Date: 20.01.2018 | Leslie Woo | Chicago, SHOWCASE

If ever there was a personification of enthusiasm and passion for community and what it takes to make places for people its Ruth A. Wuorenma.


Ruth created Neighborhood Capital Institute, an Illinois not-for-profit policy and practice corporation – now that’s refreshing in the land development industry!   A land use and zoning attorney by trade who became a commercial real estate developer in the US and Europe. Ruth has taken these early skills and taken the path less worn by the majority of her peers. She is a gem amidst such a rocky industry. It is perhaps why our kindred spirits locked when we first met. We share common values, despite such different backgrounds, about the need for everyone to have a sense of belonging to a place they can call home.   Our paths continue to cross as we both participate on the Urban Land Institute Public Development and Infrastructure Product Council for the the past several years.


Ruth A. Wuorenma, President, Neighbourhood Capital Institute

WHAT is the secret sauce for cities?

In her own words:

“I love your question – especially since it allows me to use my favorite metaphor.  The secret to successful City (or district) building is not a “secret sauce” but the “chef in the kitchen.”  Cities (and their districts within) are like pantries with lots of wonderful ingredients stored there, often under-utilized (in a kitchen it might be flour, in a City it might be a public library,  a transit stop, a historic building or a pocket park long ignored).  BUT there’s no cake until the chef uses her knowledge to blend them – and blend them in the right proportions, in the right seque

nce and using the right timing. (She also needs to have purchased the ingredients at the right price but that’s a different discussion.)

Successful cities or districts cannot be built by committee;  committees simply don’t work if there isn’t unified project management driving committee decisions. They also cannot be built by a number of lone wolves, going it alone.  Lone wolves (whether private sector developers or a public agency) can do some fabulous things, often much quicker than a leadership team working across silos, but so much opportunity can be missed when focused only on individual mission (things like adjusting an access point or a view corridor can have significant implications on local life for decades to come).In a perfect world, cities need a “development chef,” someone at the helm who understands, values and will champion the built environment.  This person (or department) must work with  peers (other public entities and agencies) to create, then execute, a master framework plan consistent with their respective missions to the greatest extent possible, yet one that remains focused on a greater good than any one entity could achieve by itself.”




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