All of Us: Together

By Leonard L. JohnsonJan. 27, 2021

Equitable Economic Development. What does it mean?

Well, equitable means fair and impartial. Economics is the study of production, distribution, and consumption of goods and service. And development is the process of starting an experience. Given these definitions, one could say equitable economic development means to begin fairly producing and distributing goods and services. If that is true, then that is exactly what Saint Louis needs.

As a transplant to Saint Louis, I moved here for work, looking up nothing about the city except its demographics. At the time, which was June of 2009, I had to choose between Saint Louis or going back home to the D.C./Maryland/Virginia area –otherwise known as the DMV. 

Where was I moving from you may ask? Greensboro, NC.

Now, as we all know, North Carolina is the south. And the south has a negative stigma when it comes to racial equality—or lack thereof. So, as a black boy being born and raised half his life in the DMV, I wanted to escape the south I had lived in for the latter half of my life at the time. But where to go? 

Back home to the DMV, where I knew diversity was a thing? Where—at least on the surface—equitable economic development looked more like equitable economic sustainment? Or…. Saint Louis? A new place, where the demographics looked balanced and the city appeared to have great things to offer.

Obviously, I chose Saint Louis. And I can’t say I was disappointed with my decision, but I did become disappointed in the city. Why, you might ask?

Well, because Saint Louis had so much to offer. But, as a transplant, I believed the underlying racial tension was getting in the way of its greatness. The blatant disregard for the black community’s growth was uncanny (at least for me). For example, when I heard the solution to crime in the black community was more police, I gasped. I thought, “Well, the people committing crimes will probably just do crime where there are no police. Why not take the funds for the newly hired police officers and provide after-school programs or job training?”

It was if the city had not ever heard the motto, “A team is only as great as its weakest link.”

Nevertheless, once I settled down into my new-found city, it was easy to see the disparity between the black community compared to all other communities. And me being the inquisitive guy I am, I had to at least do a little digging to see what was up with Saint Louis. 

In my search, I found something very interested: the Pruitt–Igoe projects.

The Pruitt–Igoe projects were built for young low-income white and black tenants in 1954. Ironically, the two poor groups of people were brought together to live in segregation. Though, not too long after, “white flight” took place, which put whites in nice suburban neighborhoods and blacks…well, in the projects. 

As a transplant living in Saint Louis since 2009, nothing has really seemed to change since 1954: Blacks in Saint Louis are still being left behind. 

I still think about the Pruitte-Igoe situation to this day. Like, what if they all stayed together (de-segregated)? What if they had practiced equitable economic development? Would that have been best for their community? Would it have gone to ruins like it did? 

If the city, as a whole, stopped living in the Pruitte-Igoe era, would that be best? Would that help the city avoid heading down a ruinous path? 

I think so. 

I believe a team is only as great as its weakest link, as I stated earlier. So, the city should acknowledge its weak link, and make it stronger (Psssst: The weak link is the city’s racial disparity. Just in case you missed it). And it should do this by making it a priority to fairly produce and distribute goods and services to all. Because the city will ever only be as great as its people. All of them. Together.

About the author

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Leonard Johnson

Management Analyst, Department of Veteran Affairs
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Leonard ‘Leo’ Johnson III is currently a management analyst for the Department of Veteran Affairs, co-owner of A&L Properties, and co-owner of A Candid Conversation podcast.

He started his career as a buying agent after earning his undergraduate degree in Business Administration from North Carolina A&T State University. In pursuit of financial freedom, he has been building multiple streams of income via various projects; some of which are mentioned above.