....Is there some queering that needs to happen in the conventional structures of development that would help us listen better?”), and rethinks the methodology and structure of not only development, but of all the organizations involved in the project. 

While the close of the discussion felt like it came too soon, the precepts that were laid out are a beginning framework for engendering deep relationships among the people and organizations working towards dignity and equity as a standard of living in our cities. 


The event—what is happening—is beside the point. The point is that folks are meeting, exchanging, and learning. Create intentional hang time. It builds bonds, which build community.
— Principle #9 - Platforms

As discussed in the recap of Session #1, "hang time" is an integral component of each Session. These times provide members with the opportunity to socialize and build their networks and connections alongside enjoyment of a cultural offering. 

For Salon Session #2, we co-hosted with Rebuild Foundation an after-party called Collision on the Dance Floor. Following the close of the Session, members joined invited guests in the exhibition hall at the Stony Island Arts Bank to mingle, chat, and dance to the beats of DJ Sean Owens.

Salon Session #3 was held in October. Stay tuned for the recap!

Bring your voice to the conversation. During the session, member James Feagin asked “What does a successful mixed neighborhood look like?” He’s looking for answers because it feels like an elusive, temporary stage that developing neighborhoods pass through on their way from one end of the investment spectrum to another. Share your thoughts and examples on the forum.

Salon Session #1 - The Session in Review

On Wednesday, July 28, Place Lab hosted the opening Session of our year-long Ethical Redevelopment Salon. In this entry, Place Lab Building Strategies + Construction Manager, Mejay Gula, reports on the Session.


Rain didn’t deter pre-Salon tour participants from venturing through the fenced-in construction zones of St. Laurence Elementary School or a former ComEd Substation, nor did it stop the lunch and tour excursion to Inspiration Kitchens. These optional excursions are designed to expose Salon members to people, projects, and places that are engaged in inspirational, community-based, ethically-minded civic projects in Chicago.


The goal is to get into the weeds of practical ideas, questions, concerns, tips, and how-tos.
— Theaster Gates

On a grey, muggy Thursday evening, 50 Ethical Redevelopment Salon members and invited guests packed an intimate and private gallery space at the Stony Island Arts Bank. It was the first of nine Salon Sessions and provided the first opportunity for members to be open, inspire, share, and commune among a diverse group of practitioners representing several cities across the country. 

The Session kicked off with a warm welcome from moderator Steve Edwards, and stage-setting commentary from Theaster Gates:

“Our hope is that today will be a day of starting to dig in. The first big Convening was a poetic introduction to the ideas around Ethical Redevelopment, nine ideas that are not meant to be turned into Biblical law, nor are they nine steps that will lead you to a perfect development. These were ideas to get the party started. The intentions for the Salon Sessions are to go in-depth to the nitty-gritty about some of the work you’ll see presented today and to engender conversation where you can bring all of your projects, perspectives, and experience to the table. The goal is to get into the weeds of practical ideas, questions, concerns, tips, and how-tos.”

The Session focused on Principal #1: Repurpose + Re-propose. Taking words from the Ethical Redevelopment booklet: This approach to city- or community-building is about resource availability and ingenuity—start with what you have and recognize existing local assets and latent value in the discarded and overlooked. Theaster advised to “not only start with what you have but look at what you have and scratch your head and ask what else it can be? What I think is often left off the table in development is how important vision is to the process. We want to start off by acknowledging the power and importance of vision in the re-proposing process.”

Salon members were assured that the Session was an environment of trust, where participants were encouraged to be open, honest, and released from their most scared and vulnerable moments and challenges. The hope is that this Salon experience can be taken back home to be used as a template to create new sets of values for the members’ local teams.

Place Lab’s Lead Design Manager, Nootan Bharani, and Bucky Willis of Bleeding Heart Design in Detroit, each presented on creative reclamation projects. The presentations summarized, for discussion by the group, the projects’ challenges. 

Nootan presented on the St. Laurence Elementary School redevelopment project in Chicago’s Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood. The school, once slated for demolition following its closure in 2002, is the focus of a creative reuse project that aims to make the property a hub of artistic, educational, and economic activity.

Nootan Bharani presenting on the St. Laurence Elementary School project.

As Nootan described it, conventional methods of refurbishing dormant properties—methods that are profit-driven—are being set aside in favor of Conscientious Intervention, a people-driven approach for redevelopment that is implemented in all of Theaster’s building projects. Conscientious Intervention is based on vision, intuition, indeterminacy, and creative adaptations that are concerned with the greatest benefit for the community, not the pocketbook of the developer. Nootan cautioned that this approach to reimagining a building’s use often takes the path of most resistance.  

Nootan discussed some of the complexities of Repurposing + Re-proposing: the initial building acquisition, the headaches of as-built conditions and structural failures, concerns about vagrancy and illegal dumping, the obstacles that accompany remediation, and rigid zoning laws. All of these roadblocks, Nootan explained, are simply part of “allowing one thing to become another.”

The zoning ordinance governing St. Laurence favors certain uses and densities of specific areas. Those uses and densities, she stressed, were established in a by-gone time and environment; the factors that shaped the initial zoning ordinance are no longer applicable to the area as it exists today.

“It just doesn’t, by right, allow for the uses we envision,” Nootan said. 

Theaster’s project team, led by Nootan, is going through an uncharted process with the City of Chicago to find a solution to the zoning problem. The outcome of this process could establish St. Laurence as a model for how old ordinances can be made to accommodate modern redevelopment. 

During the discussion that followed, Theaster offered great insight into what I have found can be a significant hurdle for small, grassroots organizations and creative entrepreneurs: understanding the law. A city’s zoning laws can read like a foreign language to the uninitiated. Developers with sufficient capital often move their projects forward with the aid of lawyers to translate and, if necessary, make the case for why the developer’s project should not be held to the ordinance. But the types of projects that Salon members and Place Lab are tackling simply do not have that type of capital, and making things happen requires a bit of creativity.

 “There’s a sliding scale of feasibility, changing code, access to lawyers—the amount of money—and you have to put these things into a calculus,” Nootan continued. “If you don’t have the money, it will take you a little longer unless you get advocates in the city to believe in the new thing that you want to do. You might need to read into the zoning of your city, bringing to attention something the city council wasn’t aware of and find someone there that can help you.”

Confronting the list of impediments to a redevelopment effort can be discouragingly overwhelming, and too often leads to incomplete or failed projects. I sensed that some of our Salon members were struggling under these restraints within their own projects. Nootan concluded her presentation by sharing a handful of examples of ways Theaster’s team has transgressed these issues and left the Salon Members with these questions:

Do you have an answer to this? Can you share your insight, experiences, lessons learned? Please share on the Ethical Redevelopment  forum .

Do you have an answer to this? Can you share your insight, experiences, lessons learned? Please share on the Ethical Redevelopment forum.

Bucky Willis followed Nootan’s presentation with a case study of her current project, led by her new public interest design movement, Bleeding Heart Design (b.h.d.). Based in Detroit, b.h.d. advocates the use of human-centered design to inspire people to become more altruistic by using public art, design, and architecture as conduits for social change. Bucky’s career and research lies at the intersection of architecture/design and social issues/emotional impact. She walked us through b.h.d.’s Skyscape Project, which aims to transform a dilapidated, commercial building into a roofless indoor/outdoor community space in the Lindale Gardens Community of Northeast Detroit.

Bucky Willis presenting b.h.d.'s Skyscape Project.

b.h.d. approaches design concepts by first asking themselves: How does this project inspire altruism, generate generosity and more love for people? Bucky shared a graph that represented Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s plan to increase the amount of demolitions happening in the city, amounting to over 40,000 demos within the next two years alone. Bucky expressed sadness at the loss of stories and history embedded within these buildings, and at how disjointed communities will be after all of the demolitions. The Skyscape Project aims to inspire neighbors to fight for these structures and for community members to take ownership of what happens in, and to, their neighborhood.   

Some challenges in the Skyscape Project include: having a modest and inflexible budget; fixed deadlines associated with grant resources; implementing a sustainable management plan for the space; acquisition of the building (beginning with finding ownership information); and, as b.h.d. was working with a dilapidated building, reducing the high construction costs. 

With all of these challenges in mind, Bucky pondered, “Can this be a barn raising—but without the barn?” From that emerged the creative idea for a roofless outdoor space to host events and programming.

The Salon participants took about 20 minutes to cultivate follow-up inquiry to both presentations, coming up with several questions around community engagement, public policy, project sustainability, interest sustainability, the realities of being outside expertise entering a community and gaining trust, race and administration, building and demonstrating capacity, and gaining credibility: 

