Ed Blakely has a recent column out on planetizen where he says that planners should be jailed for their management of urban development. Now, this is a bit of a tongue in cheek statement. I was in the roundtable last week at ACSP in Cincinatti when I first heard him say this as a joke in a discussion regarding planning and the black community. His basic question is entirely legit: why aren't planners held responsible for their actions?
He's clearly not advocating for the jailing of planners if you read the column, thus my confusion at some of the tepid responses I saw on the Planning and the Black Community Division facebook page. Blakely calls for the type of planning and cities that big-time urbanist folks call for constantly. He wants cities that are environmentally sustainable, socially just, and culturally diverse and he makes an explicit claim regarding the central role of planners within these processes. He just makes the extra step in saying that planners should be held responsible to the visions and standards they constantly espouse and celebrate and yet never seem to actually meet.
We celebrate Smart Growth as sprawl continues relatively unabated (at least until we have a major national recession that kills our housing market). We call for integrated, equitable cities and yet the APA or mainstream planning groups do nothing to decry travesties like the recent case of St. Bernard Parish in Louisiana trying their damnedest to keep affordable housing out of their community because they won't want to be around black people with the assistance of planners and a virulently racist city council. We discuss problems of mass unemployment and continued poverty and yet we celebrate real-estate development urban playgrounds as "economic development" even as we displace the poor and marginalized from our central cities. Let me make this abundantly clear: planners are entirely complicit in these cases. I recognize the very real limits imposed upon public planners, in particular, but if we purport to offer strong normative visions of what cities should be and if we claim we have an ethical obligation to preserve our natural resources and to encourage greater social equity and inclusive economic development, then we should be held to those ethical standards. Otherwise, we just get a free pass and when the same old stuff happens we just chalk it up to planners not having "real" power and move on. If that's the tact we're going to take as a field, fine, but stop pretending like your normative visions count for anything and just be honest that we're little more than glorified rubber-stampers that can make awesome graphics and run a population projection every few years.
We need to do more as a field/profession to demand more from us. Otherwise we'll continue to see urban development go down the negative, wasteful patterns that they have for the past 60 years and we'll constantly be waiting for the next hurricane, gas crisis, or economic collapse to do the work we should've been doing in the face.