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Coffee with Annie White, Director of Real Estate + Economic Development

Annie in her office. Artwork by Noah MacMillan.

We grabbed coffee with Annie White to talk about her experiences in promoting equity, economic development, and her Midwestern pride! We also got some great stories about some of Annie’s favorite odd jobs over the years.

Annie is the Director of Real Estate and Economic Development at Karp Strategies and joined us after six years at the NYC Department of City Planning. Annie is a big advocate of the importance of recognizing inequitable systems at play in our built environment and working towards creating more equitable systems in their place, as well as engaging the community in this process.

Why did you join Karp Strategies?

I was incredibly excited to join Karp Strategies because I was looking forward to being part of a small but growing and active team. I loved the idea that there was enough space for me to take on the work I wanted to take on while being supported by the leadership team. Also, after working in NYC government, I wanted to have the opportunity to work more on a regional basis and learn more about the offshore wind industry in general. As Director, I have gotten to engage in more real estate planning work (such as zoning analyses, market analyses, land use studies, etc.) and have been able to work on community engagement to ensure the end result of our projects builds equitable wealth for our city and the communities we are serving.

What do you see as the major intersection between architecture and urban planning? What inspired your switch to urban planning primarily?

When I started my career, I was at a small architectural design firm in St. Louis, MO. St. Louis is a city that has seen the full rise and fall of urbanization and population decline. While at the firm, we did a lot of historical rehabilitation and housing work. Being there helped me to realize that I was interested not so much in what we were designing but in the systems in place that allowed all these neighborhoods to see this amount of disinvestment and extreme racial inequality that was present in St. Louis. I went back to planning school to understand these systems more and ended up getting really interested in real estate and economic development. One fun thing to note—I have a lot of Midwestern pride. While in planning school, I was one of the few people who refused to use New York City or Boston case studies—I always would investigate ones from the Midwest.

What do you see as an important policy step that needs to be taken that will make urban planning and design more equitable?

I think that the city needs to be better about equitably distributing resources (both physical as well as programmatic) across the five boroughs. When working in planning, you continually see neighborhoods that take the burden of housing growth and resiliency that should be better and more equitably distributed. We are still living in a deeply segregated and inequitable city. When thinking about the bigger conversations we’re having surrounding housing equality, the resources and benefits that come with having enough affordable mixed-income housing are essential for fair and equitable living.

What advice would you give to an urban planner whose project isn’t the most popular with the public?

I think the most important thing is trying to find some common ground with the public, even when facing extreme opposition. I have learned that there will always be very vocal opposition to any planning work you’re doing, but oftentimes, that is just a very vocal minority. When I worked on the Soho and Noho rezoning projects, we realized that we needed to have large town hall settings but also smaller conversations to meet the locals where they were at. There was also a lot of misinformation; once we could sit people down and discuss the impacts the project would have on their housing situation, we made more headway. Anyone living in unstable housing has fears around rezoning, but once you talk to them one on one, you can find common ground, and people were able to start seeing some of the benefits of the rezoning.

What has been your favorite odd job you’ve worked and why?

I have always worked in the service industry and really enjoyed my time there. But I did end up being DJ for a few weddings in grad school, and that was a really cool experience. Hit me up if you ever need some fabulous wedding playlists—tried and tested!

Tell me about a favorite hobby of yours and how you got into it.

When I was growing up, I played volleyball a lot. I recently got back into this hobby with the volleyball subculture at Domino Park. I started playing in Domino Park during 2020, and it was a fun way to enjoy the outdoors, get a great view of the city, and enjoy the nice weather while we have it.

Fast Facts:

Last TV show I binge-watched: Succession

Restaurant (delivery) I’d recommend to close friends: Xi’an Famous Foods

Book that changed me: Anything by Elena Ferrante

Best concert I’ve ever experienced: Beyonce

Movie I’d pay to see again and again: 10 Things I Hate About You

My Heroes are: A personal one is my sister—she is in med school right now and is an absolute rockstar. Another one is Anthony Bourdain—I was obsessed with him and how he used food to explore and understand different cultures.


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