A message from Daniel Lauber, AICP
AICP President 2003–2005, 1992–1994, APA President 1985–1986

AICP: Professional Planners Doing the Right Thing?

Although the real-world media completely ignored the December 2002 AICP press release that condemned the extremely bigoted remarks Sen. Trent Lott made late in 2002, a good number of our members paid attention — or at least seemed to pay attention.

Although the second issue of Practicing Planner prints one positive and one negative response to our press release, AICP commissioners received many more letters and emails, running more than eight-to-one in favor of the position your AICP Commission enunciated. And there's the rub: the position we enunciated. We phrased our comments in about as nonpartisan a manner as possible. Instead of attacking Sen. Lott personally, we addressed the substance of his comments that clearly favored the state and local laws that imposed racial segregation in housing, education, and even marriage.

We wrote of how the senator's remarks legitimized "the racial bigotry that has led to the racially discriminatory exclusionary zoning and housing policies that make it so difficult for professional planners to conduct the inclusionary planning they are pledged to implement." We explained that acting to foster racial segregation in housing, for example, violates the AICP Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct. And we asked what could possibly be right about prohibiting African Americans from being lawyers, doctors, or even planners? We noted that "racial segregation in housing continues to be one of the great obstacles to accessing quality education and decent living environments for a huge proportion of African Americans. Professional city planners want to fulfill their obligations under the AICP Code of Professional Responsibility. When elected officials like Sen. Lott make statements that support racial segregation, it makes it difficult, if not impossible, for us to perform our jobs ethically and to practice sound planning."

The few AICP members who objected to the press release called us "partisan," and I suppose that one could misinterpret it that way. Yet those who have studied the issue recognize that racial bigotry and the discrimination it spawns lie at the root of today's urban crisis. There's nothing politically partisan about that fact except for the many politicians who have built their careers by race baiting and fostering racial discrimination.

The AICP Commission actually dared to publicly state a position on a current political issue — and our members certainly aren't used to the AICP Commission doing that. Instead they're accustomed to an AICP Commission embroiled in often arcane internal matters, far removed from achieving the core purpose of APA/AICP: advancing the art and science of planning practice.

Well, it looks like the AICP Commission is not your father's AICP Commission. I think the current AICP commissioners are not particularly interested in getting bogged down and distracted by internal politics about matters that have little to do with improving planning practice. Instead they want to address issues that really matter, issues that affect the actual quality of planning practice.

Time to Change How Planning Is Practiced in America

Sen. Lott's nostalgia for racial segregation sanctioned by law and enforced by the government reminded us there is so much more that must be done. The practices and policies of both the government and the private sector have produced a nation with most housing more racially segregated than in South Africa — "American apartheid." Government and the business community have built substantial and increasingly insurmountable roadblocks to conducting the sort of sound, ethical, and inclusionary planning to which our Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct, our PAS Reports, and our APA Policy Guides say we aspire.

Speaking for myself — and probably a good number of AICP members — it is time for APA/AICP to change how planning is practiced in America. We need to make inclusion and freedom from racial discrimination the planning norm, not the exception.

Things are changing, especially at APA/AICP. This direction is infused throughout the newly adopted APA/AICP Development Plan that few people outside the APA/AICP leadership have the time to read. The plan says that APA/AICP's vision is of a "nation of vital communities, equally available to all people." Now that's saying something more than we've said in the past.

But the plan goes on to define this desired "vital community" as one in which "quality, affordable housing is available to all people" and in which "social, economic, and racial integration throughout the community is achieved" — conditions absent from the vast majority of American communities. When was the last time you heard your professional planning organization come right out and say something like that?

The plan goes on to say: "We seek national and international partnerships to advance the planning movement that builds communities of lasting value and advances the principles of sustainability, inclusion, and nondiscrimination."

The plan gets a bit more explicit. It sets a goal to "Pursue social and economic equity, and racial inclusion by advocating planning activities — social, economic, and physical — at all levels of government that effectively move America's communities toward a more just future."

The plan offers a key strategy to "develop programs, materials, continuing education offerings, and practices to support our members in advancing inclusiveness and diversity in their communities; and in building a climate conducive to sound, inclusionary, nondiscriminatory planning."

This may be the most crucial element to guide APA/AICP during the coming years. It recognizes that planners are taking a mighty big risk when they stick their necks out in support of sound, inclusionary, ethical, planning that is free from discrimination. We've heard far too many stories of planners who have lost their jobs for trying to do the right thing under our Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct as well as the sound planning principles enunciated in our PAS reports and Policy Guides. This strategy doesn't mean that anybody is going to be forced to risk their job by practicing this type of planning, which is a far cry from the type of planning most of us must practice to stay employed. What it does mean is that APA/AICP recognizes the long-term need to create a political climate in which planners can do the right thing as defined by our ethics, PAS reports, and APA Policy Guides. It means that we want to enable those planners who want to follow this approach to be free to follow it without fear of losing their jobs. And it means that we are serious about this.

There is much for us to do as we take our first organizational baby steps to really address these issues. I am sure that other AICP commissioners will address these issues in future editions of Practicing Planner. And we hope you will share your thoughts with us as well.

Not in This Lifetime

It is extremely unlikely that we will achieve these goals in our lifetimes. In an age where the president of the United States and the courts are systematically gutting fair housing and civil rights laws, and the media just go along with the flow, it is clear that we've got a long way to go before the public and the politicians of both major parties realize the folly and shortsightedness of their ways.

But if there ever were a time for the professionals who really understand what makes our communities tick and who understand what the obstacles are to giving all Americans a fair shot at achieving the American dream, this is it. If ever there were a time to start changing the way planning is conducted in America, this is it.

Think about it. What is conceivably right about our housing being more racially segregated than in South Africa? What is possibly right about building sprawling suburbs where virtually all the new jobs are located — suburbs that pervert planning and zoning to effectively exclude the vast majority of African Americans from living in their midst?

By declaring in our Development Plan that "social justice and advocacy for inclusionary planning [are] part of our legislative agenda," APA/AICP is taking the first steps toward changing how we practice planning in America. It is taking the first steps toward actively rejecting the mindset expressed by Senator Lott that has kept our nation from addressing its most fundamental problems of racial exclusion and discrimination.

We in the planning community are finally beginning to talk about it. We in the planning community are finally beginning to do something about it. We in the planning community are finally trying to change the way planning is practiced in America so that inclusion and nondiscrimination become the norm, not the exception. It will take generations to achieve these goals. But at least we in the planning community are beginning to do the right thing.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author.


The entire APA/AICP Development Plan for 2003-2005 is available online.

For a comprehensive examination of the causes of the extreme housing segregation in America today, visit http://planningcommunications.com to download a free copy of the working draft of the ongoing study Ending American Apartheid: How Cities Achieve and Maintain Racial Diversity.