Anti-Racist Reforms for the Urban Planning Status Quo

An urban planner in Vancouver defines the roots of racism in city building, and calls on urban planners to be more effective anti-racist allies.

2 minute read

June 24, 2020, 7:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

Social Justice

Lorie Shaull / Flickr

Amina Yasin, an urban planner and planning commissioner in Vancouver, writes for The Tyee with four recommendations for reckoning with the history of racism in urban planning.

As an urban planner, I’ve been contemplating this problem and the ways the planning profession has had its knees in the necks of Black people through policy, top-down design approaches and unacknowledged white privilege. These factors, along with public space enforcement and anti-Blackness have been suffocating Black communities for decades.

Taking the kind of action that effectively accounts for planning's role in setting the stage for the racist realities of the day might require a re-evaluation of causes that seemed in solidarity with anti-racist action, according to Yasin.

Given the number of Black people profiled and murdered on our streets, how can urbanists remain singularly focused on fighting inanimate objects — like cars — while actively ignoring human rights, and silencing advocates who point out that streets aren’t in reality for everyone? Perhaps systemic racism, in which ableism is entrenched, is the greatest enemy to cities and not cars?

In making the point that some ostensibly progressive causes fall short of effective anti-racist action, Yasin is reiterating a point made by other Black advocates in response to the recent high-profile tragedies of police violence, and it's a point that bears repeating. With that foundation laid, Yasin lists four actions for planners to take to deliver on anti-racist intentions, with more detail included in the source article:

  1. Recognize your role.
  2. Divest from the theory of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design.
  3. Defund policing.
  4. Abolish ‘communicide’ urban planning.

That last recommendation deserves some extra attention as a source of potential complication in the messaging that has emerged in recent weeks. While some urbanists and planning experts have pointed to the history of exclusionary zoning as a racist cause, with effects including segregation and poor economic and public health outcomes, other advocates have been pushing back on upzonings and other forms of new, planned density as detrimental to local communities, especially low-income and communities of color. 

"An immediate anti-racist action that we can take is to stop systematically 'revitalizing' predominantly Black and Indigenous communities, while seeing other neighbourhoods as being the pinnacle of peak livability or perfection," writes Yasin.

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