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Social Worker-Turned-Planner on How Planners Can Heal the Trauma of Cities

Jose Richard Aviles says community comes first in the planner-community relationship.
October 22, 2020, 11am PDT | Lee Flannery | @leecflannery
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Social work and urban planning have a closer relationship than one might think. Studying social work,  Jose Richard Aviles came to understand that "the summation of individual trauma is often community trauma." Through that concept, Aviles began to treat the city as a client.  

According to Aviles, the role of the planner is to heal the trauma held in communities by way of addressing the injustice at the core of the issue. Drawing on three concepts used in social work, Aviles describes how strengths perspective, countertransference, and case management can be applied in the planning field. 

In Aviles' view, the community comes first. Rather than trying to "change" a community, planners should call on the strengths of community leaders. Similarly, planners shouldn't let their own training inflate their sense of purpose within a community. "Lived experiences should be leveraged and seen as truth, even when planners can't connect with them. Remember: we are of service, not to be serviced," says Aviles. 

Aviles calls on planners to take a page from the social worker's book by spending more time in the "termination" phase of a project to double and triple check that everything is going according to plan. 

"After a project is complete, planners should still be engaging with community members to ensure that the desired results have been reached and residents are content," Aviles writes.

Adhering to these principles, planners can work to undo racist policies and improve the quality of life of the communities with which they work.

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Published on Tuesday, October 20, 2020 in American Planning Associarion
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