Anti-Racism, and Our Role as Planners in Oregon

June 4, 2020

Racial justice protest sign

This is a critical moment in our history. In cities across Oregon — and indeed the country and world — we are confronting the outcomes of institutional racism in our society, the byproducts of sustained disinvestment in Black communities (and indeed, in communities of all colors), and the anger and outrage prompted by years of disenfranchisement, discrimination, and injustice. The senseless and brutal murder of George Floyd may have sparked these protests, but his death is just the latest in the long list of Black lives ended too soon across America. His killing has retraumatized many Oregonians — including fellow OAPA members — that feel unsafe and targeted simply because of the color of their skin. This is unacceptable. Change is needed, and it is needed right now.

OAPA’s professional commitment to equity and social justice is outlined in our Chapter’s vision statement, the AICP Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct, APA’s Planning for Equity Policy Guide, APA’s Ethical Principles in Planning, and APA’s Policy Statement on Righting the Wrongs of Racial Inequality issued this week. Read these documents: all should prompt us to examine how we are complicit, even inadvertently, in sustaining unjust and racist systems.

Personally, I’ve been thinking about my role as a planner and as a potential change agent in the communities where I work. How can I do better? What can I do to combat structural racism? How can I better amplify voices that aren’t typically heard and change professional habits that perpetuate inequitable outcomes?

An important first step we can take as planners in this moment is to listen. We must listen to Black people excluded from housing, denied access to basic services, and left fearful of encounters with law enforcement. We must respect, trust, and learn from the truths of the lived experiences of those battling injustices. We must listen to ourselves and observe how our privilege manifests itself in perpetuating systems of structural racism and oppression. 

After listening, we must take action. The conversations we’re having right now are responding to appalling and habitual police violence, which may seem far from our professional realm. History shows, however, that our profession has left its own scars on communities of color, particularly Black communities through past practices like redlining and more recent failures to adequately address displacement resulting from redevelopment and gentrification. We’re still struggling to rectify the impacts of our own prior mistakes. We still suffer from a lack of diversity in our professional ranks. We’re learning how to be a better, more intentional, and more inclusive profession, and we have a long way to go.

We need to acknowledge that none of us has the answers to all of these challenges. Some of us are in different places than others when it comes to conversations about race, racism, equity, and our role as planners. Still, our professional obligations call on all of us to do a much better job at dismantling racist systems in our work and in our communities. We cannot be silent toward racism: as planners, we must be actively anti-racist. OAPA is committed to improving our capabilities to support members to be agents of change in communities across Oregon. 

I invite you to stay engaged as we share more resources and opportunities to learn about how to improve our professional practice to recognize and combat ongoing structural racism, and I welcome your ideas and input at Together, our profession can and should disrupt racism and confront injustice across Oregon. 

Let’s stand together against bigotry and intolerance of any kind, and be allies and advocates for change in our communities.

Image Credit: Johnny Silvercloud, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons