City Planning Directors Acknowledge Racism in Statement

Nearly two-dozen planning directors from cities across the country released a joint statement last week acknowledging the role their departments have played in contributing to systemic racism and segregation.

The statement, which invited fellow planning directors to sign on, also outlined a series of commitments aimed at creating more equitable inclusive communities, such as diversifying city planning departments, addressing displacement resulting from development and promoting housing choice and economically diverse neighborhoods.

The letter’s 21 signatories to date include Anita Laremont, the newly appointed chair of New York City’s planning commission, Los Angeles city planning director Vince Bertoni and San Francisco planning director Rich Hill.

“I realized we were living history on a daily basis, a period 30 years from now everyone would look back on,” Eleanor Sharpe, executive director of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission, who signed the letter, told the urban affairs publication NextCity. “What role do we [as planning directors] want to play in history? Do we just want to sit back and be silent?”

Around 30 planning directors meet in Cambridge, Massachusetts each fall to network and discuss the profession. Last year’s virtual meeting was particularly intense, NextCity reported, with discussions centered on racial inequality highlighted by the pandemic, its economic fallout and the demonstrations following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery among others.

The directors began drafting the statement following that meeting. Its signatories wanted to highlight the role that planning directors themselves have played in obscuring the public’s perception of their departments’ culpability in upholding racial inequality, the publication reported.

Sharpe invited Blackspace, a collective of Black planners, architects, artists and designers formed in 2015 with the goal of advancing racial equity, to help train her staff, NextCity reported.

“Our biggest takeaway was we want to build trust with community members,” Sharpe told the publication. “It’s so eroded, but why would [community members] trust us given the history.”

The letter comes two years after the American Planning Association’s board ratified the Planning for Equity Policy Guidebook, which includes recommendations for planners aiming to promote more equitable policies.

“These conversations can be very difficult with suburban cities,” Emily Liu, director of Metro Planning and Design Services for Louisville, Kentucky, told the publication. “But they do have some younger residents who are eager for something to do.”

[NextCity] — Cordilia James

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