Good Intent; Wrong Execution

Modern planning has a heterosexist agenda.  At least that is what Michael Frisch wants us to believe.  In his article, “Planning as a Heterosexist Project” he lays out his case.  Inclusivity and equity for all should frame urban planning and we should challenge theories or practices which disfranchises any group.  Without question, the homosexual community has suffered from discrimination and persecution.  However, Frisch fails to present a sound argument linking urban planning movements to heterosexism.  He constructs a tenuous ladder made up of fairly disparate circumstances and expects the reader to climb up to his conclusion.  By using a single thread of transitive logic to connect his evidence, he leaves his premise vulnerable to weakness with any piece of that evidence.  While I find shortcomings in most of his evidence, in this blog, I will examine the instability of his foundation, his source of global heterosexist urban planning.

Frisch begins his argument by attempting to link two eminently influential theorists from early modern planning, Geddes and Mumford, to anti-homosexual sentiment.  Since Frisch uses Mumford’s enthusiasm for Geddes’ musings as a bridge for Geddes’ heterosexism to permeate America, I will focus on Frisch’s attack on Geddes.  He primarily uses quotes from Geddes in effort to show that Geddes found homosexuality perverse and a cause of disorder and thus created a planning theory to destroy it.

First let’s take a look at the quotes on pages 391-392 (Fainstein and Campbell, 2012).  Frisch wants us to believe Geddes considers all single adults as homosexuals who threaten the true normalcy embodied in the family.  From this posit, Frisch jumps to a verdict that Geddes sought order by planning for the family and against the individual.   We need to look at the context of Geddes’ quotes.  He was responding to the squalid conditions of tenement life brought on by industrialization.  Lack of privacy and a lack of social morals exposed all ages to all kinds of sexual acts.  In the quote, Geddes registered concerns with both heterosexual and homosexual actions.  Thus, I do not find this citation to add credibility to Frisch’s attempt to link Geddes to heterosexism.

Staying on the topic of context, we need to look at the scope of Geddes’ thought.  He is the father of regional planning.  He was looking at, as he put it, “conurbations” or inter-related networks of cities (Hall, 2014, pg 161).  His urban planning ideals are not focused on correcting individual sexual preference.  He wanted to create the conditions which give people the freedom and resources to have privacy, safety, and access to nature (Hall, 2014, p161).  Later in his article, Frisch misconstrues this desire as tool to save heterosexual families and destroy homosexuality.  It appears he makes this connection by relating families with heterosexual units.  True, the vast majority probably fit that type, however, I do not see evidence where Geddes use the family unit as an exclusionary measure.  I believe Geddes was simply trying to distill his broad regional concept down to a base unit.  That unit could have heterosexual or homosexuals in it.

Again, we need to look at context to deduce these notions of the family unit by Geddes.  His theoretical roots embedded firmly in anarchy.  He was a disciple of Reclus and Kropotkin, two staunch anarchists (Hall, 2014).  Geddes’ primary message spoke against the totalitarian controls which industrialization placed on society.  Given his anarchist bent, I find it far easier to conclude he would not set out to control individual will than as Frisch would have us believe.  I offer the following quote from Geddes which points more to a desire for peaceful coexistence.

“Federate homes into co-operative and helpful neighborhoods.  Unite these grouped homes into renewed and socialized quarters – parishes, as they should be – and in time you have a better nation, a better world … Each region and city can learn to manage its own affairs – build its own houses, provide its own scientists, artists and teachers.  These developing regions are already in business together; can’t they make friends and organize a federation as far as need be…” (Hall, 2014, p160)

Ensuring that planning provides homosexual communities with the same benefits and opportunities as heterosexual communities should be a goal of planners.  We should not stand by and silently accept policy which builds structures of discrimination.  However, I cannot find the “explicit link between heterosexuality and planning” which Frisch claims Geddes and Mumford led planning towards (Fainstein and Campbell, 2012, pg 391).  Since he uses this as his foundation, the rest of his arguments become moot.

Fainstein, Susan and Campbell, Scott. 2012. Planning as a Heterosexist Project, Readings in Planning Theory. Wiley-Blackwell. Pgs. 384-406

Hall, Peter. 2014. Cities of Tomorrow. Blackwell Publishers Ltd. Pgs. 151-173


Expectation of Nurturing

Nurturing by Dolores Hayden argues that architecture and economics should be considered two areas in which women’s rights in the twenty-first century have the most to gain. By redesigning communities around more efficient and or more equal footing for both men and women, women will be able to have an equal place at the economic table. Hayden offers a summary of several community models that, to varying degrees, offered group orientated care. The most recent of which was the Neighbors in Community Helping Environments (NICHE) which offered the community child-care, hot-meals, encouraged bartering among residents etc. but ended up collapsing after funding was cut. The idea is that by offering a more communal solution to what is considered traditional domestic work, not only would there be a larger safety net for the community, but individuals would also be able to pursue more traditional economic opportunities either at a part-time or full-time basis (pg. 379).

