No. 134: Soul City: A City for Black Folk

My head is still shaking after learning that a prison sits on the land where Floyd McKissick was trying to build a city for black people.

White Flight, Urban Crisis, New Cities

Soul City was a project McKissick began working on in the late 1960s as part of an initiative at the Department of Housing and Urban Development to deal with the urban crisis in America. White Flight was taking place and the health of urban cities was not good – crime, bad housing, few job opportunities.

The initiative was to fund the development of 13 new cities to test whether the creation of new places to live was a viable option for dealing with the urban crisis. McKissick applied for the initiative to develop his idea for Soul City.

Floyd McKissick

Floyd McKissick was a leader in the Civil Rights Movement. His contemporaries included Stokely Carmichael, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Whitney Young. As the Civil Rights Movement gained steam McKissick and Carmichael pushed forward the Black Power Movement saying that the Civil Rights Movement wasn’t going far enough and things weren’t moving quickly enough for black people in the country.

The whole time I’m listening to the introduction of this podcast, I’m wondering why I don’t recall ever hearing about McKissick and well I know that there’s so much that I don’t know about the movement someone at his level I think I should have run across his name and not exactly sure why that is. The podcast puts forward a theory I’m not sure I agree with, but I hadn’t heard of Bayard Rustin for a long time either and he had kind of been written out of history for a while too.

Soul City, Silicon Valley, and Wealth

I was shocked to learn that Soul City had an incubator called Soul Tech One, which was focused on nurturing new companies. I couldn’t help but think about the early days of Silicon Valley, which had begun its evolution just 20 years prior. In the 75 years of so since the beginning of Silicon Valley, the billions of dollars of individual wealth that has been created is mind boggling.

Today, the conversation around the lack of presence of black people in the technology sector is at its peak. To think that someone was trying to set up the infrastructure that could have taken a shot at being significant in generating wealth through technology in the black community is inspiring. We can finish this. We have the creativity. We shape culture. We have the stamina to make it happen.

For some time now I’ve been having conversations with friends about getting black people in this country to a place where we’re operating from a position of power economically. My talking about this isn’t really what will get it done at this point. Someone I care about a lot really impacted how I look at wealth and positioning myself to build it for myself while working on seeing a bunch of rich black people in the US and Africa who can and do write checks for nascent businesses and who shape policy.

This shift in my thinking is a large reason why I haven’t been writing for the past few months. I’ve really been working hard and have made good progress, and have a couple more years to go. The past week though has been difficult and I have felt concerned about my ability to continue executing the plan. This podcast pissed me off and inspired me. Good oxygen for my fire to keep me going.

Soul City and a Prison

We eventually learn that the Soul City project failed after it lost oxygen due in part to an audit that Senator Jesse Helms ordered for the project. To this day I still feel bad for confusing Jesse Helms and Howard Coble as a kid. The two couldn’t have been more different legislators.

All these years later a prison sits on the land that was Soul City. There are countless studies on the all too familiar relationship the black community has with prisons in this country. The irony was overwhelming to hear that one of those structures sits on land that could have been home to a thriving black community – a project that could have potentially seeded more like it.

Let’s Go on a Road Trip

I’m curious to see what remains of Soul City plan to drive down there in the next couple months. Feel free to email me if you’d like to come along – kwamesompimpong@gmail.com.

No. 83: Growing Exports to Nigeria Can Be Atlanta’s Secret Sauce

Atlanta is a top-10 exporter amongst US cities to Nigeria. I hope the city puts more energy behind its connection to the country. The city recently completed its Metropolitan Export Plan with support from JP Morgan and the Brookings Institution. Currently, the only African countries an exporter in Atlanta can get information about exporting to are Morocco and South Africa. Yet, the growth of Atlanta’s exports to African markets outstrips exports to other parts of the world.

While the city has seen record export growth, its ranking among US metro areas remained at No. 18. There is a lot more than $178M in sales opportunities in Nigeria. For example, the Dangote Group is in the process of investing $16B in the development of an oil refinery and two fertilizer plants. Machinery and chemicals are two of Atlanta’s top export products.  And that is just talking about one company. I believe that if Atlanta puts energy behind building its export pipelines to African markets, particularly Nigeria, the city will see it’s ranking rise.

No. 62: Africa’s Top Mayors

I am a huge fan of cities and their ability to create an environment in which people can thrive, so seeing the results of the African Mayor Awards last week was pretty cool. Awarded at the 2nd Africa Urban Infrastructure Investment Forum, the mayors of Praia, Cape Verde; Kinondoni, Tanzania; and Accra, Ghana were the winners for the small (pop. <200,000), intermediate (pop. 200,000-1,000,000), and large (pop. >1,000,000) city categories, respectively, based on this criteria:

Display exemplary qualities in leadership and vision, innovative thinking, management capabilities and integrity, social awareness, foster economic growth and development, ability to provide security and to protect the environment as well as the will and ability to foster good relations between communities from different cultural and social backgrounds.

Accra beat out Cape Town and Dakar for the large city category. That is pretty impressive. Ghana also had two cities shortlisted for the awards. Asunafo secured a short-listing for the intermediate-sized cities.

The judges reviewed submissions from cities across the continent that submitted for consideration for the award. I will update this post with more information on the contents of the winning submissions should I come across that information.

Considering the judges of the awards, the Youthful Cities Index may be a nice balance to gauging how great city leadership is on the continent. According to the index, based on analysis of primary and secondary sources on young people between ages 19 and 29, Johannesburg is the best city on the continent for young people.

Let’s see how this competition shapes up for next year.