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Thread: Racial issues at planning consensus meetings

  1. #1
    Cyburbian ruralplanner's avatar
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    Racial issues at planning consensus meetings

    There are many websites and organizations devoted to utilizing and implementing consensus processes to reach common ground and agreement. I have found that the formal consensus process works quite well when developing plan policies as they relate to density and housing development. If executed well, the consensus process creates an environment where everyone in the group feels comfortable contributing, it lets ideas build upon ideas until the best emerges and sets up a system where all opinions and values are respected. I have however noticed a troubling trend in the last several years. That being racism. Let me set the (true) scenario. While working with a group of residents we were discussing the concept of creating affordable rural housing opportunities under a formal consensus process. The process was working as ideas built upon ideas and everyone was respecting the input given by everyone. While we were not trying to reach complete consensus, our goal was to reach agreement and go along with the majority. Those who blocked a proposal were given a chance to express their rationale. In the end we reached consensus on the issue at hand—after a 3-hour session. I was pleased with the process and result except for one issue.

    To better understand this issue it is important to note that this community is very rural and according to the 1990 census 100% white. It was 99.3 % in 2000. During the discussion about creating affordable housing one of the members prefaced his comment and mumbled something about not being racist, but went on to say that he blocked the proposal to create affordable housing opportunities because he did not want—in his own words (insert here)—people who were not white to move into the community.

    After he was done expressing his opinion the room fell silent and being the facilitator of the process I did not know how to react. So after collecting my thoughts I just went on to the next person who blocked to get their opinion. In other words I did not acknowledge the comment but did not challenge it either.

    What would you have done in this situation and would it have been proper to address the issue and if so how would you do it? I think that part of my reaction to just move on was because I was ill prepared to respond in a reasonable amount of time. Yet if it were to happen again I do not know how I would respond. So again, what would you do and remember the audience.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian cch's avatar
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    I think it was probably obvious to everybody but him that his comment was out of line. And you didn't need to state the obvious. The whole point of those types of exercises is to give everybody the chance to put their opinions out there, right or wrong. I think it was correct for you to say nothing and move on.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian MacheteJames's avatar
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    I think I'd probably end up losing my job if a situation like this were to arise, though as a visible minority, it would never happen as racists are always far too chicken sh!t to attempt this when the "Other" is in the same room with them.

    When I saw your thread title, I had thought it had been something to do with race relations or similar subject matter. I hadn't bet on hearing about the local Neo-Nazi contingent showing up at a public hearing. Coming from a fellow planner who happens to be a person of color, I find this really scary, not to mention disheartening and just grotesque. This wouldn't ever happen around these parts due to all the diversity, but you still see it manifest itself (coded in phrases like "Don't you even think of giving that project a density bonus"), etc.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    I've had this happen. Once, maybe twice. I have said "well, thanks and with that we really need to focus on...."

  5. #5
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    I've had it happen a couple of times at comprehensive plan committee meetings, but it was far more subtle; along the lines of "We don't want to provide parks in our township, because it might draw people from Cleveland into the area."

    Has anyone encountered this with regards to Hispanics? I haven't been at any meetings where this happened, but there's a small but very vocal anti-Hispanic contingency in the area where I work.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian KSharpe's avatar
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    My area is sort of de facto racist- basically, they don't want poor people around, and most people of color in my area are poor.
    Do you want to pet my monkey?

  7. #7
    Cyburbian Mud Princess's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Dan View post
    Has anyone encountered this with regards to Hispanics? I haven't been at any meetings where this happened, but there's a small but very vocal anti-Hispanic contingency in the area where I work.
    What I'm seeing is people who seem to equate "Hispanic" with "illegal immigrant" and therefore a problem for the community. It is very disheartening.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian H's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Dan View post
    Has anyone encountered this with regards to Hispanics? I haven't been at any meetings where this happened, but there's a small but very vocal anti-Hispanic contingency in the area where I work.
    No, but interestingly I was at a neighborhood meeting in Miami once that was mostly Hispanics and they did not want an apt. building built because the one that was already there was full of "them" (in his words, and based on some things I wont repeat I am pretty sure he was talking about Black folks). Unlike the before mentioned meeting, the rest of the crowd was joining in saying "yeah, yeah, we saved up and moved our kids out here (it was in the ‘burbs) to get away from "them"... and now your bringing “them" out here to us!”

