EQT by Design Celebrates It’s Fifth Anniversary: Working in the Trenches For Equity & Inclusion


Annette Miller founded EQT by Design five years ago to work on policy and representation issues with an equity and inclusion lens.

Part 2 of 2

By Jonathan Gramling

Looking back at her career, it now seems that Annette Miller was destined to start EQT by Design five years ago. Miller began her career working in policy in Wisconsin State Government for many years. And then Miller, through a recommendation by the late LaMarr Billups, became a deputy mayor for Dave Cieslewicz in 2003. And then it was after she left the city, that Miller got her first private sector experience helping MGE, as an employee, reach and become relevant to Madison’s growing communities of color.

And in doing that work at community events and with community organizations, Miller could appreciate the diversity of Madison as a whole, as well as the diversity within each community of color. There is no one size fits all.

“There is no one white voice,” Miller said. “There is no one Black or Brown or Asian or Native/Indigenous voice. I think the Native/Indigenous are the best at saying often and frequently, ‘We do not have one voice. No one person makes the decision. It’s a

collective.’ I think systems have tried to push BIPOC voices to try to be a voice. And I think that finally, systems and white dominant systems are finally recognizing that just like they don’t have one voice, nor do BIPOC communities. I think that is a great, powerful change. What we do at EQT by Design is we reach and we reach and we reach to the best of our ability. We try to make sure that the system isn’t being the barrier. We look at different ways through design to make sure that we are getting the voices. Do we need to do one-on-ones? Do we need to do small groups? Do we need to make sure that we know where we should go and where we should be?  Where are they already? We need to make sure that language is addressed, make sure that the questions that we ask are questions that make sense. We’ll change perspectives of clients about what they are asking because we will tell them, ‘That doesn’t make any sense. Is that really the direction you want to go?’ We push on clients about what and how they are approaching their engagement and help them develop their own understanding of why it hasn’t worked in the past and how they need to think differently if they want to have successful relationships and future opportunities to hear and learn and embed hard-to-hear voices.”

EQT by Design has been working with a variety of public and private organizations over the past five years, from the city of Madison to Nehemiah to large for-profit businesses. One of their current projects that intrigues Miller is The Triangle Project.

When the multi-ethnic Greenbush neighborhood, a large part of which was bordered by Regent Street, Park Street and W. Washington Ave., was basically demolished in the early 1960s through urban renewal efforts by the city, what replaced it was a hodge podge of housing complexes with different styles and different purposes and owned by different entities. It was no longer a community.

“What has happened is Bayview has had its side and then CDA has had its side because of the way the buildings are built,” Miller said. “There are seniors. There are people with mental health issues. There are a lot of one-bedroom and efficiency apartments. That’s a mix, while Bayview has been very family and community-centered. How do you take what has been a very individualized single sort of existence except where the townhomes are and then bring it together?”

The Triangle Project is a collaborative venture that in addition to rebuilding most of the housing in the Triangle, it will also work to make it a community once again.

“A project we’re working on right now that we got invited into, the Triangle Project, which is public housing,” Miller said. “And it is Section 8. It’s a huge system. We’re hoping that with us being present we can make some shifts in thinking about what it is that people who live in public housing and Section 8 housing deserve. They shouldn’t get leftovers. They should be in high-quality housing. They should live in a high-quality community. And they should have a thriving life. Money shouldn’t matter, but life should. We’re hoping that we can make that happen by being on this project by listening to what they want — they being the residents — and listening to the surrounding community for ensuring that people can co-exist. But the center of the voice is with the residents and potential residents of the footprint.”

Creating community is not as easy as it sounds.

“You will probably see a lot more density than what there is now,” Miller observed. “But I hope you will see more connectivity. Rather than the buildings speak to what the community is, the footprint will speak to it not only to the people who live on it, but also to the broader community. I can be insular while also being inclusive and welcoming. So if you need your quiet and your space as a resident, you get it. But if you want to connect and relate and interact with the broader community, you can. And if you want to connect with your neighbors, you can. I’m hoping also with the footprint that Bayview Community Center and the Bayview housing community can co-exist and braid in with the public housing of CDA and that CDA can braid with Bayview. That’s the co-existence. There are different kinds of stakeholders, different histories and different ways of living lives. There are different owners and different ownership structures. But Bayview is committed to being as inclusive as the CDA. And that’s what has been very beneficial to hear. All of the parties want to be connected. And it is these old legacy buildings and footprint that have gotten in the way. We’re hoping that we can change the design, which then hopefully we can start to build those bridges for people to be able to connect.”

The Triangle Project will take several years and stages to complete. But when it is done, it could be a model community for Madison and beyond.

“I think it will be visually pleasing,” Miller said. “But the goal is can it be culturally and organically inclusive. I feel like the people who are coming together have a vision. Can we keep affordability? Can we keep the people who need that housing? And can we also build bridges to other parts of what makes that community and Madison, Madison. In other words, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. That’s what I think will be the trick. It’s a huge undertaking.”

In the spirit of collaboration — with the voices of the community being heard and listened to — a new Greenbush can arise. And EQT by Design will be there to make sure those voices are listened to.

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