  • Is there a way that cities can more clearly communicate ownership of vacant buildings? How much do we have to do things in a transparent and mission- and goal-oriented way? Is there a double standard in how community development projects have to be conducted versus how other developers get things done?
  • What does community participation look like in a project like Skyscape? What do we mean when we say ‘community engagement’? Does it mean direct engagement, community approval, co-creation? When working with community engagement, what value(s) are you presenting and offering to community and partners? What levels of community participation that are available to people? When do you engage the community in the process, planning, and vision if the regulatory processes, like zoning or acquisition, are not yet secured?
  • When working with a community that doesn’t understand the regulatory process, how do you tactfully leverage neighborhood expertise while also employing outside expertise in a way that feels co-equal or complimentary? Theaster observed the need to consider Race and Administration—if ‘expertise’ seems to live in Whiteville and ‘problems’ appear to live in Brown/Blackville, then how do you create equity and camaraderie and friendship? Is there a scalable way of addressing these various regulatory projects?
  • How many people does it take to sustain activity in this space during the planning process, construction, and after it has opened? How do you keep people engaged so that they feel heard and inspired when projects have regulatory delays or lengthy completion timelines? How long do you continue to engage and encourage property owners to participate in activities for their blighted building? How long do you dig in, when do you stop playing nice, and when do you decide to move on?
  • How do you negotiate and create balance between action and gaining reaction? Building capacity, demonstrating capacity. How much energy do you put into both fields so that you build credibility and ability? Is there a better way to use funds that can build capacity? How do you determine the highs and best purpose for vision? 
  • To build a movement around Ethical Redevelopment and strengthen the message, can this group actually reach a consensus around a number of Principles?


The Salon’s respondent was Dan Peterman, an artist, educator, and co-founder of Chicago’s Experimental Station and Blackstone Bicycle Works. Dan used the three-decades-old Experimental Station as a framing device for his response. He explained:
“The project has undergone several stages of occupying the building bit-by-bit, slowly acquiring the building, to later having a part of it burn down, then building on top of it, building different organizations within the structure, and growing a not-for-profit that has a very different administrative set of tasks that it deals with now than when it was a more flexible artist-driven project at its start. I prefer to program a building in a way that doesn’t over-define itself. The programs can speak for what was happening in the building. The programs can develop its audience organically.” 

Dan is a strong advocate in artist equity and supporting creative stakeholders to allow things to grow and evolve over time, and believes that stringent goals can limit a project from developing in an intrinsic fashion. Developing a mission statement early on was a bad idea! He also believes that it can be very confusing for a project to be so open, trying to answer all of a community’s needs.

Dan suggests to instead communicate more clearly by landing on a concept and saying, “I want to do this, because I don’t think there’s anything like this in the neighborhood,”—to stick with your intention while still being adaptive to feedback and trials. Even if a program is small in scope, capturing a small part of the community, it is still a start. 

Dan’s discussion raised a lot of questions around community engagement. One member asked: “What is the balance when a developer comes into a community and says this is what you are going to get versus asking what is it that you want?” 

It seems that it takes a certain level of creative confidence and sense of agency to overcome being an “outsider.” Theaster responded: “Something has to be birthed and someone has to birth it. The difference is that a developer has an obligation to set up a town hall meeting because they are getting public money and need to provide a community benefit agreement of some sort. People with vision usually aren’t benefiting from the same kind of cash that would flow toward these projects. We’re adopting capitalist developer pursuits on money that is already public money for things that are our own personal vision.”

So, What does community engagement look like? What value are you pitching and offering to a community and partners and what are the levels of community participation that are available to people? A Salon member answered: “There’s a way of reaching a middle ground here to provide agency and a sense of ownership to people that are already in the neighborhood who have that creative vision, whether its through the team you’re bringing on or the events that you host. It creates a balance.”

Speaking to the deep willingness members need in order to understand the existing field of development if they wish to accomplish anything significant, Theaster ended the Session with a proposition to its members: “The world of Place is bigger than our building… The proposition that we make can be big but it also means that the criticality that we have around understanding the field has to also be big.”


With that proposal, Theaster transitioned the Repurpose + Re-propose Session to "hang time," a free block for members to socialize while enjoying a musical performance. He walked to the windows of the Salon, brought up the blinds, and revealed a group of musicians plucking and percussing their instruments, serenading members from the lower roof of the Stony Island Arts Bank.

Interdisciplinary artist Mikel Patrick Avery and his band provided this artistic moment for the Salon. One of the underlying philosophies of Ethical Redevelopment is that artists of all kinds have something significant to contribute, need to be part of the conversation, and provide space for the often-neglected right side of the brain in discussions about city-building.

While the musicians played, members ate, drank, met each other, and began conversations that will continue for the coming year. Artistic moments and hang time have been built into each of the Salons Sessions. The ninth Principle—Platforms—includes this idea: “The event—what is happening—is beside the point. The point is that folks are meeting, exchanging, and learning. Create intentional hang time. It builds bonds, which build community.”

In order to track the development of these bonds and capture what is discussed during the Salons, we asked Arthur Wright to draw what he hears and illustrate the concepts, words, and emotions that emerge. Diligently sketching in the background, Arthur visually unfolds the discussion over the course of each Salon as a different kind of reference point for the evenings. Arthur is local artist, participated in the first Fellowship Program at the Stony Island Arts Bank, and talked about Principle #6: Place Over Time at the Public Convening in June 2016. More of his work can be found here.

The next Salon Session will be held in September. We'll see you soon.

