8.29.2017

Inclusive Urbanism

I am not a planner, nor am I the first to use the phrase, "inclusive urbanism," but I did want to elaborate on what it means from where I'm sitting.

First, I think it's important to make sure that what we're advocating for in cities isn't seen as making them urban playgrounds for the elite.  To be sure, we should want people who have choices to choose the city.  But bike lanes and reclaimed waterfront space and traffic calming is of use to all.  A hat tip to my colleagues at 5th Square in Philadelphia, who in pushing for an urbanist agenda in local elections were always mindful to couch both ends and means in inclusive ways.  For all of us benefit when our streets are safer, recreational amenities are freely available, and families can circulate through the city without a car if they want to or have to.  Indeed, sometimes anti-urbanist efforts are proposed for the very purpose of excluding others, in terms of not wanting "those people" to access "our" neighborhoods and recreational assets.

Second, public engagement, that bread and butter tool of the urban planner, must in fact engage the whole public.  Seems obvious, but walk into any random public meeting and sadly you will often find not much diversity in terms of skin color, age, physical ability, and wallet size.  Inclusive urbanism by definition cannot exclude any.  No matter how good the urbanist ideas are, they must come from the grassroots.  Again, seems obvious, but you'd be surprised how many in this space (either explicitly or implicitly) feel that their ideas are so profoundly spot-on that they can and should be accepted from on high.  (I literally once had someone tell me, regarding opposition towards a controversial development in a gentrifying neighborhood, "these people don't know what's best for them...we just have to come in and do this for them.")

Third, as the public that is being engaged must be diverse, so must the professionals who are doing the engaging and the planning and the advising and the implementing.  And not just diverse on the surface, as if token representation will suffice, but diverse to the core, so that the work can benefit from a multiplicity of perspectives and dreams and grievances and pangs.

This is the hard and necessary work, and I hope to see more of it in the days and years to come.
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