Planning and Social Responsibility

Norman Krumholz, FAICP, reports on the results of AICP’s Symposium on Planning and Social Responsibility in the current issue of Practicing Planner. These excerpts from his comments and introduction are reprinted with his permission.

Contemporary urban planners inherit a proud tradition of service, an egalitarian ethic, and a pragmatic orientation toward betterment that are as old as the early social reform movements that spawned the profession. So it was no surprise that in 2003 the AICP Commission decided to hold a symposium on Planning and Social Responsibility. That symposium, co-sponsored by the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning (ACSP), was held on November 9, 2006, in Fort Worth, Texas.

To see the symposium’s full report and all of the papers it produced, visit Select “Publications” and then “Practicing Planner.” This might be accessible only to AICP members.
This is in Volume 5, Issue No. 1 2007.

Each paper makes a useful contribution to the cause of social equity, but the topic needs a sense of greater urgency, here and elsewhere. This is especially true given the fact that disparities of income, wealth, and access to opportunity are growing more sharply in the United States than in many other nations, and gaps among races and ethnic groups persist. Our country’s ideals of equal citizenship and responsive government may be under growing threat in an era of persistent and rising inequality. This is not to suggest that urban planners or those who teach them are in a strong position to call for reform, but all of us can do more to advance the cause of social responsibility.

The profession of city planning is a three-legged stool consisting of practitioners, national professional associations, and professional training schools. All have an obligation to try to include issues of social responsibility as part of every planner’s daily work. Let me briefly offer a few suggestions on what each of these three elements might do to further the cause of social equity.


These organizations should:

  1. Seek to incorporate social impact analysis into the core of planning practice. The AICP Code of Professional Conduct and Responsibility should require AICP members to include the identification of social impacts on housing cost, racial and economic segregation, mobility, etc., in all aspects of planning and zoning. Failure to do this would constitute a violation of the code.
  2. Encourage each APA chapter and division to tax itself 5 percent to create a scholarship fund to support under-represented racial minorities in graduate studies in urban planning.
  3. Create a video highlighting the social justice-oriented work of practicing planners around the country. Shown in planning classes, this might spark the imagination and idealism of students.

Practicing Planners

Practicing planners should:

  1. Incorporate social responsibility analysis as part of all plans, environmental impact statements and zoning proposals. Place special emphasis on reducing racial isolation and inequality.
  2. Develop strong lines of cooperation and support with nonprofit community development corporations (CDCs) in their cities. According to the 2005 Annual Report of the National Congress on Community and Economic Development, there are about 4,600 CDCs across the United States. They are advocates for poor and working class neighborhoods, and they have developed more than 1.2 million housing units, and 126 million square feet of commercial and industrial space. These CDCs are natural allies for professional city and regional planners, and should be recognized and supported for mutual benefit.
  3. Increase levels of regional collaboration and try to figure out ways to create new regional structures to provide tangible benefits to constituent jurisdictions. Work at the regional level to reduce regulatory barriers to apartments and affordable housing, improve prospects for “fair-share” housing schemes, and reduce urban sprawl.

    For more discussion:*

    Making it safe to plan ethically

    Professional Planners Doing the Right Thing?

    Socially–Informed Planning

Professional Planning Schools

Professional planning schools should:

  1. Put more emphasis on field-based research, service learning courses and greater community involvement. They also should form ongoing community-university partnerships designed to revitalize distressed communities and place students into direct contact with the problems of poor neighborhoods.
  2. Raise funds to support scholarships for students interested in equity planning as Portland State University did in 2006 with the Ernie Bonner Scholarship in Equity Planning.
  3. Identify practicing social equity planners, study their methods, and how they succeed and survive, and publicize the findings.
  4. Create and publicize an Annual State of the Cities Report that would include indicators of social inequality and poverty and might lead to corrective legislation.

These are tall orders and planners cannot do these things alone; they must seek out and help build the broadest possible supportive coalitions. Moreover, through their training and the ethics of their professional organizations like APA and AICP, planners should be encouraged to go beyond their traditional concern with land use and zoning by adding a vocal and visible concern for the minorities and low-income people of their cities. Urban planners are not master builders, but they can be educators and organizers as well as technicians. They can use the information they command, the ambiguity of their mandate, their ability to frame issues, and their political literacy to organize attention, raise key issues, and help create new forms that provide tangible benefits to disadvantaged citizens.

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Norman Krumholz, FAICP, served as moderator at the AICP/APA Planning and Social Responsibility Symposium on November 9, 2006, and provided comments on papers at the symposium. He is a past-president of the American Planning Association and the American Institute of Certified Planners. He is professor at the Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University (CSU).
Norm has been long–time participant in and its predecessor incarnations. He has served as President of APA and as President of AICP.
In 1987 Norm was awarded the Prize of Rome in urban planning from the American Academy in Rome. Prior to his joining the faculty at CSU, Norm served as a planning practitioner in Ithaca, New York; Pittsburgh; and Cleveland, where he was planning director for 10 years.
Krumholz has written or edited five books on planning and urban neighborhoods and has been published in many professional journals. His book (with Professor John Forester), Making Equity Planning Work: Leadership in the Public Sector (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990) won the Paul Davidoff Award from the Associated Collegiate Schools of Planning for the best progressive book of the year.
Norm’s equity planning practice in behalf of the poor and working people of Cleveland has become a national model for planners in other large cities, where officials are struggling to retain their industrial and economic base while making their neighborhoods more livable.