Bring you voice to the conversation—share your thoughts on the forum.


Ethical Redevelopment Principle #6: Place Over Time

“Rome was not built in a day." Great things take time to create. Ethical Redevelopment Principle #6, Place Over Time, asserts that place is a function of time—a sense of place grows and matures the more time people spend engaging in and within a space. 


Place is not just a geographical location. As geographer Yi-Fu Tuan illuminates in Space and Place, a space only achieves definition when it is given meaning—positive or negative—by people. Meaning emerges from the feeling or perception held by people about the place, and not from aspects inherent to the place itself. By living/working/doing things in a place, participants form attachments and relationships, and a sense of belonging is created—an identity coalesces.

Making a place cannot happen quickly. The element of time is crucial. Time permits intentions to be realized, and visions to become realities. With the participation of myriad neighbors, partners, stakeholders, and curious participants, a place becomes imbued with culture, soul, life, identity. This is an organic process. The identity of a place is not fixed; as needs of the people change, the place must adapt. The evolution of place can take years, and is entirely dependent on the affinities of people. Approach with patience the notion of place, or there may never be a there there.

Creating great places isn’t a linear activity. Sustaining them is even trickier.
— Daniel Gilmartin, Executive Director and CEO Michigan Municipal League in The Economics of Place

Place Over Time in Action

Hope Works is a Community Development Corporation (CDC) that “seeks to empower our neighbors to become active participants in and catalysts of a flourishing Woodlawn and South Side of Chicago community.” The CDC came out of a long, faith-based process, initiated by the opening of a satellite location in 2003 by the Portage Park-based Bethel Christian Church. The church, located at and in partnership with the University of Chicago, and lead by a white pastor from Tennessee, initially attracted mostly University students. Over time, Bethel attracted a more diverse congregation and in 2010 became the Living Hope Church. With a newly acquired building in Woodlawn sorely in need of renovation, Living Hope welcomed volunteers, offering food and shelter to anyone who lent a helping hand. After four years of hard work and direct community involvement, the Living Hope Church became a part of the fabric of its neighborhood.

In 2010, Hope Works CDC was established to facilitate and drive the growth of economic opportunities for Woodlawn families. The organization provides employment assistance, programs aimed at economic and cultural engagement, and works on issues of housing development. Hope Works recognizes that many systemic and personal barriers are faced by those who are under- or unemployed, and address these barriers through work on housing, transportation, and health care. From the website: “Ultimately, people are able to not only get jobs but keep them.” Over time, the church found its place and became a place itself, a resource for participants to increase their contribution to the larger Woodlawn community and find structure and self-sufficiency in their lives and those of their family members.


Have you been a part of a place, organization, or vision that you’ve seen grow, change, and become transformed by participation? Tell us about it in the comments section.

Ethical Redevelopment Principle #5: Design

Design impacts a city as much as policy and governance do. Design dictates everything from the way your subway fare card looks and works to the layout of a city, which is designed by urban planners, often to the advantage of some and the disadvantage of others. Good design and beauty are basic services that can be available to all neighborhoods, even the most disinvested and neglected. By valuing what others discard, creative people—including invested residents—can resurrect fallow spaces with poetic moments that make a place desireable. Design and aesthetics attract attention because they convey the care and pride present in a neighborhood, as well as the identity and character of the people who live there. Deciding the layout of a community garden plot, where and what a mural artist paints, and what your frontyard or apartment window looks like contribute to the design and aesthetics of a neighborhood.

Place Lab’s Isis Ferguson recently wrote in a FastCo article that more people need to be part of the design of cities and neighborhoods:

Asking the typically untapped people — artists, misfits, outsiders, elders, immigrants, people of color, and women — what the most joyous, liberatory, and authentic spaces are for them is a good start at imagining more for public life and for creating places of greater possibility for all in the public realm.
— Isis Ferguson, Associate Director of City and Community Strategy at Place Lab

With inclusive practices and thinking, design can offer multiple uses for public space, adapt to needs, and promote social equity in urban spaces.


American alleys are distinct from small thoroughfares in other parts of the world. While Europeans use them as pedestrian passageways and Japanese cities build small retail shops, the uses of alleys in the US are for behind-the-scenes activities like garbage collection, car storage, and loading docks. Alleys can take up a large amount of a city’s real estate—Chicago’s 13,000 alleys amass 3500 acres, among the largest in the country. The Atlantic's City Lab recently reported on re-imaginings and re-designs of alleyways in cities around the US—surprising and creative ways that benefit the city’s environmental ecosystem, the social and cultural lives of residents, and entrepreneurs and small businesses.

