Equity in planning has become the hot topic in today’s planning realm because of the housing crises in several cities, social justice issues, and disparities in designing for minority races. It’s a tough problem to tackle and it seems many organizations and governments are grappling with how to exactly handle the problem. However, many equity goals or action plans include making equity as part of the planning process and I think “Yes, this sounds nice, but how?”.
One simple action I learned that will help address today’s equity issue came from a dialogue I participated in with the Berrett-Koelher foundation about justice and equity. I remember my palms sweating profusely as deep feelings and tough experiences were brought up. At one point of the conversation, it was difficult for me to speak up because I didn’t want to come off as ignorant and judged because I may be part of the problem. Luckily, one individual beautifully facilitated the discussion so that we stayed in engaged and didn’t check out because we felt uncomfortable. At the end of the dialogue I came out enlightened because I better understood other people’s experiences and how it affected their livelihood. We concluded that we can’t solve all the social justice issues by ourselves, but we can make a small contribution by being courageous to talk about the issue.
A goal many governments and organizations must have to make progress on creating an equitable society is to hold dialogues with diverse viewpoints of the issue (Four white males discussing the issue wouldn’t be that effective). The dialogue must create a “Brave space” as described by Brian Arao and Kristi Clemens in “From Safe Spaces to Brave Space“. They argue that the safe spaces universities try to create, in order to hold social justice and equity conversations, is flawed. These topics will make us feel uncomfortable and may affect our emotional safety, which often leads to disengagement if we are concerned for our safety and comfortability. Obviously, physical safety is important, however in order to have these conversations we all must be brave to speak up about our experiences and how they have shaped are frames of mind and emotional well-being. More importantly, we must be brave in listening to understand other people’s tough experiences and the pain they may go through because of inequity.
It is critical for urban planners to go out to minority communities and learn about their experiences of the streets, their home life, and culture. Be brave in diving deep into their struggles of their life and how you can make better decisions in your daily work. Better understanding the communities urban planners are serving, will lead to more successful outcomes that are aligned with the communities values and needs.