A Changing Climate Means A Changing Society. The Island Press Urban Resilience Project, Supported By The Kresge Foundation And The JPB Foundation, Is Committed To A Greener, Fairer Future. This Post Was Originally Published May 17, 2017 in The Root.

Sit at the tables where people are deciding where the new school will go, whether to expand the bus stop, or if a new business can drop itself into a neighborhood and the first question that comes to mind is: “Where are all the people of color?”

In 2017, it is—still—a fact that most folks who design, plan and build our cities lack the diversity found in those same places. Last week in Seattle, a panel of experts tackled this problem at the Congress for the New Urbanism, an annual gathering of progressive planners.

Why should this matter? At a time when black America faces mortal threats from institutional racism, police violence and the authoritarian power grab in Washington, D.C., don’t we have more important things to worry about than urban-planning issues? Who has time to meddle in zoning and land ordinances?

But you’ll be wishing you had understood it that moment you’re being gentrified off your block. Our lives are shaped by the places we live, to the extent that “ZIP codes are life determinants,” said Ron Sims, former deputy secretary for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, at the meeting. “Tell me your ZIP code, and I can predict how much you earn, when you will die, and whether you will get kicked out of school.”

The places we live even affect our bodies at the molecular level. Children from crime-ridden neighborhoods have higher levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, which is linked to learning problems, as well as a host of physical and mental illnesses. Environmental factors like toxins and stress can actually alter our genes (pdf), creating changes in our brains that last a lifetime.

That means the people who design and plan cities are “fooling around with people’s genes without their permission,” said Sims.

Those designers and planners are, on the whole, a melanin-challenged group. For example, less than 10 percent (pdf) of architects are black or Latinx, even as those groups make up more than 30 percent of the U.S. population. Only 15 percent of architects are women. “So the people who are creating our cities, and drawing those ZIP code lines, are predominantly white men,” said Justin Garret Moore, executive director of the New York City Public Design Commission.

To change that, Moore tells The Root, it’s crucial to build a pipeline of diverse talent. Moore recalled his own entry into the field when, at age 14, he was hired as an intern for CSO Architects in Indianapolis. While designing a gymnasium for Moore’s high school, CSO was asked to hire two summer interns from the school. Two decades later, both of those interns—black men from an underperforming inner-city public high school—have careers in the planning and design professions. “Someone really should replicate that on a much larger scale,” said Moore.

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Urban Resilience