The Chicago Green Alley program covered the city’s alleys with permeable surfaces “that redirect storm water into the ground and away from Chicago’s ‘overtaxed’ sewer system.” In Seattle, the International Sustainability Institute (ISI) took advantage of the city’s restructured trash collection, which removed dumpsters from alleys and now rely on trash bags. ISI has since programmed alleys with “projecting World Cup games from the back of a U-Haul truck, to cat adoptions, to revolving art installations.” In Los Angeles, the East Cahuenga Alley went from being known as “Heroin Alley” to a pedestrian walkway with outdoor dining and a Sunday artists’ market, and idea that has spread to other cities.

The success of these projects shows how it’s possible to take a space that was once a liability, and turn it into a resource.
— Daniel Freedman, Los Angeles Sustainability Collaborative, in FastCo


What design ideas do you have for your community? Share them in the comments below, and continue the conversation in the Ethical Redevelopment public forum.

Naomi Davis: Reflections on the Public Convening for Ethical Redevelopment

Naomi Davis, Urban Sustainability Expert

Naomi Davis, Urban Sustainability Expert

On June 22, 2016, Place Lab introduced Ethical Redevelopment with a Public Convening. Held at the Logan Center for the Arts, this this interactive, theatrical event explored and showcased how residents, artists, entrepreneurs, developers, and civic leaders are joining forces to explore a more equitable approach to community transformation.

In this guest blog, urban sustainability expert Naomi Davis reflects on the Public Convening.


Theaster Gates experiments.

A way of thinking about islands of people: literally loved into living themselves and their neighbors as "acts-of-art." Places are made in the confluence of regulations, performance, contemplation, and questions. Is Theaster asking how places work best for art-beings?

And what would Theaster’s walk in art+ethics say to the ages if lifted from the dust of a dig by archeologists a millennium from now? Scholars and school kids judge the creativity and scruples of societies long ago and far away – an exercise in their powers of observation – but maybe without the key ingredient: intimacy. Will future folks feel pressed-up-close-and-personal where the most important question one can ask is, “how do I feel about myself in your presence?” 

Will they feel his art places had virtue? Did folks felt better about themselves there? Did folks feel better feeling about me, too?

When observing lovers court and spark, we naturally grasp the ebb and flow of feelings – but not so much when neighbors come and go through buildings. Yet, if as people move through time and place they experience “Embrace,” then hasn’t something virtuous happened? They felt loved!


My own heart skipped a beat at Ethical Redevelopment when guest expert Cathy Cohen moved in close on the impact of choices driven by the placemakers called developers. She put this question in their mouths:

How will this decision demonstrate love for the young people in this community?
— Cathy Cohen, Black Youth Project 100

Case closed. This was a litmus test anyone could understand and stand for. Wasn’t it right/on?

Still…there are so many ways to love, doesn’t the question become “how do I want to be loved?”

Do I want to be loved by a high price for my home and a soft kiss goodbye? Do I want to be loved by a new boom box next door beating my wall like it wants in? Do I want to be loved by a flourishing banner reminding me to "stand my ground, before it’s too late"? Do I want to be loved by "freedom of choice" in spite of my race and class?

Thus my mad crush on Kerwin Charles percolated at Ethical Redevelopment when he questioned:

What is the role of the previous residents who’ve lived through everything and all of it, and how do we spread the gains [the pleasures of beauty?] across historical residents and new entrants?
— Kerwin Charles, UChicago Harris School of Public Policy

The “long arch” of Dr. Martin Luther King was a ‘journey to justice’ – a journey requiring the strength to love all those who didn’t love you back with their processes, distributions, outcomes…or redevelopments.

I’m clear: I want to feel good about myself in the presence of redevelopment. I want to feel good about my freedom of choice – that my freedom of choice matters more than the freedom of the market to extend America’s extreme racial wealth disparity…to foster my failure in the real estate market of cash buyers…to sacrifice my displacement on the altar of profit…to profit again from the structures of inequity.


As a “Curator of Questions” I selected an audience question about Ethical Development and ‘capitalism’ – I thought, “yaaassss, where the rubber meets the road…”

The question was passed to the room where straight away capitalism was declared unethical, unnatural – because it enshrined monopoly…because it fed on scarcity. Two guests unconditionally declared it must die.

And after a robust run, the night was done – a performance metaphor for The 9 Principles of Ethical Development – another Theaster work of art. A complex program with so much flourish but also simply elegant…a profusion with a calming effect…a program that left me at peace.

Courtesy of Naomi Davis

Courtesy of Naomi Davis


The archeological dig of not a millennium, but a month later – 

I observe I want to feel the virtues of life that imitates art. Judgment, grace, and mercy are the instruments of God, just as art is a gift from God to the province of man. Our Creator loves us unconditionally – all we need do is love ourselves enough to know it and choose our god-like powers of design/build. Art also requires our wisdom: its prism separates us inside, where we must decide if it loves us – and if not, leave it. And when redevelopment doesn’t love us, our freedom of choice not to leave requires we replace hateful old infrastructure that would rob us of our sovereign right.

