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How Local Planners Can Lead a Proactive, Aggressive Response to the Pandemic

The novel coronavirus has so far preyed on the most vulnerable in cities, as a result of the planning failures of the previous century. Planners today can take steps to reverse that reality, if they reclaim their historic role.
July 8, 2020, 8am PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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San Francisco Planning Department

Jacob Anbinder, a PhD candidate in history at Harvard University and recommended planning Twitter follow, writes a detailed and thoroughly referenced account of the potential of the pandemic to completely remake the field of planning to effectively respond to the threats of the coronavirus. 

The first evidence cited by Anbinder as an indication of the planning profession's capacity to change is the changing face of the workforce since 1973, when only 4 percent of planners were employed outside of the halls of government, to a whopping 28 percent now. The ongoing debate about the future of cities, and the coronavirus's potential to alter the evolution of urban areas, according to Anbinder, "is especially relevant in cities, given that the coronavirus not only takes advantage of the most precarious urban residents but does so by exploiting some of the worst planning failures of recent years."  

But the debate, "is really a proxy for the larger debate about whether we can, and want, to resurrect the kind of interventionist government—a government of planners—that we abandoned over the course of the late twentieth century," adds Anbinder.

After detailing the housing market's pre-existing conditions, as a result of decades of obstructionary powers at the local level, not connects to the threat of out-migration from urban areas as well as the hugely disparate public health outcomes of the pandemic, Anbinder calls on planners within city government to "advocate for aggressive policy agendas to make social distancing easier." 

Planners must act for forgiveness instead of permission, says Anbinder, in acting aggressively for these ends in the short term, but the long term will require a more fundamental shift:

Locally, however, progressives must cast off the risk-averse approach that has defined their urban policy since the sixties and rediscover the sort of ideology that the New Right feared, one that asserts the coronavirus and other parasites like it—including parasitic forms of state power—thrive in the absence of planning, not the presence of it. Indeed, planners themselves must reassert their profession’s essential role in a vibrant social democracy, not as facilitators of pseudo-democratic input processes but as civil servants entrusted with improving urban life.

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Published on Thursday, July 2, 2020 in Democracy
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