Racism and Urban Planning in the USA

Authors: James Vaughan*, University of Texas at San Antonio
Topics: Urban and Regional Planning, Social Geography, Ethnicity and Race
Keywords: racism, urban planning, USA
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2018
Start / End Time: 4:40 PM / 6:20 PM
Room: Napoleon D3, Sheraton 3rd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Since community planning took hold in the USA, it has had an uneasy relationship with racism, both overtly and covertly. “Modern” planning tools and policies have been appropriated to discriminate against persons of color for over one hundred years. Jim Crow laws, exclusionary zoning, urban renewal, and auto-centric transportation infrastructure have had outsized impacts on minority communities. Discrimination has been overtly legitimized in the past within comprehensive plans and other regulatory means such as sundown ordinances that forbade African Americans from being within a city’s limits after sunset. More recently, discrimination can be more subtle and indirect, often focusing on residential density, multi-family housing, and economic development. How much control do urban planners have over the use of their planning tools? Most planners want to do the right thing. The American Institute of Certified Planners urges planners to “seek social justice” and to “promote racial and economic integration.” In this paper, I review the role that planning has played, is playing, and can play in either accommodating or fighting racism, and in promoting social justice. Considering the interconnected histories of urban planning and minority urban experiences, urban planners are uniquely poised to confront structural racism in the USA. What are today’s planners doing to develop anti-racist planning strategies? Can urban planners take control of their methods and tools to become agents for positive change in the future?

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