Although I agree with Hayden on her argument and where she see the area for greatest improvement, I disagree with the strategies she cites as examples that would lead to improvement. Females have been traditionally marginalized and demeaned globally and throughout time. The modern version of the marginalization includes but are not limited to exclusion of domestic tasks from measures of economic well-being while simultaneously arguing that they are needed for maintaining community value. For instance, gross-domestic-product does not include child rearing time for stay-at-home moms but community development experts argue against the ‘latch key’ method of raising kids when producing educational quotients for educational well-being in a neighborhood. This leads to a simultaneous undervaluing of traditional domestic tasks while also placing an inordinate amount of blame on individuals for either not completing or doing a poor job, no matter how justified, of doing those same domestic tasks. The NICHE model above would resolve that dichotomy by creating an informal economy that would not be reliant on traditional economic means to function and should simultaneously allow for women to participate in the traditional economic system with a safety net. However, I do not think that this model will ultimately solve the underlying issue that created the dichotomy in the first place; the unrealistic expectation placed on females.

Pew Research provided the following table comparing the time per-week each gender spends on work.


Date Childcare Housework Paid Work
1965 2.5 4.4 42
1975 2.6 6 41.4
1985 2.6 10.2 35.7
1995 4.2 10.2 35.1
2000 6.8 10 37
2005 6.8 9.2 37.8
2010 7.3 10 37
2011 7.3 9.8 37.1



Date Childcare Housework Paid Work
1965 10.2 31.9 8.4
1975 8.6 23.6 14.9
1985 8.4 20.4 18.8
1995 9.6 18.9 23.4
2000 12.6 18.6 22.8
2005 13.6 18.1 20.7
2010 13.5 17.4 21.2
2011 13.5 17.8 21.4

Two patterns of note. First, the amount of time the average women now spends in the ‘paid work’ window has tripped, eight to twenty-one hours,  while the amount of time spent with ‘child-care’ went up three hours, ten to thirteen. Second, male paid work has declined only four hours, forty-one to thirty-seven, while the amount of time spent in child care has increased five hours, two to seven.  Women still dominate the amount of time spent doing housework, eighteen hours as opposed to ten but the amount of time spent doing housework has decreased.


Here’s the trick. The average sum of work completed by both genders is around the same. However, the split between all three categories is more even for females than males. This places females in the position of having the unrealistic expectation of what needs to be accomplished in a week if commuting time is added into the equation. The community solution would solve part of this issue but the expectation of having one person range this far is still there. For this overarching issue, I perceive a greater societal change when men  take on more of the responsibility of taking care of children and house. An example of such a change would be offering parenting leave instead of maternal leave for childbirth.


Planning for equality

This week’s readings centered on the topic of equality, whether it be racial, gender, or sexual identity. Each author provided interesting perspectives on what “inclusion” means to different people and the different areas planners need to consider.

If there is another theme, I would say that it is “awareness.” June Manning Thomas wrote that planners have to be aware of not just their position (socially, economically, politically, etc.) but the position of those they plan for, and the implications for people who live in the area. Sherry Arnstein wrote that planning commissions had to engage citizens in order to achieve the best results, based on planning that was fair to them.  Thomas wrote that planners’ race or ethnicity isn’t nearly as important as their skill sets, but that there would be situations in which planners whose ethnicity or race may contribute a perspective that would have otherwise been missed. Regardless, planners should also understand their own limitations, whether or not they are interacting with the citizens for whom they are planning.

This is especially difficult  when there seems to be a lot of homogeneity across a region. The City Limits group, which uses investigative journalism to highlight urban issues, wrote that the New York region was still very segregated by race and socioeconomic status. The map below shows a large population of mostly white people with small pockets of mixed areas and only a tiny area that is mostly non-white.


Are we collectively becoming more aware of our own implicit biases and the limitations of our own perspectives? Iris Marion Young wrote that it would be foolish to dismiss “identity politics” as nothing more than a fad or a way to distinguish one interest from another, or to insist that one interest is more important than the other. Susan S. Fainstein and Scott Campbell write that the very act of not considering race, ethnicity, or other aspects that can be used for marginalization is not neutral. Indeed, inaction is action. They write that it “reinforces majority group” and all that they believe in and promote as the right way to plan.

