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Fireside Chat with HKS, Inc.

Recently, HKS, Inc. (an architecture firm) hosted a fireside chat in Atlanta where Clyde Higgs, CEO of Atlanta BeltLine and I were invited to talk about equity and the built environment. Here are highlights from our talk:

First, only 2% of architects in the U.S. are Black. To increase this percentage, HKS has implemented justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion initiatives to create a diverse workforce that reflects the demographics of the communities in which they work. As a result, I had the pleasure of meeting Frank (pictured below), a budding high school architect and intern at HKS.

Second, systemic racism permeates almost every corner of American society, and for generations, has facilitated poor outcomes for Black and Brown communities. The results are reflected in hundreds of statistics related to income inequality, criminal justice, education, health, and much more. The data is undeniable and reflects the true reality of Black and Brown people living in Atlanta and the U.S.

Third, the BeltLine connects historically separated communities and reshapes Atlanta residents' access to multi-use trails, parks, public transit, housing, and job opportunities. A model for convening public and private partnerships, the BeltLine works collaboratively to ensure all legacy residents, new residents, and business owners benefit from activities associated with the BeltLine.

Finally, historically underrepresented populations will be the majority due to projected demographic growth by 2044. The workforce of yesterday will not lead companies and cities to the future. The cities and companies that engage people with compassion and cultivate safe environments to explore courageous conversations that build understanding and empathy will thrive in the years to come.

We all can build stronger communities! When we exercise our ability to do good individually, we grow more powerful collectively. But practically speaking, what does that look like?

Individuals can create more equitable communities by:

  • Opening up their personal networks to underrepresented people

  • Seeking out learning opportunities to deepen understanding of community issues

  • Committing to a long-standing mentoring relationship with a student attending an underserved school

  • Finding ways to activate unheard voices

Organizations can do their part by:

  • Committing to measuring the impact of DEI goals and policies.

  • Creating a cycle of transparency by involving different levels of stakeholders to review the data for learning and accountability against targets.

  • Ensuring suppliers and management reflect community demographics

  • Developing DEI strategies that support employees and the broader community

  • Collaboratively working across industries to dismantle unjust systems

Every day, individuals and organizations have opportunities to dismantle unjust systems by balancing access to resources in underinvested communities. Thank you Shelby Morris for moderating this excellent discussion.

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