A Response on De-Radicalizing Planning

Radical: fundamental; extreme; favoring extreme changes in existing views, habits, conditions, or institutions; advocating extreme measures to retain or restore a political state of affairs. –Merriam-Webster Dictionary

While I’ve been a strong advocate for change, I’ve honestly never really thought of myself, my work, or my beliefs as radical. I may protest wrongs or practice ‘do unto others as I would have them do unto me.’ I’ve even followed its alternate interpretation ‘allow to happen to others as you’d like it to happen unto you.’ But these actions and decisions have never seemed, to me, radical or even beyond the norm of what we should expect from another human being. However, I do believe that we live in a radical system that reproduces radical outcomes.  Because a system that perpetuates dehumanizing practices is already extreme. So, upon further reflection, I’m asking if planning needs to be “de-radicalized?” 

At the heart of the matter, I’m speaking to a de-radicalization that includes reclaiming our humanity. Because when we truly believe and value someone’s humanity—another person’s humanness (empathizing with and emphasizing our connectedness)—we won’t let radical events happen: children aren’t murdered by police; residents aren’t developed out of their homes and neighborhoods; victims don’t question whether they’ll be believed; getting in your car isn’t a risk; families aren’t placed in internment camps; and the innocent don’t fear that they’ll be punished even when they follow all the rules as we know them to be. And you don’t allow it to happen again and again and again. You won’t perpetuate a system that allows these radical events to happen again and again and again. In human-centered planning, radical events aren’t normalized. Centering someone’s humanity, a group’s shared humanity, means not going numb to their pain; no matter the number of stereotypes, prejudices, or unjust practices you can attach to their being. In a de-radicalized system, people are included and valued regardless of the temptation to rationalize our own actions (or lack thereof) making excuses for the comfort of your own believing.

In de-radicalization, you demand change. Our plans change. They look different, and the practices and underlying values that support them should look and feel different, too. To do this, we planners must begin to reorient ourselves, our priorities, and our needs. We must be critical of our methods and the actual impact of our intentions. We must prioritize the equity we seek to achieve.

Our board rooms need to be restructured.

We need asset-based approaches to community health, food, and transportation. 

We need better trained public safety officials, ones we can trust. 

The communities we work with and for need transparent sharing of information.

We need to ground our social services work in rectifying wealth disparities.

We need laws and policies that don’t create homelessness or promote its criminalization.

We need fair lending practices from banks.

We need an education system that provides support not marginalization.

Our community-based and led nonprofits need nonrestrictive, continuous streams of funding.

We need to give All planning participants fair compensation.

This includes time and expertise given on diversity and equity initiatives; volunteer time doesn’t provide pay to address the aforementioned needs in housing, food, and education.

We need to uplift the work and leadership of BIPOC activists which means we don’t co-op their work and corresponding terminology for profit and oppression—that’s rebranded exploitation. 

And all of these changes at their core are not radical—not fundamentally extreme—because we give them to non-BIPOC persons and their communities everyday: so often that their privilege is so normalized that many have trouble becoming aware of how they’re privileged in the first place. We all have to be aware (woke) enough to question what kinds of radicalization (and -isms) in which we’ve been complicit.

De-radicalizing planning means we don’t take the path of least resistance: we don’t do this at the sacrifice of equity. When you challenge a system—a radical one—you anticipate resistance. When you’re pushing for equity, you look for signs of resistance because that means we’re actually getting somewhere in a radical system.

Moreover, these critiques aren’t limited to the Planning profession, because, in truth, We All Plan. We plan with our vote, where we send our children to school, how we promote members of our team, the issues on which we’ll remain ignorant, the spaces in which we have a right to occupy, whose complaints are worthy of our time, whose faces are deserving of rights, which leaders are deemed qualified, and which plans deserve to be planned. We plan all the time, and then we reconcile to comfort or shared prosperity. We choose these plans, and then we act. We act in our planning. 

I’m asking if we can de-radicalize and uproot an extreme system in service of a need for positive change. And this request for change is not extreme, because I only seek to re-center this system to what it should have always been and reframe it towards realizing a future where we can all be free. And I can’t explain how us planners can do it all in under 1000 words, but hopefully I can ask others to join in and reflect with me. 

And be active and hopeful. This change will come.

About the Author: Patience Wall is pursuing a MBA/ MCRP dual-degree with concentrations in Economic Development and Real Estate. While at Carolina, she’s focusing on how to attain equity in regional economic development and housing opportunities through public-private partnerships. Her past work experience includes a dash of elementary education, a brief stint as a pollster and time leading research and policy engagement initiatives at Duke. She obtained her undergraduate degree in Public Policy Studies from Duke University in 2015.