Michael Frisch wrote that planning has to take into account sexual orientation in addition to race. Just like some communities might want or need signs in different languages, the LGBTQ+ community has its own distinct needs. Frisch wrote that a “racial project” is considered racist if it asserts the status quo, which presumably does not account for the needs of those who are considered the dominant group (e.g., non-white, non-heterosexual). How planners design cities an their built environment, and in conjunction with policies and zoning, can lead to discrimination. This is the case whether it is racial or sexual identity. It only takes one person to believe that the LGBTQ+ community should stay hidden to then deny housing or services, or to make a public environment unfriendly.

Dolores Hayden wrote similarly about women, that the gender roles forced by society have given women the short shrift in terms of getting recognition for their contributions (the industrial strategy) and for earning fair wages for their work (the haven strategy). Like with racial discrimination and LGBTQ+ discrimination, the decisions that city planners make to keep people in their place or to provide them with opportunities need to also include an awareness of past misdeeds and past mistakes that have then shaped society to create yet more discrimination.

The choices we make on where to allow or encourage different types of housing and uses, where to build new train lines or roadways, how to shape development in existing communities or business districts, and how to use and preserve scarce natural resources have a profound effect on who benefits from these decisions. The actions policy makers take need to directly account for the past segregationist and exclusionary policies that resulted in the current landscape.

– Sarah Serpas,

So, what do we do about this? Young insisted that in order for people to gain power, and for planners to be advocates for equality, that groups need to be recognized as equal and that a marginalized group needs to be recognized as a legitimate player in democracy and in the planning process. She wrote that people needed to see themselves sharing and environment with others in order to fully understand that their actions and beliefs affect others. Hayden quoted Melusina Perice, who said:

“Two things women must do…They must earn their own living” and “They must be organized among themselves.” – Melusina Peirce

In public administration and in other fields, we learn about the concept of “psychological safety climate.”Marie-Elene Roberge and Rolf van Dick wrote that when it comes to communicating across a diverse group, like citizens, a psychological safety climate refers to different ways in which people may come to feel welcome, safe, and integrated into a group and then will feel free to express their thoughts. One way is empathy, and another is self-disclosure. These two are related, as one must have a degree of empathy in order to feel safe about sharing personal information. Sharing information can be risky, particularly for people of color who are joining a group, because they may be the only one of their race, ethnicity, or gender. The group, like planners, can’t achieve its goals or be effective until it has cohesion, and that can’t happen unless there’s a degree of equity, awareness for biases, and a safe space for people to express themselves.


We Keep on Trying

The readings by Young, Thomas, Hayden and Frisch raise some of the most important questions for a planner. If the planning profession is about the attempt to make life better in human settlements, then inclusion of all members of such settlements is at the core. How do we cater to all races, genres, classes, ages and cultures? I do not believe there is an answer to that and the numerous examples highlighted in the readings demonstrate that there is no perfect solution. This notion goes back to the broader questions of – who knows best, who is more important, how to prioritize and how to make the resources stretch so that everyone’s needs are met. These are agonizing questions and push me back to the pluralistic perspective of Davidoff of ‘Planning for Equal Opportunity’, the results of which are also questionable, because true equality, in my view, does not exists.

So what do we do? To me, we should just continue with trial and error, however, learning from mistakes and best practices. Having grown up in the Soviet system with subsidized childcare and working parents, I can attest that those daycare centers were no paradise, however, without that provision, my mother would have not been able to develop her career in education. She is a very ambitious person and would have been a very unhappy person if she were to be a caretaker for her three children exclusively. In contrast, in this country one has to give up/put on long hold their career because of prohibitive costs for childcare and education and the overall “do it yourself model”. Currently, similarly to Sweden and few other countries, Russian parents receive monetary compensation, subsidized basic food and paid leave from work up to one year to care for a newborn. If the government is to care about the wellbeing of its citizens and the career advancement/productivity, isn’t it the way to alleviate the burdens of starting families? Maybe such “socialist” approach is not fully acceptable to this country, but shouldn’t we at least try to make the situation better by attempting solutions that worked in other places?

The history of injustice towards women in the society is just as tragic as the history of any disadvantaged group in humanity (everyone except for white males), but I think it is time to move beyond and consider everyone in society as equal (at least attempt). I believe there is still much to be done, but we are on the right course. It is tremendously exciting to live in the times where more and more push is raised for equal rights of females, the LGBT community, and non-white populations in the work force and at home. While there is still a salary gap between the earnings of males and females, we have gone a long ways to make it smaller, and since the US is the “modern day Rome”, hopefully, this has some echoing effect I the rest of the world.

