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Writing about planning and cities: does it have to be woke?

Dan

Dear Leader
Staff member
Moderator
Messages
17,549
Points
55
It seems like in the past year or two, EVERY article about planning, transportation, or urbanism (in the US, at least) in an online or print publication has to frame the subject in some aspect of racism or identity politics. Specifically, articles always bring up one of more of the following issues, no matter how irrelevant they are to the topic at hand.
  • HOLC redlining (specifically regarding race, not ethnicity or housing condition).
  • Segregated public housing in the 1940s.
  • Blockbusting.
  • Gentrification (in a negative context of displacement, "colonization", or cultural change).
  • White flight (in the context of being driven exclusively by racism, not any of the hundreds of other factors that influence where people choose to live).
  • Racial (but not ethnic) restrictive covenants.
  • General racial discrimination in housing and lending.
  • Sundown towns.
  • Food deserts in black neighborhoods.
  • Ferguson.
  • How some plan or policy hurt minorities, often implying the harm was intentional, even when there was a proportionate or greater impact on white residents (expressway/freeway routing, urban renewal, etc).
  • General racism / bigotry / discrimination / racial prejudice.
  • General white privilege.
These are all important topics, of course. However, bringing them up in a story or report about a subject where they're really not relevant is just virtue signalling. If you're writing an article about ... oh, let's say the benefits of roundabouts and chicanes for traffic calming, does it really help to frame the subject in a racial context, and claim that it's "problematic" because Grosse Pointe Park put up some barriers along its border with Detroit? If I'm discussing the role of craft brewing in preserving historic buildings through adaptive reuse, am I obligated to mention how there's few brewpubs and tasting rooms in black and Hispanic neighborhoods? Is woke the new normal?

The usual disclaimer: I'm a Generation X-era traditional liberal, who is a strong believer in the traditional concepts of social justice and equity.
 

DVD

Cyburbian
Messages
13,650
Points
38
I'm with you Dan. As much as I understand how planning can change racial problems good and bad I'm just not interested. Call it privileged white guy or just the idea that if I knew something hurt others I wouldn't do it. I think race is just an easy thing for researchers to grab onto because we have stats for that. It's harder to figure out that this particular neighborhood is south eastern Mongolian and they would really prefer to use zebras as their method of transportation on the round-a-bout. Mostly I don't read half the crap Planning and other websites put out because it just doesn't relate to my day to day work. Although when I see an occasional unique or good idea I keep it in the back of my mind.
 

Doohickie

Cyburbian
Messages
1,666
Points
25
A good article provides context. For the non-planners among us, including the history of "how we got to this point" is very relevant. The examples cited in the OP do not appear to be related to the issues discussed. For examples like that, I think part of the problem is that many publications, especially online specialty ones, are little more than glorified blogs with little or no editorial guidance. Even mainstream media's online presence often seems to lack editorial rigor. So along with the typos, you also get the author's prejudices.

That actually brought down one of the better local urbanism blogs. The author would present a lot of good information, but also a lot of editorial content. He tended to get butt-hurt when people disputed his views. To me it seemed like reasonable discourse but he couldn't handle the fact that someone might read what he wrote and reach a conclusion different from his own. Eventually he just turned off comments on all articles and it died a pretty quick death. He later started writing for a local weekly mag and I think things worked better when he had adult supervision. Eventually he got tired of Fort Worth and moved to Portland.
 
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AlyssaN

Cyburbian
Messages
42
Points
2
am I obligated to mention how there's few brewpubs and tasting rooms in black and Hispanic neighborhoods?
Yes you should if they're good breweries, but you don't need to mention the ethnic makeup of the neighborhoods.
 

AlyssaN

Cyburbian
Messages
42
Points
2
It seems like in the past year or two, EVERY article about planning, transportation, or urbanism (in the US, at least) in an online or print publication has to frame the subject in some aspect of racism or identity politics. Specifically, articles always bring up one of more of the following issues, no matter how irrelevant they are to the topic at hand.
  • HOLC redlining (specifically regarding race, not ethnicity or housing condition).
  • Segregated public housing in the 1940s.
  • Blockbusting.
  • Gentrification (in a negative context of displacement, "colonization", or cultural change).
  • White flight (in the context of being driven exclusively by racism, not any of the hundreds of other factors that influence where people choose to live).
  • Racial (but not ethnic) restrictive covenants.
  • General racial discrimination in housing and lending.
  • Sundown towns.
  • Food deserts in black neighborhoods.
  • Ferguson.
  • How some plan or policy hurt minorities, often implying the harm was intentional, even when there was a proportionate or greater impact on white residents (expressway/freeway routing, urban renewal, etc).
  • General racism / bigotry / discrimination / racial prejudice.
  • General white privilege.
These are all important topics, of course. However, bringing them up in a story or report about a subject where they're really not relevant is just virtue signalling. If you're writing an article about ... oh, let's say the benefits of roundabouts and chicanes for traffic calming, does it really help to frame the subject in a racial context, and claim that it's "problematic" because Grosse Pointe Park put up some barriers along its border with Detroit? If I'm discussing the role of craft brewing in preserving historic buildings through adaptive reuse, am I obligated to mention how there's few brewpubs and tasting rooms in black and Hispanic neighborhoods? Is woke the new normal?

The usual disclaimer: I'm a Generation X-era traditional liberal, who is a strong believer in the traditional concepts of social justice and equity.
I think a lot depends on the topic, the audience as well as the article length.
 
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