At Blacks in Green™ we use the prism of love to separate the visible spectrum of Environment, Economy, and Equity. We teach The 8 Principles of Green-Village-Building™ – The 12 Propositions of Grannynomics™ – “The Conservation Lifestyle/The Beautiful Life” – “The Age of the Neighbor Investor” – and preach that “Nothing Trumps Ownership of the Land” – especially for those whom the market tends to target, marginalize, disinvest, and then displace. In that order, we have been systematically and repeatedly removed from whatever homesteads ‘those-who-don’t-love-us’ wanted. For BIG™ – redevelopment requires a new currency exchange – where homes aren’t mere commodities…profits flow on a level playing field…and control of who comes-and-goes is powered by neighbor agency.

Audience response board.

Audience response board.

I observe that here in the Centennial of America’s Great Migration, many African Americans feel at the mercy of a market that does not love us, the purgatory of ‘a dream deferred’…no 40 acres, no mule – even as we hold the inalienable, God-given power in our hands to create a New Promised Land whose love we do feel. We needn’t yield to demands that the art-we-are and the places-we-make can only be improved by adding another color. We are the artists and monochromes are also beautiful. Who assumes a Chinese enclave must be improved with the addition of Greeks?

I love myself, and I love art that reminds me I am beautiful as I am. I want to live in a place that loves me, too. I want to live where the gains of beauty are sweetly shared…where I’m more important than profit…where seven generations ahead my children and the archeologists can feel it was so.

Intention, policy, and practice – in that order – bend the long arc of justice. Kudos to Theaster for putting love first, where it belongs.

Ah, the art of the deal.

Join the conversation on the Ethical Redevelopment Public Forum.

Ethical Redevelopment Principle #3 - Pedagogical Moments

Knowledge transfer and skill sharing happen in casual and formal manners.

In working with others towards a shared mission in your neighborhood, consider how to structure relationships so that the skills of one resident are utilized and others can learn from working with them. How do you create a community workshop? Who will benefit? Who will lend their skills? What types of skills will be shared? 

Learning is not a product of school but the lifelong attempt to acquire it.
— Albert Einstein

Ethical Redevelopment looks for pedagogical moments that occur when setting up a food stand, offering art instruction in unusual places, sorting through a collection of books so that a community can access it, and making an art center more functional. When budgets tighten, arts and cultural activities have long been cut out of public institutions, programs, and infrastructure. In disinvested communities, children and adults often lack opportunities for creative exploration. Local museums and centers close, performance spaces and bookstores go out of business, and public gathering spaces fall into disrepair. The contributions of artists and cultural makers are set aside as a neighborhood’s economic stability is threatened. As such, the artistic path is devalued and left unexplored.

I think for so long, especially for African Americans, those that work in the arts or work as artists probably didn’t get a lot of encouragement 20 years ago from family about pursuing that path. So the more we can educate people that you can make a living, you can make a worthwhile contribution, that this is a road for you to travel. Yeah, it helps.
— Michelle Boone, Commissioner, City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events


With a philosophy very much aligned with work being done by Theaster Gates on Chicago’s South Side, The Laundromat Project in New York City sees art as a hands-on, local agent of change in neighborhoods. Using everyday spaces like laundromats, artists set up community-based projects that directly engage with the residents in the neighborhoods of Bedford Stuyvesant, Harlem, and Hunts Point. From their website: “the skills and strategies for igniting creativity are made broadly available to everyday people and purposefully applied as tools for visioning a new and better world.” They measure success by the increase of residents’ involvement in the civic and cultural life of the neighborhood owing to a sense of belonging and investment. Recent projects include exploratory stop-animation workshops with project screenings during the Harlem Barbeque Summit, and a ice cream cart in the Latino Bronx community equipped with a pollution monitor that offers free ice cream in exchange for residents’ stories about the impact of climate change locally or their home country. These moments of exchange, sharing, and creation are vital actions in expanding the imagination of the possible and utilizing existing talent to skillshare for mutual benefit.



Reflect on this past week: what’s an everyday Pedagogical Moment you’ve been a part of? Describe an opportunity you’ve had to share your knowledge base with a friend, family member, or neighbor. Tell us about it in the comments below.

Ethical Redevelopment Principle #2 - Engaged Participation

Deindustrialization, redlining, urban renewal policies, mass incarceration, sudden population shifts: it is no simple task to redress the effects that communities have suffered from decades of disinvestment. The ecology resulting from a decline in resources, such as abandoned properties, under-education, neighborhood violence, unemployment, is not a result of any single privation, and neither can the reversal of such disinvestment be accomplished by a single person or entity.

Real, sustainable community change requires the initiative and engagement of community members.
— Helene D. Gayle, CEO, McKinsey Social Initiative

Equitable transformation of a community is dependent on the agency of the members that live and work in that community. Affordable housing, living wage employment, quality education, recreation and retail, health and social services, transportation and infrastructure—all are made more powerful when a community is not merely a recipient, but an active participant in its development. Civic engagement brings both internal stakeholders and external stakeholders to a shared platform.

Ethical Redevelopment proposes developing an engagement framework that calls into question who does the work and with and for whom. As many organizations and institutions consider “engagement strategies” that may be more about informing a public—a one-way relationship—the willing investment of participants’ time, talents, and resources in a given place redefines the architectural, cultural, social, and economic landscape. By engaging with a multiplicity of people who share in the transparent negotiation and implementation of a vision, place-based work integrates a sense of social responsibility, neighborliness, and authenticity.

Engaged Participation is the development of authentic relationships with people who already believe in the place: locals embedded by proximity, those connected by a desire to contribute or commitment to a mission. The value of the relationship is in the intimacy, not in the duration. Engage for as long as it makes sense to engage. This intimacy sparks commitment to a vision, and the neighbors, staff, and visitors become participatory producers—more than “consumers”—by tapping into different access points to find themselves in the work. The work is for many, with many, and, ultimately, by many.


Providing multiple access points is key to authentic community participation, and such points are often developed as a the result of key partnerships between stakeholders. Boston Creates, a year-long cultural planning process, partnered with artist collective Department of Play to explore the ways in which Bostonians engaged with arts and culture. This partnership connected urban planning and the lived experiences of Boston's communities to inform the cultural plan for the city by "[infusing] creativity, imagination, artistry and fun into a citywide planning process."

Take a moment to think about your community and the opportunities that exist within it. How can you, operating as a resident and a citizen, champion Engaged Participation?

Purpose-driven development: St. Laurence project

Former St. Laurence Elementary School in Grand Crossing. Photo: Place Lab.

What spaces exist for people to get involved in the development processes occurring around them? Who has a say in choosing what buildings will be demolished and which are allowed to remain? What happens to a community when it loses a school, and what can we collectively imagine will happen inside these unique and valuable community assets?

Inside the now abandoned St. Laurence. Photo: Place Lab.

Schools, and school buildings, are important loci of community, learning, and shared belief in the future. When school buildings and other community centers are closed, they are often simply abandoned, creating not only a visual eyesore, but a striking representation of public disinvestment and relegation of those communities. As Patrick Kerkstra observes in this Next City article on school closures: "’s not surprising that many shuttered schools are often simply left to rot for years by cash-stripped districts loathe to spend money on maintenance for empty buildings. It’s a state of affairs that can generate blight and, in time, pose genuine safety hazards." And it isn't just the building closure itself that impacts the neighborhood; the loss of a school sends myriad ripples throughout a community. The article goes on to note that "closing schools is almost always traumatic. Some consider the selection process arbitrary and open to political influence. And once the final decisions are made, students and families must scramble to find alternatives. Teachers are reassigned or laid off."

Because of their symbolic and practical importance to communities, renovating and re-activating these buildings presents unique opportunities for public conversation around the patterns of urban development, neglect, and reinvention, among local residents who are directly effected by these trends.

Place Lab team members Carson Poole and Nootan Bharani working on site clean-up at St. Laurence. Photo: Place Lab.

Place Lab is currently working on a demonstration project called Board Up, a community engagement series that involves communities in reimagining the possibilities of disused spaces. The first Board Up involves the vacant St. Laurence Elementary School in Greater Grand Crossing, Chicago. Concepts for the future of St. Laurence may include makerspace that provides education and job training in industrial design and fabrication that will augment neighbors’ skills and expand employment prospects.

The windows at St. Laurence prior to boarding. Photo: Place Lab.

This summer, young people in the Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood will engage with the reimagining of St. Laurence through artistic intervention, using the windows in the building as a canvas that will provide comment on the possibilities of St. Laurence. Drawing from the history of the community and the collections at the Stony Island Arts Bank, Chicago artist Ruben Aguirre will lead a group of youth and explore pattern-making as a lens through which we can view culture and identity.  

The project will create murals for the boards that now cover the windows in the building, beginning the building’s transformation from abandoned to activated space. St. Laurence is rich with opportunities to tap into the latent capacity for change and artistry that exists among the community’s networks. These opportunities are what we call pedagogical moments, and can serve as a foundation on which a project is built. They are moments of exchange— simultaneous teaching and learning— that scale the impact of our work and move us forward. The third of our 9 Principles of Ethical Redevelopment, pedagogical moments are intentionally woven throughout the St. Laurence project and other Place Lab projects to maximize the scale and scope of impact

We'll provide updates this summer on progress at St. Laurence here on the SITE blog. Check back, and look out for an announcement for the public unveiling of the murals in August.