    I was simply dumbfounded with it all...

    BTW: I was on the consultant team trying to get the land rezoned for the apts. (I remember getting info here on Cyburbia that actually helped a lot, I just searched for the thread and could not find it… it was about whether or not apts. next to single-family bring down property values of the single-family, because that was the oppositions "official" argument.)

    Anyway, got the land rezoned.
    "Those who plan do better than those who do not plan, even though they rarely stick to their plan." - Winston Churchill

  9. #9
    Cyburbian big_g's avatar
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    Unfortunately, your story doesn't suprise me one bit. Usually these issues come out a lot more subtlely and through hidden agendas. I've see instances where environmental rationale was used (very weakly) to oppose certiain elements of the affordable housing elements of a comprehensive planning public process. This really pissed me off as both a minority, environmentalist, and as a planner. This is the truly ugly side of NIMBYism.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Plus JNA's avatar
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    At a recent rezoning it was economic - no renters.
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    Broke parts take a little longer, though.
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  11. #11
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Dan View post
    Has anyone encountered this with regards to Hispanics? I haven't been at any meetings where this happened, but there's a small but very vocal anti-Hispanic contingency in the area where I work.
    That's the issue we get here. We're a very undiversified community that is changing really fast, so we've got a lot of hispanic folks coming to town to help with the building boom. In one of the communities I work in, the desire to keep "them" out is unspoken but there. And I don't know what to do about it other than try and get "them" to come to the meetings. Haven't been successful yet.

    No answers. Just sympathy.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by H View post
    No, but interestingly I was at a neighborhood meeting in Miami once that was mostly Hispanics and they did not want an apt. building built because the one that was already there was full of "them" (..Black folks).
    Don't see why it's such a shocker. You'll see racism from any group in the majority. There's quite a few places in Alaska where they don't want "them" (White people) in town. ANY significant shift in demographic is going to cause tensions.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian H's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by JusticeZero View post
    Don't see why it's such a shocker. You'll see racism from any group in the majority. There's quite a few places in Alaska where they don't want "them" (White people) in town. ANY significant shift in demographic is going to cause tensions.
    The shocker was the blatancy of it all. I had not before or since seen a group so outright vocal against “them” (whoever they may be).

    The example, I thought “interesting,” because Dan asked about racism against Hispanics.
    "Those who plan do better than those who do not plan, even though they rarely stick to their plan." - Winston Churchill

  14. #14
    Cyburbian
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    Yeah, well, often minorities are allowed free passes to be as blatantly bigoted as they want, and all too often, no-one will call them on it. Maybe it doesn't seem PC to stand up to statements like that or something, some quirk of percieved power relationships.
    There are plenty of people who define racism as only being possible to be done by whites, sexism as misogyny but not misandry, etc. that reinforce that; the end result being that you can run into situations which grossly violate a more symmetrical sense of equality.
    Any change of demographic in a community will cause feelings of threat in the residents, and their response may vary based on the expectations and behaviours which they are culturally allowed to express. Self-censoring racist responses and the like is, alas, primarily a -white- cultural value at this time. I don't see as much of it spreading into the minority cultures I am related to yet as I might like.

