Current issues related to planning that our faculty and students are thinking about, participating in, working on . . .
By Nancy Frank, Department of Urban Planning, Chair
I am feeling proud today. I am proud of the small role I played in bringing to the Wisconsin planning community this story about the fight for housing equity. I am proud because Kori Schneider-Peragine (MUP 1997) has been a leader in advocating for affordable housing options in suburban Waukesha County. I am proud of my student editor, Cassandra Leopold, who produced an excellent story, interviewing Kori to understand the planning story behind the headline. And I am proud of the un-named planners in suburban communities and at the regional planning commission, many of them also our alumni, who Kori credits with being supportive of her work and for housing options in their communities.
You can read the story here:
By Ryan Peterson and Matt Werderitch
Master of Urban Planning students, UWM
The UWM Office of Sustainability invited us to conduct an evaluation of the campus’s food-purchasing habits. The evaluation included a detailed analysis of policies and purchasing patterns of Restaurant Operations, the campus’s food purchasing agent. An important component of the evaluation was the amount of sustainable and/or locally-sourced food that the campus purchases on an annual basis. The report will help to continue the campus to stay on track in achieving its goal of increasing the proportion of sustainable food options sold in campus food service.
We used the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS) to organize food purchases into categories, allowing comparisons with other institutions. For the first time in the university’s history, UW-Milwaukee achieved the Gold Rating!
You can view the report here
“#BlackLivesMatter” has stimulated a domestic and international discourse that seeks to challenge racial injustice and economic inequality by organizing against it. Issues of racial and economic justice have found resonance in the discourse of America’s 2016 presidential election cycle, while organizations such as the Brookings Institute indicates that economic disparities and inequality pose significant challenges in that they contribute to cycles of poverty, racial injustice, social unrest and political turmoil on a global scale. These are issues I had to grapple with very early in my own life experience as a kid growing-up in the inner city and now grappling with these issues as an adult committed to ensuring America lives up to its democratic promise.
It was the height of the Civil Rights period. In 1967 the social unrest in Newark, New Jersey took place and is forever etched in my memory. I was in elementary school then. School was out and the summer was hot literally and figuratively as the emotions of the most racially oppressed segments of our nation boiled over. The decade of the 1960’s provided witness to the dramatic internal struggle for social and economic justice in America and also gave witness to the deaths of President Kennedy, Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King and brought in sharp relief America’s claims to being the most democratic nation in the world.
That summer I was on an outing with the family at the Dairy Queen in downtown Newark. We were sitting in our old Ford station wagon with holes in the floor boards and wood side panels that were popular in the day waiting for our ice cream cones. Suddenly, I saw my mother bolt for the car without the ice cream cones and we sped from the Dairy Queen and the next thing I saw and heard was a big bottle crashing against the glass of the rear window of the station wagon. My mother said her suspicions were raised by the odd behavior of the Caucasian males who were hanging around the Dairy Queen, which is why she decided to leave so quickly. That day was the first day of a week of unrest in Newark, but Newark was only one of a few places in which unrest was happening. Unknown to me that experience was my introduction into urban planning.
That experience caused me to wonder about a number of things. Why were those men at the Dairy Queen angry enough to throw a bottle at our station wagon? What was at the core of the unrest happening in Newark and other cities? What should cities and their citizens do about the unrest? What should the country do about this tension and anger and where does it come from? These questions lead me to read my first autobiography as an elementary school student which was the autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X and Alex Haley. That book incited my interest in African-American history, government and how these topics intersect in the context of community attitudes and actions. As an undergraduate student I studied African-American history and began to understand how the plight of African-Americans was so inextricably linked to individual attitudes and governmental policies and institutional practices that contradicted the iconic symbol of America as the world’s leading democracy and the home of the “free and the brave.” The exploration of that paradox became the foundation of my personal and intellectual quest. It is why I studied government and public policy at the graduate level and why I decided to go to law school and ultimately became a lawyer.
My first professional position out of law school was serving as a legal service lawyer. I worked with low-income individuals within low-income communities helping them to resolve the daily challenges hoisted upon them as a result of their economically vulnerable conditions and socially precarious status manifested in their lack of housing and employment, the impact of governmental neglect and overreach on them, the limited educational opportunities and the crushing impact of segregation. All of which created a revolving door through my office in which I parsed out micro-level interventions for macro-level issues of racial and economic inequality. I was frustrated because my training as a lawyer had me operating to craft narrow solutions at an individual level while not addressing the intractable systems issues that where located in communities, located in the city at large and located in governmental systems causing the same clients to come back into my office with a different set of issues rising out of the gross injustices they experienced daily and had to live through. I was metaphorically placing a band-aid over gaping wounds of injustice. Troubled by my experience as a legal service lawyer I was on a quest to identify how I could personally and professionally bring together my interest in improving conditions in vulnerable and racially and economically disadvantaged communities, while challenging governmental policies and institutional practices that have generated racial and economic inequality, while also building a vision for what is possible and then have the opportunity to implement that vision. The task that I laid out for myself was enormous and appeared insurmountable.
My wife was working as a researcher at the time of my quest. She was given the opportunity to visit Cornell University to learn more about pursuing doctoral studies in microbiology and food science at Cornell. While she was on campus exploring the program I was left to my own devices, which is always dangerous. I was strolling around the Cornell campus which was very nice that time of year and I walk by a big old architecturally distinct building call Sibley Hall. I was curious so I walked inside. As it turns out, I had found my way to the Architecture Department. Architecture was not totally unfamiliar to me but I knew so little about it. I continued my journey in the building and saw a sign that said Department of City and Regional Planning. I said to myself what the “heck” is city and regional planning, it was something I had never heard about. I looked up on the bulletin board scattered throughout the hallway walls and saw course information about things like neighborhood development, community organizing, the political economy of place, discussion groups on race, gender and class. I was fascinated and excited! Could this be the way I bring together my interest in the history of vulnerable communities, address my concerns related to governmental and institutional policy and practices and their role in replicating racial and economic inequality, and then have a way of acting on these interests in an applied context? As it turns out after having a discussion with students, faculty and graduates of the Cornell City and Regional planning department I felt I found my answer, my niche if you will. Planning is a way of thinking about communities, cities and regions comprehensively and through a multiple disciplinary lens. The planning field embraces the fields of history, politics, economics, sociology, environmental studies, design, and ethnic studies of all kinds only to name a few, and is also committed to creating cities and regions that are racially and socially just that serve everyone. If we look at our cities today whether its Ferguson, MO, Baltimore, MD, Sanford, FL, New York, NY or Oakland, CA, Milwaukee, WI issues of social and economic inequality and injustice remain front and center and not unlike the social unrest that I witness in 1967 change is being demanded in those cities.
My commitment as an academic and as a practicing urban planner focused on social planning is to respond to the demand for change. At the core of planning practice is the idea of advancing a democratic commitment that lessens the paradox that is America, which is what took me on my journey and lead to my discovery of urban planning. Urban planning provides us with a vehicle that allows us to envision a “just world” and act to create that world in ways that are hands-on, meaningful and purposeful.
There are many thinkers and practitioners out there with compelling stories and a passion for planning “socially just” cities. Check out the link and get to know them.