Bringing Planning Back to the People

Has the profession given in to corporate interests, and is there another way forward?

2 minute read

October 3, 2023, 8:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Close-up of people standing around conference table leaning down and looking at documents, cut off at torsos.

A.S./peopleimages.com / Adobe Stock

In an article in Yes Magazine, Marianne Dhenin asserts that “today, cities are being planned and developed to serve the interests of elites and big corporations rather than the communities that call them home.”

Using an example from Philadelphia, Dhenin shows how “adverse outcomes of planning and design decisions are shouldered disproportionately by already marginalized groups, including poor communities and communities of color,” arguing that this is more of a feature than a bug. According to planning history and theory professor and author of Against the Commons: A Radical History of Urban Planning Álvaro Sevilla-Buitrago, “This is not the dark side of planning … This is planning.”

Dhenin points to the more subtle ways that planning undermines communities in the post-urban renewal era, when wholesale displacement is more frowned upon, such as ‘defensive urban design,’ which makes public spaces hostile to people.

But there is another way, Sevilla-Buitrago says. Dhenin describes grassroots campaigns in Philadelphia and Oakland that buck the trend by fighting for community land trusts that put more power in the hands of low-income residents. While these effort were led by everyday people passionate about their communities, “Professional planners still have a vital role to play in reorienting urban space to better serve the people.” Planners can support community-oriented efforts by connecting local governments to marginalized groups, elevating their voices in the planning process, and working to keep the city accountable to its most vulnerable residents.

Monday, September 25, 2023 in Yes Magazine

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