October's Planning Month! A brief read on Planning's racist history, reform and hope for the future.
As we commemorate National Planning Month, we take an honest look back at Planning's history and how it has transitioned from a municipal tool into a responsive, collaborative profession that shapes the neighborhoods where we live.
Urban Planning's history is one of segregation and disinvestment. Urban Planning as a concept goes back as far as civilized society but did not formalize as a profession until the early 20th century. As cities became more dense, new issues arose: the various ways that land was used needed to be more organized, sanitation infrastructure was needed to address public health, and paved streets and highways were added to accommodate more efficient modes of travel. Planning for improvements and directing flows of investment became essential to the life of cities.
Zoning is a tool used by planners to separate the way land is used. In neutral application, this is beneficial because it creates rules that keep us safe; for example, industrial manufacturing is restricted near residential homes. However, in the early 1900's, zoning was also used to determine who could live in which neighborhood. Eventually struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, neighborhoods remain segregated because of the legacy of racialized zoning. Even though we do not have racialized zoning today, it is still criticized as a tool to keep certain neighborhoods less affordable and accessible for all incomes and backgrounds.
The Urban Renewal strategy was utilized in the mid 1900's to remove blight from downtown areas through demolition and to rebuild with "higher class" development. These actions targeted communities of color, frequently decimating Black business districts (Louisville's Walnut Street) and neighborhoods, resulting in subsequent loss of place, decreased income, and displacement.
At the local level, Comprehensive Planning, or city-wide planning, also contributed to the segregation of communities by enacting broad policies and directing specific investment to further goals of those in power at the time. At the state and federal level, policies such as redlining and the direction of state and federal funding strategically under-invested and disinvested minority neighborhoods, further entrenching segregation and poverty in our neighborhoods.
The Civil Rights movement pushed reform and established procedural equity. In the 1960's, Fair Housing laws further restricted segregation practices, and the dismantling of Jim Crow laws opened up civic and retail spaces. Voting rights positively affected communities of color and their ability to influence public processes that informed policy development and the flow of public dollars. The past century of advocacy (only a key few victories are named here) moved the country towards racial equality and now racial equity has required Urban Planning to adapt and decentralize.
Nearly all planning processes now require community engagement as a systemic check and balance. If you attend a meeting in your neighborhood today, you will have the opportunity to provide public comment on development proposals, policy changes, and more. You might even be able to participate in a neighborhood planning process that asks what you would like to see for the future of your community. Many cities are now seeking to integrate social and racial equity into their planning work and policy documents. For the first time, Louisville's Comprehensive Plan includes Equity as a core principle. Additionally, the Center For Health Equity has published the Health Equity report since 2011, which analyzes disparities related to community development and the built environment.
Center For Neighborhoods pushes for racial equity in planning for Louisville neighborhoods. For us, planning at its core is about the people that make up a place. How is the environment supporting their health, culture, and growth? There is so much to do to advance racial equity in community planning, in decisions about neighborhood investment, in policy creation, and more. Center For Neighborhoods uses a wide combination of strategies to partner with neighbors in this effort. We believe that planning processes are critical efforts to ensure that residents decide the future of their communities, and that residents are the best source of information related to their neighborhoods.
Center For Neighborhoods was originally founded as the Louisville Community Design Center, a not-for-profit collective of volunteer architects who wanted to center social justice and community in design projects. Our legacy is one of people-centered neighborhood plans, advocating for process change, channeling information to neighbors, and training hundreds of neighbors to advocate for their communities.
We are dedicated to amplifying the resident voice and instilling accountability in the community development process. We are currently offering educational events, one-on-one conversations, a neighborhood data portal, and projects in neighborhoods that provide residents opportunities to engage and build their personal experience with grassroots leadership and civic action.
What you can do - An opportunity to advocate: Louisville's current efforts to reform Planning policy. The city of Louisville is currently undergoing a very important process to reform the Land Development Code, a policy document that dictates regulations for the uses of land, types of development, and related rules. The project includes an equity analysis and opportunity for public comment. You can read more here: https://louisvilleky.gov/ldcreform We highly encourage you to lift your voice to this process and contribute your input.
More resources about planning history and new equity-based strategies: