By Yvette Freeman, P.U.M.A. Senior Strategist 

Last month I had the privilege of attending the eighth annual EcoDistricts Summit in Atlanta. I was introduced to EcoDistricts last year when Denver was the host, and I was amazed at the way gentrification was discussed — candidly, openly and with a lens on equity and race. The distinctive quality about the EcoDistricts organization, its conferences and work, is its approach and vision around issues of equity, sustainability and resilience for communities.

This year’s EcoDistricts conference did not disappoint in providing a fair share of meaningful takeaways.  The opening speaker, Nathaniel Smith, shared that “Equity is not a what, but a way.”  He explained that a child’s zip code has a greater influence on a child’s potential than the hope that a child has within. With examples from past FHA housing policies, he emphasized that the “greatest difference between equity and equality is history.”  Smith referenced Atlanta’s Beltline, a major development project that was embraced and supported by long-time residents who are now being “pushed out.” Home prices in the area have increased by nearly 70% since 2011. Mr. Smith’s closing statement, “No poor person should be put in a place where they are subsidizing their own displacement,” was most poignant, considering the dramatic demographic and economic changes occurring in major cities throughout our country.

In addition to numerous provocative workshop sessions, another powerful conference highlight was the traveling exhibition called Undesign the Redline. This exhibition illustrates the history of redlining, offering references and insight to the explicit nature of structural racism in early U.S. housing policy. Click to learn more about this exhibition and the topic.

The EcoDistricts Summit conference broadened my perspective and enriched the way that I will engage with communities in my strategic planning work.  Learn more at: