Naomi Davis

Supporting sustainable communities while incorporating her love of art brought environmentalist and urban theorist Naomi Davis to the forefront of Chicago’s movement to construct self-sufficient black neighborhoods, which she hopes to bring to Madison.

After graduating with a degree in English and theatre and going on to law school, Davis now runs the Chicago-based economic development organization, Blacks In Green.

Blacks In Green focuses on empowering residents to build up their own communities and build connections within their neighborhoods, Davis said. Building up the economy is something that should happen at the neighborhood level, she said.

Davis said she has lived her entire life on the promise that she would do the work she loves. Following her law school education in Chicago, she tried to continue with her love of theatre, seeking out any opportunity for performing.

“I was a law clerk by day and a singing cocktail waitress by night,” Davis said.

She said she tries to find ways to incorporate her love of theatre into the work she does to build up cities.

Part of building communities and connecting people is getting them involved in constructive projects such as art or theatre, Davis said. One way she incorporates her love for theatre into her work is by putting together a “Migration: the Musical” project for communities.

The project involves gathering the community together to share stories in a circle about their experiences in the community, a method she said really allows the neighborhood to connect. She said she sets up a “village handshake” to cultivate relationships within communities.

“You can’t just keep putting houses in neighborhoods and not cultivate any enterprise, not train people to do work,” Davis said. “There are people who are not currently active as a solution in their neighborhood who can be, but we basically are trying to shake the tree, and get people to lead where they live.”

Davis said her work can be similarly applied to Madison. Much of her work with Blacks In Green revolves around how to teach, coach and implement the principles of the Green Village Program, which proposes solutions for isolated black communities.

“When we say that we mean to say that we’ve created a system that is a culture specific prescription, but we believe that it has universal values,” Davis said. “Our work is what we call the walkable village.”

Davis theorized the “walkable village,” a concept for a community in which everything a resident needs is within walking distance.

Having the option to walk to any necessary points in a neighborhood makes living more sustainable and is a way to keep neighborhoods connected in a positive way, she said.

“Our concept for the walkable village is that every household should be able to walk to work; walk to shop; walk to learn; and walk to play,” Davis said.

Davis will be featured as a keynote speaker Saturday as part of the annual Isthmus Green Day at Monona Terrace.