Gregory Heller ’04, CEO of American Communities Trust (ACT), was named Urban Innovator of the Week on Feb. 15, by Urban Innovation Exchange (UIX), an initiative to advance urban improvement and highlight those who are on the leading edge of this movement. Begun in 2012 as a three-year project in Detroit and funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, UIX is now showcasing talented people from all over the country who are transforming the cities and neighborhoods in which they live.
As head of ACT, Heller, who has spent more than 10 years in community development in Philadelphia, helps nonprofits build and finance social impact real estate—projects that improve the quality of life, particularly in low-income areas, by providing needed services and offering desirable real estate for new businesses and residents.
In a TEDx talk given last June in Philadelphia, “How To Set up Social Impact Real Estate,” he explained the impetus behind his work: “Our cities and our communities are defined by the interaction of people and places… but who shapes the built environment around us?” he asks. “We walk around our cities and we say, ‘Oh, look, they’re building that new project over there,’ or ‘Why haven’t they built anything here yet?’ Who are they? Why is it ‘they’ and not we? Too often developers in low income neighborhoods have profit rather than the community’s best interest…I believe that [social impact real estate projects] s are critical to the future of our cities, our communities and ultimately our society.”
An American studies and German studies major at Wesleyan, Heller is the author of Ed Bacon: Planning, Politics and the Building of Modern Philadelphia (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013).