By Alexandra Duprey
This year has been a time of crisis. The immediate threat of the COVID-19 pandemic, persistent social injustices, and the future of climate instability and its associated disasters lay heavy on our shoulders, especially in our cities. Now, more than ever, reevaluating our urban landscapes is necessary for recovery, resilience, and more just and equitable cities.
In those cities, riding public transit and strolling through public spaces with people from other walks of life offer moments of learning and empathy. Given our current paradoxical age of immense online connectivity and personal isolation, these settings of interaction are of immeasurable importance to evolving into a more open-minded and, hopefully, compassionate society. As a planner, I believe that reforms to the built environment should not come at the expense of the social networks, diversity, and interpersonal contact that make cities places of personal and communal expansion; they should instead prioritize addressing the long-term struggles many people in our communities have faced.
Of these struggles, the crises of this year have laid bare the structural racism apparent in our country. Who may safely occupy our public spaces is deeply political. As Daphne Lundi says in her February 2020 Viewpoint, "For centuries, redlining, suburbanization, transportation policies, and racialized zoning have disproportionately inflicted a painful history of segregation and harm on Black communities. In response to exclusion from government-led planning practice, there is simultaneously a long history of resilience and creativity in Black communities through community development and organization." As protestors, led by Black activists, took to the streets to protest the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, they occupied spaces they have been systemically excluded from. Planners, as place creators, must be allies in that work.
"Using planning documents to openly confront legacies of racism and injustice shows constituents that these inequities must be addressed."
The COVID-19 epidemic, meanwhile, has exacerbated existing racial and economic inequities and revealed hidden precarities in our communities. The people we have relied on the most, like frontline workers, suffer the greatest risk of exposure, often without livable wages, adequate health care, or affordable housing costs. Mounting data, too, clearly indicates that Black, Latinx, and indigenous communities are being hit hardest by the virus. Historic inequities that have spatially marginalized people of color go hand in hand with their limited access to medical services, increased risk of preexisting medical conditions, proximity to toxic or hazardous environments, and vulnerability to climate change.
While planning contributed to these issues, it can also combat them. With Professor Julian Agyeman at Tufts University, I've researched concepts around equity within crises resiliency and recovery. The most striking resiliency plans I have seen are those that focus on transparency, proactivity, and healing. Using planning documents to openly confront legacies of racism and injustice shows constituents that these inequities must be addressed. By proactively prioritizing stigmatized populations that are frequently ignored in planning, the entire community progresses and benefits.
We cannot continue to ignore injustices in our cities. Social healing through empathy and action can help communities move forward in recovering from these crises. Planners, regardless of discipline, must integrate and institutionalize equity considerations into our work. This can be done by continuously asking ourselves if we are doing enough to amplify the voices of marginalized people. It will require truly listening. It will require showing up. In building a more just and resilient future, we must prioritize what makes our communities truly great: the incredible people who populate them.
Viewpoint is Planning's op-ed column. The views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the magazine or the American Planning Association. Please send column ideas to Lindsay R. Nieman, Planning's associate editor, at firstname.lastname@example.org.