    Important to remember that it's not necessarily that they "hate race X", but that their community is changing and that makes them nervous. They might be a faithful crusader for minority rights, but when a bunch of people start moving into their neighborhood who are different than the people they remember being there, that's worrisome, their home is feeling different and they feel encroached on and insecure. I've caught myself feeling a bit tense about changes in my communities in past that are simply bizzarre, such as staying in campus housing and being used to living surrounded by music majors and then having people moving in and out replace that with engineers; I worried for a bit about how that would change the feel of the hall I was in.
    Last edited by JusticeZero; 16 Nov 2007 at 3:10 PM. Reason: thought of more

  15. #15
    Cyburbian TexanOkie's avatar
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    This might be slightly off-topic, but I'm constantly surprised at how much less racist southern culture tends to be these days than northern culture. There are some backwards places that don't realize that still think it's 1950, sure, but overwhelmingly the South is much more uniformly integrated than most places in the U.S., especially the Upper Midwest, which I have noticed on numerous occasions to have widely segregated neighborhoods and even cities. The South may have dealt with racial problems at levels Northern cities never have seen, but at the same time the direct confrontation and it's subsequent resolution pushed the South way ahead in terms of race relations.

  16. #16
    Cyburbian jmello's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by TexanOkie View post
    This might be slightly off-topic, but I'm constantly surprised at how much less racist southern culture tends to be these days than northern culture.
    I agree with you! Having moved from Boston to eastern NC, I can honestly say that I have encountered less anti-black racism here than in New England.

    Bringing it back on topic, in NC any discrimination in the realm of zoning and planning seems to be directed at poor people equally, regardless of race. Where in New England, it was very clearly based on race and race alone. A lot of this has to do with a lack of a black middle class in New England.

    However, I must say that because of our immigration history, northerners do seem more equipped to deal with the recent increase in the Latino population than southerners. I have heard a lot of anti-Mexican comments here.

  17. #17
    Cyburbian ruralplanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by cch View post
    I think it was probably obvious to everybody but him that his comment was out of line. And you didn't need to state the obvious. The whole point of those types of exercises is to give everybody the chance to put their opinions out there, right or wrong. I think it was correct for you to say nothing and move on.
    It was obvious that his comment was out of line, at least for me-- I was not so sure about others who were there. How blatent his thoughts were presented was the shocking part.

    All of the responses indicated that I did the right thing by not saying anything and by moving on, but this accomplishes nothing, at least in terms of improving racial tensions and despelling misconceptions. It seems to me that I should have said something, ever so brief, that would not condemn the comment but at least to offer something that is a bit more enlightened. By not doing so, I am afriad that I just let the issue fester in the minds of people who were at the meeting only to further instill racism in this community. Whereas a postive comment would start to dispell the fear, nagativity, and misconceptions surrounding the issue and would cause a step in the right direction, even if it is small, even if it is for only one person.

  18. #18
    Cyburbian MacheteJames's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by jmello View post
    I agree with you! Having moved from Boston to eastern NC, I can honestly say that I have encountered less anti-black racism here than in New England.

    Bringing it back on topic, in NC any discrimination in the realm of zoning and planning seems to be directed at poor people equally, regardless of race. Where in New England, it was very clearly based on race and race alone. A lot of this has to do with a lack of a black middle class in New England.

    However, I must say that because of our immigration history, northerners do seem more equipped to deal with the recent increase in the Latino population than southerners. I have heard a lot of anti-Mexican comments here.

    I think this is due to the fact that people in the South let you know where you stand. If they like you, they'll let you know. If not, they'll let you know that as well. My take is that when racism toward minorities does appear in the South, it is the fangs-out racism of burning crosses on lawns, rather than the behind the back variety that you see in the North. I'm from New England, and you are spot-on about the lack of a black middle class. Living in the NYC metro area is a breath of fresh air coming from Eastern Mass, because the city has ethnic communities that are prospering (witness much of Queens, for example). In Boston, this simply does not exist. Same thing with Latinos in New England; there is no Latino middle class like there is in California and in parts of the NJ-NY-CT tri state area.

    In the community where I'm working now, most of the xenophobia is directed toward the Ecuadorian community, who make up a startlingly large percentage of the population here. A survey was done prior to the creation of our recent Comp Plan, and some pretty virulent anti-immigrant sentiments were expressed. How quickly folks forget the "Gangs of New York" days.

