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Commentary: Better communities require better-educated planners |[10/27/2016 10:09:08 AM]
Americans often contemplate how they want government to contend with our crumbling infrastructure,
minority residents’ concerning encounters with police and increasingly complex systems of inequality.
City planners play an important role in all this. They are government agents charged with shaping the
social and built environments of cities, suburbs and rural areas in ways that directly impact our ability
to address those issues.
But today’s planners are not prepared to contend with the increasingly complex, interconnected nature
of these challenges. That needs to change, and it starts with education.
Presently, our educational process and professional practice do little to counteract often paternalistic,
reactive planning processes that divide rather than integrate grass-roots interests, resources and
ideas. For example, cities are not listening to the voices of residents within the communities hardest hit
by the historical arc of racism, exclusion and inequality — all of which are exacerbated by economic
restructuring and natural disasters.
Unfortunately, planners, although trained to open planning and development processes to resident
Commentary: Better communities require better-educated
OPINION By Anna Brand and Andrea Roberts - Special to the American-Statesman
Posted: 7:00 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016
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Commentary: Better communities require better-educated planners |[10/27/2016 10:09:08 AM]
The city has landed an affordable housing deal with
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participation, instead often dilute community contributions and affirm predetermined investments in
public infrastructure and economic development. Adding to the challenge is that planners are trained to
be nonpolitical but are increasingly put in incredibly political environments. Often powerless to contest
the business and political interests that drive growth in cities, planners are charged with mitigating the
effects of disinvestment and gentrification.
Planners also are failing to make connections across different sectors such as housing, economic
development, transportation and resiliency planning. Socially and racially just development innovations
including community land trusts, cooperative enterprises and inclusive, affordable housing appear on a
piecemeal basis, but cities aren’t leading the way. Grass-roots leaders are the ones doing the heavy
That’s why we need a broader, more inclusive
understanding of the way planning shapes people’s lives
and more expansive understandings of the everyday
processes that constitute the making of a community or
city. There are ways we can better educate tomorrow’s
planners. We can start by teaching students to center
vulnerable voices during planning processes and to
devise sophisticated critiques of and responses to
systemic inequalities.
In school, future planning curriculum should feature
critique as a core competency. By teaching students to
operate from a multidimensional or critical perspective
that reframes complex problems and engages in “historical mindedness,” education can better equip
planners to work more closely with communities to define problems and strategize more impactful
planning interventions. Planning by definition resides at the nexus of systems that disproportionately
affect women, people of color and the differently abled negatively. Future planners must be trained to
concurrently contemplate access to transportation and living-wage jobs along with the location of care
services, public schools, child care, affordable housing and community space.
Planners must reconsider their assumptions about what constitutes a community and rethink how to
serve hidden, scattered constituencies. Such a curriculum would include training students not only to
point out instances of manipulation by privatized development interests that perpetuate exclusion and
deepen inequality, but also to devise strategies to prevent the exploitation of planning processes.
We must teach future planners to maximize residents’ opportunities to contest developers’
determination of what is the highest and best use of land. Planners must be educated to contend with
the politics and power dynamics of development in order to avoid being a rubber stamp for pro-growth.
This also requires that future planners learn to ask the right questions at the right times to ensure
development outcomes that directly benefit the most vulnerable members of our communities.
Commentary: Better communities require better-educated planners |[10/27/2016 10:09:08 AM]
Diversifying planning education and practice means reframing our curriculums to include
underrepresented theories and community building strategies. Missing from planning education are the
community development strategies that occur inside churches, at kitchen tables and in break rooms.
All of these processes and perspectives shape communities’ built environments and access to
opportunity. But more importantly, planners must look like the communities they will serve, which
requires that our planning programs enroll more students representing various ethnicities, abilities and
genders. The future health and vitality of America’s cities is on the line.
Brand is a lecturer in the School of Architecture and Roberts is a lecturer in the School of Architecture
at the University of Texas.
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Commentary: Better communities require better-educated planners |[10/27/2016 10:09:08 AM]
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