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'Plansplaining' and its Discontents

Yes, planners have expertise to share, but according to this rather pointed critique, they also sometimes forget that other people do too.
May 22, 2017, 6am PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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Samuel Stein pens a scathing critique of the contemporary planning discussion, taking planners and other urbanists to task for "plansplaining," which is a riff on the term "mansplaining." Here, Stein defines the practice and identifies the practitioners:

From libertarian “market urbanist” types, we hear that that increasing the housing supply will drive down costs for everyone. From liberal “smart growth” advocates, we hear that including small numbers of quasi-affordable apartments in large scale developments is the best path towards integration and equity. Both sides, however, are telling residents: shut up. We’ve got this.

This is “plansplaining,” or the way planners talk down to residents as if they simply don’t understand the facts, when in reality those “facts” constitute their very lives. It’s the way some planners use their professional expertise as a cudgel against other forms of knowledge when those other perspectives go against prevailing orthodoxy, the politics of the day, or, most importantly, real estate profits.

So, yes: scathing. Stein's critique continues to comparisons of modernist city planners like Moses and Le Corbusier vis-à-vis Jane Jacobs, and calls for planners to head the wisdom of the people who know the city best.

There’s a reason working class New Yorkers get nervous when planners show up and promise big benefits from new development. For years, planners have been telling residents that stoking the market will somehow benefit them too—that allowing developers to build big, expensive, private buildings will translate into lower rents and higher quality of life. It never happens, and instead leads to gentrification and displacement. That’s why communities all over this city—the South Bronx, Chinatown, Long Island City, East New York, Staten Island’s North Shore and beyond—are up in arms about rezonings.

Stein's conclusion calls on planners not to abandon their work and keep their mouths, but "they must drop the presumption that they can explain the city to those who know it intimately."

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Published on Wednesday, May 17, 2017 in
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