Windows lining a hall at St. Laurence. Photo: Place Lab.

Update: An earlier version of this blog entry referred to Place Lab's work at St. Laurence as redevelopment. The blog has been revised to clarify that Place Lab is involved in a community engagement project at the site.

Ethical Redevelopment Principle #1 - Repurpose + Re-propose

In an era of disposability, it is common for materials that have outlived their original purpose to be deemed useless or dated and then discarded. It's considered expedient to tear down a dilapidated building rather than renovate. Often, expedient is synonymous with cheaper. What gets lost or missed with policies that only prioritize new or innovative? 

Preservation is a form of redevelopment and can be transformational for a community. The Principle of Repurpose + Re-propose asserts that not only can old resources be allocated to new endeavors, but that objects and projects do not have to be monetized to be useful. Artists are renowned for transforming objects into art, for transposing the common into the extraordinary. This is artistry, and artistry is alchemy—it allows one thing to become another.

Alchemy is a kind of philosophy: a kind of
thinking t
hat leads to a way of understanding. 
— Marcel Duchamp

With limited financial resources many artists, activities, stewards, and neighbors have acted as local alchemists. They've worked with what and who was available, and turned deficiencies into abundances.

Chakaia Booker is a sculptor whose work transforms discarded construction materials into art. Booker's extensive body of work encompasses performance art, photography, clothing, and textiles. Her work in transforming old tires into complex assemblages fuses the artist's explorations of ecology, racial and economic difference, globalization, and gender. Booker has stated that tires resonate with her "for their versatility and rich range of historical and cultural associations."

Cities like Detroit are grappling with myriad issues resulting from the collapse of once integral industries. Populations that developed skills to work in now contracting or obsolete industries are struggling to adapt to new economic realities—as are companies in need of an increased labor force. Companies like Shinola, a high-end wristwatch manufacturer in Detroit, are leveraging the manufacturing experience of the local population into employable skills. Shinola transforms these basic skills by flying in expert watchmakers from Thailand and Switzerland to train employees. For Shinola, the time and expense is ultimately worth it to ensure the company can prosper in its own city.

Take a moment to think about your community and the opportunities that exist within it. How can you, operating as an alchemist, Repurpose + Re-propose? Share your ideas in the comments below, and be prepared to share them at the Public Convening on Ethical Redevelopment on June 22.

RSVP for the Public Convening, a free and open public event.

Ethical Redevelopment: An Introduction

Place Lab is preparing to publicly present their ongoing investigation and demonstration of projects that make the case for mindful city-building. Through a series of Public Convenings + Salon Sessions, Place Lab will share the 9 Principles of Ethical Redevelopment. Through the social learning network developed at the Salon Sessions, Place Lab and selected practitioners will workshop projects from around the country to share ideas, explore paths to overcoming obstacles, and consider methods of implementation.

Rooted in artist-led, neighborhood-based development work actively occurring on Chicago’s South Side, these evolving Principles emerged from the work of artist and urban planner Theaster Gates, Jr. In the video above, Gates discusses some of the assumptions underlying Ethical Redevelopment. 

The 9 Principles encapsulate a methodology that support the creation and sustainability of successful communities. Rather than calling Ethical Redevelopment new or innovative, it’s more accurate to consider Ethical Redevelopment as an atypical process for transformation that speaks to, and builds on, ideas and work already being done in communities. A people-focused approach to development is simply not as widely practiced as traditional forms of neighborhood development which prioritize profit over community — the type of development that spurs gentrification.

“Gentrification is a standing word for lots of other things that people really mean. When people in poor black communities use the word gentrification, they’re asking specific questions. If something good happens here, will I be forced out? Can I still afford to live here? Will the social constructs that governed how I lived here change?"— Theaster Gates, interview with the Chicago Tribune

Values, process, and aim are what distinguish Ethical Redevelopment from gentrification: robust public life requires a belief in and devotion to place in advance of investment. While there is no single solution to the myriad challenges cities face, Ethical Redevelopment provides a framework for creative revitalization of communities.

As we approach our first Public Convening for Ethical Redevelopment (June 22, 2016), we will be highlighting each of the 9 Principles with short videos, placing each Principle in context through one of our real-world projects, and encouraging you to engage with us by asking questions, sharing your thoughts, and considering how you can leverage these concepts to make an impact on your communities.

As Gates observes, Ethical Redevelopment is a work in progress. We need your input to shape the conversation. Are there assumptions you feel we forgot? How can development occur without displacement? Tell us what you think in the comments section.

Don't forget to RSVP for the Public Convening for Ethical Redevelopment.