In anticipation of the “Planning in a ‘Post-Racial’ Society (?): New Directions and Challenges,” Agora hosted a salon on Thursday, October 31 at the Trotter Multicultural center, where presenters discussed their work and art related to planning, race, and space. We heard powerful, thought-provoking stories about Detroit, St. Louis, and Salinas, California from an artistic, an historical, and a planner’s perspectives. As Aja Bonner, MUP student and our host, pointed out at the end of the salon, two overarching themes emerged that are not widely discussed in my planning education and experience thus far: education and safety.
The first presentation really got me thinking about education. As Walter Lacey, local activist and poet, read a poem about school closings in his neighborhood in Detroit, I could not help but think about the school closings occurring in Chicago, my previous home. The city is closing low-preforming neighborhood schools, many of which are in lower-income African-American and Latino communities. According to a recent article in the Chicago Reader, 85% of Chicago public school students are from low-income families (while 52% of the total population with children under 18 are low-income). As wealthier families in the city have the opportunity to send their children to private schools, the public school system contains a disproportionate amount of students from low-income families. Furthermore, many families, such as the three middle class families interviewed in this article, choose to (regrettably, in their words) leave the city for the suburbs for the sake of their children’s education. Meanwhile, last year’s “This American Life” series of episodes about Harper High, a high school on the south side of Chicago, provides a view into seemingly insurmountable difficulties faced at this public school. Access to education matters in housing choice and people who have the choice, time and again, choose a location where their children will have the best possible access to education. These choices have ramifications for the entire city, as its tax base diminishes and the school system, therefore, has access to fewer resources. Studying planning, it seems like this would be particularly relevant; no matter how mixed–use a neighborhood is, there is always the bigger picture, which includes education.
During the final presentation, Lucina Navarro, MUP student, discussed community-organizing projects she worked on in Salinas, California. Her organization was involved in a number of grassroots based projects that address community needs directly, such as expanding a library or providing an open street event for people to use however they choose. She also discussed a community project in one neighborhood that has a particularly high crime rate. She mentioned that people generally do not walk around very often in this area because it is unsafe. Again, I could not help but think about planning and ‘the bigger picture’ (also see the portion of Harper High that deals with walking to school in the high school’s neighborhood). Just as with education, safety plays a huge role in where people live, and how people interact in neighborhoods. As we talk about planning and cities, how can we better incorporate these aspects in both our education and practice? Although there are bureaucratic hurdles to overcome, understanding of and dedication to education and public safety seem vital to our goals as planners.