As topics related to social justice and equity in urban planning are missing from many top programs, urban planning students are looking to start the conversation by creating meaningful discussions in the classroom and beyond. Lisa Bates, a Portland State University planning professor, believes that urban planning has always struggled to adequately address problems surrounding race and poverty. She argues that planners as well as planning students need to focus on finding ways to address racism that has negatively impacted minority communities.
The profession is no stranger to conversations concerning diversity. A 2007 American Planning Association task force found that fewer than 10 percent of the organization’s members are racial minorities, compared to more than 30 percent of the U.S. population. Additionally, a 2010 Census survey on the profession found that 81 percent of American planners are white with four-in-ten planners identifying as female. This lack of diversity is prevalent in the outcomes from historical planning efforts, which were further exacerbated by trends in urban policy and housing policy that continued to draw racial and socioeconomic lines throughout American cities.
Today, planning students are now voicing an interest in bringing discussions into focus that address institutional racism and issues surrounding environmental justice. Additional topics include how mortgage markets and real estate practices contribute to a system of structural disadvantage for minority populations. At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, students at the Department of City and Regional Planning can take part in courses titled “Race, Poverty, and Planning” that help students understand the role of social and legal processes that shaped geographies of racial and poverty concentration. Student groups like Plan For All also offer brownbag lunch sessions throughout the year that bring in speakers to discuss topics like poverty reduction initiatives, race relations, as well as planning as it relates to gender and sexuality. The group also works with faculty on integrating these topics in the classroom based on the knowledge gained from existing programs around campus. Most recently, the organization launched more informal conversations that offer a fun, engaging way to discuss topics of race and equity not covered in classes.
Other planning organizations are exploring options similar to those at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in their own programs. The Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning (ACSP) spent the past three years organizing a workshop sponsored by their diversity organization that is geared towards students of color interested in pursuing doctoral studies in planning or related fields. A group of professionals looking to expand the discussion between justice and the built environment recently launched a free podcast. “Why Isn’t Anyone Talking About This?” offers conversations with city leaders, community organizers, and citizens working for change in their communities.
The attention to these issues comes at an opportune time, as the Planning Accreditation Board (PAB), the body that accredits colleges to award bachelor’s and master’s degrees in planning, released proposed changes to its standards in late September 2015. The changes, if accepted, would tone down current diversity language considerably.
How has the issue of diversity expanded for modern cities? How can planners better prepare themselves to address social justice and equity? Share your thoughts and your city's stories in the comments area below.
Credits: Images by Udo Reisinger. Data linked to sources.