A Call to Action: The Planning Community and #BLM

A statement to New Jersey Professional Planners and Members of the Planning Community

Chuck Latini, AICP/PP, President

The voices in the streets of our country have demanded that we all fully engage in conversations about a truth that has only largely been known by people of color, but mostly the Black community – that racism is systemic, and we’ve all been conditioned to accept it through not only our educational system, but also the great many policies covertly crafted to perpetuate bias against Black Americans.    

The Black Lives Matter movement is a perfect catalyst for Planners to engage in conversations on reimagined cities and communities – conversations that must move from the halls of universities, foundations and municipal planning and economic development offices to the streets and neighborhoods where black people reside.

The importance of the role all of us have to play in this conversation cannot be underscored enough. It affects so much that we have long strived for as planners – communities based on social equity, opportunities for interaction, mixed uses and diverse populations.  We cannot depend on leadership structures to guide us through this, we must be the drivers of it – especially with in the white community as this is our problem.

As Planners we subscribe to an ethos of creating, planning and advocating for equitable and just cities. We recognize that our profession holds us accountable to black communities and urban centers.  We have an obligation to preserve the culture, values, assets, infrastructure, and most importantly the people of these communities, because we recognize that Black Lives Matter and that the blood stains of slavery remain fully visible to see.

Therefore we – New Jersey’s professional planning community – must become more intentional in our practice, more aware of our inherent biases, understand better the privileges we have been afforded, and become more culturally competent. 

Anti-Racism. The first step is to fully understand and recognize the historic and systemic racist policies that influence the form of minority communities. We must use that understanding to formulate policies, design spaces and plan and develop communities where one’s hued flesh does not determine one’s full or limited access to equity and safety.

Empathy. We must practice Empathetic Planning.  Liberate our thinking and make every effort to plan in tandem with communities of color rather than plan for them.  Honor the visions, voices and perspectives of communities of color.  Ask the residents of the communities about the changes they would like to see.  Honor their visions, voices and perspectives, and incorporate these voices into your final products.

Equity. Incorporate an equity lens into our decision-making process so that there is proper assessment of any possible disparate impacts resulting from these decisions.  Integrated neighborhoods are beautiful expressions of community when all members are seen as worthy of police protection or respect from business owners. 

Representation We must be more intentional in attracting and recruiting minority Planners to the industry, so that the profession looks like the population.  Build upon the City Planning Summer Institute, with the Center for Community Planning, to educate high school students on how the planning practice can make a difference in their communities.  Identify more opportunities and resources to attract Black students to planning programs and Black graduates to the profession.  

Advocacy.  At this moment in time, our urban communities are facing unprecedented economic strain, as COVID-19 has closed up businesses and driven many residents to lower density locations.  The disproportionate effect this pandemic has had on communities of color is well documented.  Planners have a key role to play in ensuring that the economic progress made over decades does not disappear.  Our collective voices can have a powerful impact on the extent to which the policies and priorities of our elected leaders are anti-racist, empathetic, equitable and representative. 

As Kwame Ture put it so succinctly in 1966, “The question then is, how can white people move to start making the major institutions that they have in this country function the way it is supposed to function? That is the real question.  And can white people move inside their own community and start tearing down racism where in fact it does exist?”

Being a predominately white profession, we have long recognized the need to build diversity within our ranks – now so more than ever. We must continue to strengthen this effort and get our house in order. We are past the time for platitudes and sentiment. We must organize within and apply our comprehensive planning skills to rebuilding our institutions in a way that ends the oppression of people of color throughout our state, our country and the world:

  • Within our educational system, to deliver the unvarnished truth of our history;
  • Within our criminal justice system, to remove the policies that sustain oppression and slavery;
  • Within our communities, to remove constant reminders of oppression, overt and covert; and
  • Within our homes, to fully educate ourselves on the rights and duties of being a citizen, cultivate empathy, and bring that to bear in all of our human interactions.

We must all recognize the inherent biases embedded at all levels in our society’s systems and implement intentional efforts to reverse them.  The alternative is to continue down the morally bankrupt path that minimizes the value of the lives of Black and Brown people – a path that will ultimately erode the foundation and fabric that sustains our democracy.  We joined the planning profession to build a better society, block by block.  The time to act is now.  How will you choose to respond?