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Director’s note: Juneteenth and Planning

By Florentina Craciun, Director, Northern Section, June 24, 2021

This June we received the gift of another Federal Holiday: Juneteenth. Juneteenth marks the day a Major General of the Union Army arrived in Galveston, Texas, to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation and free the last enslaved Black people in Texas from bondage, almost two-plus years after the proclamation. In recognition of the holiday, I want to challenge all of you to read pieces that reflect on the role that the planning profession had in perpetuating institutional racism. The most glaring examples are exclusionary zoning, the construction of freeways through traditionally black neighborhoods, and the obliteration of economic opportunities for black families through eminent domain and white rage (see Tulsa Massacre for example). Through those examples, we can address the future of planning and our role in ensuring that we do not repeat mistakes of the past.

I offer you a few quick reads as resources:

Institutional Racism and Planning: A year ago, James Brasuell wrote an eloquent piece in Planetizen summarizing the various voices and perspectives at the intersection of race and urban planning, as well as ways planners can help break the barriers of institutional racism:

“Planning and urbanism have not achieved some apolitical or post-racial transcendence, despite good intentions. Overcoming institutional racism will require a thorough commitment to centering issues of equity in every planning discussion — from the public realm of streets and parks to the private realm of mixed-use development and housing.”

The article encourages urban planners to think about our “normal” and what we should shed from it. Brasuell:

“No matter how difficult it is to confront, the field of planning [is entering] a new era that centers racial, social, and environmental justice in every act.”

Exclusionary Zoning: The White House on June 17 published an interesting blog about the impacts of exclusionary zoning. As the blog points out, in America we build our generational “wealth via homeownership,” and exclusionary zoning poses significant barriers to black communities.

“One area that is particularly important for economic well-being and wealth accumulation is housing. Families who can purchase their own home in the neighborhood of their choice at a fair price and see the value of their home grow over time do better economically in the long run. But numerous policies have systemically discriminated against Black families who wish to pursue that path. This blog focuses on one of these policies: exclusionary zoning laws, which have played a role in causing racial disparities in the housing market.”

I accept that those policies stem from racism and that we as planners must play an active role in dismantling them.

Transit Equity: There is an overall recognition that a healthy transit system has a positive impact on disadvantaged communities. TransitCenter built a transit equity dashboard, which according to their website:

“… measures how well transit networks in seven U.S. cities connect people who’ve been marginalized within those metro areas to the jobs, services, and amenities they need to thrive,” according to the website. “Using February 2020 as a baseline, the dashboard looks at metrics like the number of jobs people can reach within a limited timeframe or budget, travel times to hospitals and grocery stores, and service frequency, and tracks how these measures have changed in each region.”

You can learn more in our Planning news roundup, “TransitCenter launches San Francisco-Oakland transit equity dashboard.”

Question: How do we take action without being overwhelmed? Answer: Take this one bite at a time.

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