By Andrea Klick, student reporter
Nina Idemudia, AICP, wants to change the way the urban planning world looks and thinks – and she is making major strides. This August, Idemudia, a USC Price master in urban planning alumna and Assistant Commissioner for the Chicago Department of Planning and Development, was elected as the first Black president of the Illinois chapter of the American Planning Association (APA).
Her win came after running alongside five other women of color who share her hope to make sure urban planners better reflect the communities where they work. The group had worked together to strategize their campaigns, with one of the six candidates also running for president to increase the chance that a Black woman would be elected to the top role that helps create professional development opportunities and impact industry guidelines for urban planners across the state. Her next goal is to make the board of the national APA more inclusive, too.
“By flipping those seats I hope that [planners of color] see themselves and are a little bit more intrigued to say ‘OK well maybe I will take on this role,’” Idemudia said, “‘or maybe I will go to that conference that I’ve never been to before’ and just really start to change the infrastructure.”
So far, Idemudia has done policy work in Los Angeles and now Chicago. For her, it’s important that planners learn from their residents rather than making decisions solely based on individual experiences.
When her colleagues come in with biases or don’t meet with residents of the cities and neighborhoods they work for, Idemudia offers a reminder that they might continue to enforce systems that harm people of color and low-income residents – and that it should be a requirement for planners to directly work with their communities to create mutual solutions.
Despite her personal activism and the growth she’s seeing in the field, in every city she has lived in Idemudia said she has seen the effects of long-standing anti-Blackness policies and systems, like shorter life expectancies among Black Americans or fewer opportunities for economic growth in lower-income neighborhoods where more Black people and other people of color live.
The latent issues with her field cannot be ignored, which she describes with candor. “Planning is a system that was created to invoke and perpetuate white supremacy, institutional racism bias — all these ‘isms’ that we see in the world,” Idemudia said. “Planning has the ability to perpetuate them by creating physical land barriers in order to have the have and have nots, and I believe that it’s my job as a Black woman in this field to undo as much harm as I can.”
With the coronavirus pandemic infecting Black and brown people at higher rates than any other demographic in the U.S., Idemudia says the role of urban planners is even more crucial, as she has the opportunity to influence getting more funding, increased resources and better infrastructure into communities that need it most.
She hopes that, by bringing a more diverse group of leaders into Illinois’ APA chapter and creating more opportunities for students of color at Price, she can help more Black and Indigenous people and people of color see themselves in urban planning.
“I want to make opportunities for the next little Black girl from the city who decides she wants to get into this industry, and I want to make her experience easier than mine was,” she said. “I want to make sure the next girl who walks into a USC classroom is less nervous and has more confidence than me.”