The Beloved Community: A Profile of Don Edwards

by Wesley Swanson

Much of the Remaking Cities Congress placed distinct emphasis on equity—recognizing the demographics of a city and working to decrease homogeneity of a city based on race or socioeconomic status. One of the most efficient appeals towards this goal came during the final breakfast panel of the Congress, when Mr. Don Edwards made his speech.

Mr. Edwards, of Washington, D.C., acts as CEO of Justice and Sustainability LLC. The firm specializes in helping transform areas into “Beloved Communities,” a phase drawn from a quote by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “In the Beloved Community, poverty, hunger and homelessness will not be tolerated because international standards of human decency will not allow it. Racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood.”

Creating such communities is a noble goal. But how is it done? And why hasn’t it been done already? I caught up with Mr. Edwards to find out. The key to creating the beloved community, Edwards says, comes from responsible planning. The urban planner needs to build a stable constituency, and further, understand what it wants.  “Innovations make it hard to say it’s not possible to know what citizens want,” Edwards says, presenting this as a relatively easy first step. “Technology has removed the variable of time.”

Second, even when the urbanist completely involves himself in the process, he all too often makes the mistake of limiting what kinds of capital are available to him. Most people only look at financial capital, Edwards says, when the resources of the neighborhood provide human capital, intellectual capital, and even natural capital.

But the bigger question Edwards addresses is why an official would ever disregard this model—as Edwards says himself, “we have arrived at a point where there is no barrier” when it comes to inclusivity. The problem, Edwards says, stems from complacency. Too many people involved in the planning process only become involved for political positioning, Edwards says, and this has the side effect of deactivating the enthusiasm people may have once had for change. Edwards cites the ideal leader as Anthony Williams, the mayor of Washington, D.C. from 1999 to 2007, as a leader who was prepared to introduce actual change rather than sit on his heels.

During his breakfast speech, Mr. Edwards posed a few questions to the audience of a few hundred academics and architects. “In 25 years, will there be another Remaking Cities Conference? What will the composition be?” he asks. “Why are we remaking cities?” To Edwards, the results we achieve today through pursuance of the Beloved Community will help us answer. But in a final question, he asks, who will be the next champion of the congress? Edwards is enthusiastic about Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani girl catapulted into fame for her activism. He sees Malala’s home as an example of a place where real change is needed—where if people can come together and embrace the idea of the Beloved Community, and grant the idea international credence, then perhaps discrimination and dysfunction can be defeated once and for all.

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