Nicolle Goodman was working in human resources when she came to a realization.

"I'm just pushing paper around," she recalled thinking. "I'm not doing anything lasting. I want to work on transformative projects."

A master's degree from the University of Oklahoma started her on that road. As vice president of operations and redevelopment programs at the Alliance for Economic Development of Oklahoma City, Goodman worked on projects that included a hotel and convention center, a modern streetcar system and a 70-acre downtown park.

In July 2020, St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter called Goodman on her birthday to tell her she was his new director of Planning and Economic Development. As part of what she calls an amazing team of new directors of Public Works, Parks and Recreation and Safety and Inspections, Goodman said a top priority is to foster development through a lens of equity.

She wants to dismantle programs and practices that block a more diverse pool of developers from building a better city. Eye On St. Paul recently sat with Goodman to learn more about her and her vision. This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Q: How would you describe your job as Planning and Economic Development director?

A: My focus, the overarching job right now, is ensuring that everything we're doing is through the lens of equity. There are policies in place, in every city, that quietly stand against that. We are trying to undo a lot of the things that were done in the past. That's where a lot of racist policies and programs originated [in zoning and regulation].

Q: What do you mean?

A: What we're doing is looking at any policy or program and asking, "Is there anything there that is creating inequity or barriers?" And we're focusing on certain areas.

I was interested in the city because of the mayor's stated commitment to equity. I get here, and we have the worst racial disparities in the country. I was astounded. Home ownership, business ownership, commercial property ownership. So, if that's where capital builds, in home ownership or commercial property ownership, we're trying to close those gaps.

Q: How?

A: In the Midway, for example, what I hope to see as the commercial spaces build out, if there is a gap there, that we and the private sector can fill that gap. For a period of time, we can do that. Just like affordable housing.

Q: So, either give subsidies to encourage builders or rent subsidies to help renters?

A: Exactly. Front-end or back-end, and it's not just the city. The private sector, the public sector, the philanthropic sector — we can all work together.

Q: You've said the new rent stabilization ordinance may be interfering with equity goals and slowing new housing. But isn't new housing still being built?

A: Yep, [projects] that already have their financing.

Q: Projects that were trying to get financing were stalled?

A: Certainly. If I'm an investor and I have a choice of where I can put my money, I can choose a city where the rent is capped or one where it is not. Look, we need both [rent protection and new housing]. But the rent stabilization that passed here, unlike other rent stabilization ordinances, didn't exempt new construction. And the reason [to do that] is the financing. There is a period of time that a project has to stabilize financially, or they'll build it somewhere else.

It's a policy decision and the policy makers will work through it. But I'm certain that the ordinance, as passed, had an impact on construction.

Q: If the mayor's proposal [an exemption for new construction] happens, will projects restart?

A: That's my belief.

Q: You talk about encouraging a more diverse group of developers. What are some projects where people of color are the developers?

A: 520 Payne and Johnny Opara. He is a young, emerging BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of color) developer who is networking. He's studied. He asks all the right questions. And he's already looking on the horizon, trying to build a pipeline. And LISC [the Local Initiatives Support Corp.] has its developers of color initiative. They are working through some of those barriers.

Q: This seems very different from old St. Paul's way of development.

A: This is not your old St. Paul. As you're seeing, when the mayor got elected, that was a sea change. But right now, in this state, with this mayor and after George Floyd, I think we're focusing on racial disparities.

Q: Why is it important to have equity in development?

A: It's hard for me to think of that as an actual question. How could it not be important?

We can't change the world. But if we can make St. Paul a place where we break down the barriers as much as we can, and the disparities are less and less and the opportunities are more and more, I think we can make the city more equitable, more thoughtful and more resilient.