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Fortifying America: Planning for Fear

October 2, 2001, 12am PDT | Edward J. Blakely
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As professional planners we have to take a new ethical stand. Gated and walled residential complexes will be even more popular among residential real estate developers. We have to ask, what kind of security will protect all of us and what kind will just divide some of us?

Edward J. BlakelyFranklin D. Roosevelt said, "the only thing we have to fear, is fear itself".

We are now a fearful and tearful nation. Our fears are our enemies in many ways. Some fear brings out the best in us. This was clearly the case for many of the survivors of the World Trade Center disaster. I live in New York City and I work only about a mile from ground zero. I experienced fear. I also experienced rage. Why would or could anyone do this to any other humans? However, after a few weeks, I now see clearly that this act was designed to cause fear and bring panic. This horrible act will be repeated to threaten our allies and to bring greater fear into the civilized world. It is a strike against hope and a desperate act by desperate people to intimidate and to destroy our nation and our way of life from the inside not from the outside. If this shadowy enemy can breed fear in the American people and leverage that fear into making us commit cowardly acts against our own citizens and other innocent people elsewhere in the world-they win.

The fear within the nation did not start on September 11, 2001. It started when we as a nation began the process of separating ourselves more deeply by race and class. As we have segregated our communities, we have created wedges of fear across our nation. We are more deeply segregated according to the latest U.S. census figures than at any time since the Civil War. As a segregated ghettoized nation we have created fear compounds. Some of these compounds house the rich in gated communities. Some compounds restrain the poor with freeway walls and railroad tracks. The symbols of social and economic distance were in some ways illustrated by the Twin Towers.

As we try to recover from this tragedy, we are finding it hard to find the ways to recognize the lives of the poor dishwashers as we mourn the lives of stockbrokers, financiers, and public safety officials. This separate mourning process compounds our tragedy. Already as New York seeks to heal itself, there are voices that protest the notion of rebuilding the segregated social fabric of Wall Street and the deeply segregated New York Fire Department and the equally segregated building trades. We do not need these wedges in our society as we try to bring the nation together; we have to build away from fear not toward more fear through less socioeconomic balance.

Signs of Fear

The early signs are not good. Fortress mentality is already at work. Most of the news is about arming pilots, more police and national guard at airports and the like. This talk along with talk of military operations misses the point. The real war here will not be won by a few smart bombs that we can see on television. There are increasing moves to seal our borders and reduce immigration as well as increase surveillance on our own citizens. All of this is fear building. This creates a winning atmosphere for our new adversaries. The real battle here is for hearts and heads. We cannot bomb or subdue ideas, particularly when these ideas prey on our own soft underbelly of inequality.

America cannot and should not go down the road of the deeply divided developing world with compounds for the wealthy complete with armed guards. This is the very kind of nations like Venezuela and Mexico where high walls and armored cars protect the wealthy from the peasants. If we imitate this form of physical, symbolic segregation, we will end up defeating ourselves from within. This precisely what our new enemies want.

Planning Against and not for Fear

As professional planners we have to take a new ethical stand. We have to ask, what kind of security will protect all of us and what kind will just divide some of us. Gated and walled residential complexes will be even more popular among residential real estate developers. New forms of separated social institutions will be seen as merely pragmatic and some forms of racial and ethnic and religious segregation tolerable. All these form of fear-inducing behavior choke the core of democracy and a free society. So, as planners we must not give into fear in the form of a little fencing here and a few walls there. Even in its most seemly benign form fear based separation has the seed of destroying an entire nation. Let's not give in and we win.

Edward J. Blakely is Dean of the Robert J. Milano Graduate School in New York City. He was just elected a Fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration. He was previously Dean of the School of Urban Planning and Development at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Dean Blakely also served as the Chair of City and Regional Planning at the University of California at Berkeley where he assisted the City of Oakland recovery efforts form both the earthquake in 1989 and the Fires in 1991. He is author of Fortress America: Gated Communities in the United States and Fundamentals of Economic Development Finance.

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