Uncovering JAPA

The Impact of Prejudice Data on Advancing Equitable Planning Practices

Racial covenants were clauses placed in "property deeds by real estate developers during the first half of the 20th century that prevented sale to or occupancy by a person of color." The Mapping Prejudice (MP) project was established in 2016 as a multi-disciplinary, collaborative endeavor to produce a comprehensive map of racial covenants for Hennepin County, Minnesota, home to Minneapolis.

MP Data Aids Anti-Racist Planning

In "Mapping Prejudice: The Limits and Opportunities of Data for Anti-Racist Planning," (Journal of the American Planning Association, Vol. 89, No. 4), Rebecca H. Walker and Kate D. Derickson report their findings from their qualitative study of how data from MP was informing the work of planners and advancing anti-racist planning outcomes.

Walker and Derickson mark George Floyd's death in 2020 as a paradigmatic shift when whiteness became more critically analyzed for perpetuating systemic racism and when anti-racist planning became a higher priority for the planning profession. The authors question what data are necessary to further advance anti-racist planning practices.

For the study, the authors interviewed 24 planning professionals from five different planning sub-fields. Of the professionals interviewed 22 were white, one was black, and one was LatinX. Four key findings emerged from the interviews:

  1. The MP data helped planning agencies develop new language around structural racism and urged critical reflection on whiteness and planning.
  2. Planners found the MP dta most useful as a narrative tool for political advocacy.
  3. Interviewees attributed a broad spectrum of both recognitional and redistributive planning policies to their engagement with the MP data.
  4. The MP data was cited as being impactful because of its spatial nature, its hyperlocal scale, its qualitative elements, and the data collection process itself, which was a multi-pronged process that involved local community volunteers.

These findings indicated to Walker and Derickson that the production of new data on how structural racism was administered on the ground, as opposed to data that only documents its consequences, is more likely to lead to the development of planning practices and policies that have material anti-racist impacts.

Table 2. Characteristics of Mapping Prejudice data on racial covenants interviewees identified as valuable.

Table 2. Characteristics of Mapping Prejudice data on racial covenants interviewees identified as valuable.

Community Relationships Bolster MP Project

The MP project organizers formed relationships with numerous community organizations to gather their data — neighborhood associations, church congregations, housing justice activists, and local businesses. These relationships have a significant impact on the public perception and quality of the data set, making it potentially even more useful for planners.

In addition to being a trust-building mechanism, this model for participatory data gathering also avoids making community members the objects of research. Walker and Derickson advocate for inviting community members into research as vital sources of knowledge and dignified agents.

Nearly all of the interviewees that Derickson and Walker spoke with were white, reflecting the predominantly white makeup of the planning discipline compounded by the profound racial income gap in the Twin Cities. This leaves open the question of how BIPOC planning professionals would interpret the effectiveness of the MP data set in catalyzing anti-racist planning practices and instigating critical reflections on the role of whiteness in the planning discipline. It is also worth asking how BIPOC planning professionals would interpret the findings of Derickson and Walker's study and how they would contextualize the impact that the MP data had on white planning professionals.

Top image: E+ jimkruger

About the author
Felix Rosen is a master's student in urban planning at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

November 9, 2023

By Felix Rosen