  19. #19
    The City where I live has a lot of Hispanic residents and you will often seen letters to the editor that criticize certain developments or businesses because it may attract Hispanic residents. This usually happens with apartments or affordable housing projects. One person lamented all of the Hispanic grocery stores saying "Why do they need their own stores?" There are all kinds of references to illegal imagrants as well. Some alderman wanted all people to show proof of citizenship before they could get any license in the City.
    "I'm a white male, age 18 to 49. Everyone listens to me, no matter how dumb my suggestions are."

    - Homer Simpson

  20. #20
    Cyburbian
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    I'm just going to write about my experience with people who have these attitudes and who are from a town with similar demographics. I don't think that a person saying they don't want --- minority moving in has to be a part of a Neo-Nazi contingent. Lots of people feel that way and they're not all nutjobs who burn crosses on lawns. In some communities you have to work with people who feel that way, because many of them do, and figure out what is really going on and work to change the root problems (often little to do with whatever group they don't like).

    MrTresmo worked on a project with community members like this and it was a big concern, in a community with similar demographics, the 0.7% minority being new Mexican immigrants. It was depressing to look through long detailed surveys and have them blame everything, even old problems that had been festering for decades, on the new hispanic population.

    It has been my experience that people in smaller rural towns/cities (this was a small to medium size city in the midwest) see their towns changing/declining from how they remember them and they also see "new" faces moving in. When those faces are so obviously different, they tend to just lump the town's decline and the new people together as a cause and effect instead of embracing new residents (the people in this town were legal for the most part) for the new life they could bring to the community.

    I think a big part of it is the language barrier, it does a good job of making the old timers feel like everything is changing. People moving in and you can't even understand what they're saying or talk to them? Right or wrong, it can be scary for people and certainly makes them uncomfortable.

    I think others are right, everyone in the room probably was appalled. You didn't need to say anything. At least you know where you stand and what people's concerns are, or at least his concerns.

  21. #21
         
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    Quote Originally posted by ruralplanner View post
    There are many websites and organizations devoted to utilizing and implementing consensus processes to reach common ground and agreement. I have found that the formal consensus process works quite well when developing plan policies as they relate to density and housing development. If executed well, the consensus process creates an environment where everyone in the group feels comfortable contributing, it lets ideas build upon ideas until the best emerges and sets up a system where all opinions and values are respected. I have however noticed a troubling trend in the last several years. That being racism. Let me set the (true) scenario. While working with a group of residents we were discussing the concept of creating affordable rural housing opportunities under a formal consensus process. The process was working as ideas built upon ideas and everyone was respecting the input given by everyone. While we were not trying to reach complete consensus, our goal was to reach agreement and go along with the majority. Those who blocked a proposal were given a chance to express their rationale. In the end we reached consensus on the issue at hand—after a 3-hour session. I was pleased with the process and result except for one issue.

    To better understand this issue it is important to note that this community is very rural and according to the 1990 census 100% white. It was 99.3 % in 2000. During the discussion about creating affordable housing one of the members prefaced his comment and mumbled something about not being racist, but went on to say that he blocked the proposal to create affordable housing opportunities because he did not want—in his own words (insert here)—people who were not white to move into the community.

    After he was done expressing his opinion the room fell silent and being the facilitator of the process I did not know how to react. So after collecting my thoughts I just went on to the next person who blocked to get their opinion. In other words I did not acknowledge the comment but did not challenge it either.

    What would you have done in this situation and would it have been proper to address the issue and if so how would you do it? I think that part of my reaction to just move on was because I was ill prepared to respond in a reasonable amount of time. Yet if it were to happen again I do not know how I would respond. So again, what would you do and remember the audience.

    I agree that you should have responded somehow to that comment. Being a Planner, I think it is our responsibility to mitigate the effects of such in some way. I am not certain what would have been the best way to respond, but you ignoring it and nobody else in the room acknowledging it did SEND A MESSAGE across I think. As in " How small minded can you get?," "Its not worth waisting my time over it! " I am pretty sure that he or anybody else in that room will not bring this up with you again at least. I think you're silence sent the right message regarding how you feel atleast.

    However, I'd be intereseted in additional comments on what would have been the best way to handle this? I don't think any of the comments so far address that
    .

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