2010 SRC Outstanding PSO Award

Best Practices

Organization of Cornell Planners
Cornell University
Department of City and Regional Planning
Masters in Regional Planning Program

Project: Social Justice and Unincorporated Communities: A Symposium

Symposium Poster (pdf)

About the Event

The Organization of Cornell Planners (OCP) organized and sponsored a one-day symposium entitled: Social Justice and Unincorporated Communities: A Symposium, held on Friday, October 23 at Cornell University. We invited three speakers from across the country to discuss how cities and towns have been deliberately excluding disadvantaged communities from incorporating into their jurisdiction, rendering them without basic services such as water and sewer connections and police and fire protection. Without these basic services, people who live in these communities are hindered from the opportunity to live in safe, clean neighborhoods and benefit from the wealth-building potential of increasing property values. As cities become more fiscally strapped, these methods are increasingly justified under economic pretenses. Unfortunately, planners have been involved in these activities of municipal exclusion.

The members of OCP saw an innovative opportunity for students to catalyze a larger discussion in the planning community about municipal exclusion. By bringing together three different professionals that work on different aspects of the issue, including a community organizer, a legal researcher, and an associate at an advocacy think tank, to talk with students across the Cornell campus about this phenomenon, this enabled not only the professionals to conceptualize the topic in different ways but exposed students to an emerging issue in the planning field. OCP recognized the importance of the university in fostering these budding conversations about imminent issues in the field and used the symposium as an opportunity to launch the issue into a more mainstream discussion in the greater planning community. Furthermore, OCP recognized the pivotal role that students have in challenging the status quo of the field and encouraging more discussion about difficult, and often divisive issues.

Process and Implementation

The planning process was launched in the spring of 2009. Students, hearing about the topic the previous fall through a colloquium speaker, were appalled at the social justice implications and expressed a strong desire to continue the conversation. OCP officers, after securing the support of the student body, organized a proposal and presented it to the department, who offered to contribute financial support to making the event happen. Over the summer and early autumn months, the three speakers, two from North Carolina, and one from California, were secured for the event. OCP conducted additional fund-raising in the fall and secured additional funding from the Cornell Student Organization Association. Outreach to the greater Cornell community, the Upstate APA Chapter, and other student organization representatives in the Northeast region was conducted in the Fall.


First, we were successful in exposing the issue to a broader audience, including students in the law school and the government department, to whom this issue strongly relates. In OCP we value the importance of forming partnerships and collaborations with other academic disciplines, and this helped to further that cause. Second, attendance at the event was strong, with over 50 people in the audience in some of the afternoon sessions. We consider that to be a successful number of people considering the obscure nature of the topic to most people. Finally, the event was successful in strengthening the dialogue about municipal exclusion and unincorporated communities. The speakers expressed strong support for the event and how it enabled them to think about the issue in different ways and to strengthen their approach. Communication between professionals is imperative, and the symposium provided an excellent medium for those conversations.

Contact for more information on this project:

Danielle Bergstrom, OCP External Liaison and APA Representative
131 East Green Street No. 303
Ithaca, New York 14850