Just as with the issue of gender, ethnic and LGBT inclusion in the planning profession and politics is crucial, because there needs to be “representation of everyone in the bureaucracy”, as Thomas states. As a white female who grew up in Russia, I could not even pretend to understand what an African American community in particular area of DC might see as the necessary and appropriate improvement. The same goes for the gay population. If, for example, we are to create the public realm that is for everyone in the community, we need to know what they need and want out of it, and those interests should be lobbied for by professional representatives of the variety of groups that make us that community. Planners and politicians should be representative of the society – a utopian ambition that might not be achievable, but we should at least try!


Urban Planning in the Middle of Power and Capital

There is no denying the fact that both politics and finance play significant roles in the realm of planning practice today. Government control can lead the strategic allocation of scarce resources in the protection of the broad public interest; financing through private sector can lower financial burden and potential risk on general taxpayers. This kind of public-private partnership seems promising for delivering win-win outcomes that can marry community needs and local economic development. Matti Siemiatychi introduced a prevailing design-build-finance-operate (DBFO) model of public-private partnership and also demonstrated some issues of applying that model to the public project. What we can learn from the transit-megaproject planning failures is that the unbalanced power relations between the various parties would undermine the theoretical benefits of a more competitive procurement process, and lead to problems like political interference, weak procedural accountability, escalating construction costs, and performance shortfalls.  

Stuck in the middle of power and capital, planning practice sometimes deviates from its original intention. This topic reminds me of a very controversial massive civic project in my home city Wuhan. The City’s first Hongshan Square was built in 1991 to memorize a Chinese communist political leader, Dong Biwu. It had a grove of trees and a big piece of grass and became a civic center, especially a good place for children to fly kites. In order to beautify the city built environment, Hubei Province government along with Wuhan City government launched an overall reconstruction of Hongshan Square in 1999. The later Hongshan Square boasted to have a total area of 108,000 square meters with three squares (Dong Biwu Memorial Square, Sunken Plaza, and Music Fountain Leisure Square) connected. It was the largest city square in the central China and seen as “city card” and one of Wuhan Top 10 Environmental Innovation Projects. Hongshan Square area has developed into the most densely populated and commercial prosperous district until the city metro planning project. Wuhan Department of Rail Transit Construction announced the government decided to work with Wuhan Metro Group Co.,Ltd. to demolish Hongshan Square to facilitate the construction of metro station and underground facilities and they promised after the construction was completed, the city would return “a more beautiful Hongshan Square” to citizens. The torn down work would happen soon, however, citizens had no say in the decision-making process. It was ironic that the City’s proposal to build a “construction resources saving & environmental friendly city” just got approval from the central government. After five years of reconstruction with a total cost of a hundred million, the newly built Hongshan Square finally reopened to the public in late 2013.


Hongshan Square before (2000-2008)


Hongshan Square after (2013-present)

The four value-rational questions that Bent Flyvbjerg raised can be applied to examine and rethink of the Hongshan Square project.

1.Where are we going with planning and democracy in Wuhan?

Many public projects in Wuhan are still lacking public transparency, the Hongshan Square case is just one of them. Citizens have little power in determining what kinds of projects get built even those were claimed for public good. What’s worse, citizens have no idea of how long the construction will last. The unbalanced knowledge and power bring more and more estrangements between the government and citizens. Even a project dedicated to the public good, lack of effective dialogue would end in the impression of another local project that wastes taxpayers’ money.

2. Who gains and who loses, by which mechanisms of power?

I would say these is no winner in this game: citizens lost the convenience of entertainment/transportation and also their memory associated with the old public space. The city government sacrificed the confidence and support from citizens. The developers may get benefits from the project at the short-term, but in the long run, its reputation and potential opportunities would be largely diminished.  

3. Is this development desirable?

Apparently no. The final reopening of the Hongshan Square did not get citizens excited. A 2016 July report indicated that the Square was not as popular as before. Many visitors complained most of the entrances were built underground (connected with metro and commercial stores) and people on the streets do not have easy access the Square due to surrounding fences and lack of pedestrian crossing. Also, citizens missed some interactive elements of old Hongshan Square, such as pigeons fed and music fountain, which were not in the consideration of the reconstruction. Within three decades, there were three built-and-rebuilt happened to one project. City planning cannot vision for the next ten years of urban transformation. That is a serious problem that should cause our attention and introspection.

4. What should be done?

In my opinion, the role of government should focus on coordination and guidance rather than too much involved in specific matters of project details. Enacting the planning review standard procedures is essential to strengthen and also restrict the power of one party in the decision-making process. In addition, the public participation mechanism should be regarded as an important part of visioning the city move forward. The government, planning professional and citizens need to build an efficient dialogue to make sure every group is on the same page.

Once urban planning has fallen captive of politics and money, its expertise, seriousness, rationality, and long-term goals are badly weakened. Pressures to maintain confidentiality undermined the expectation for public transparency and accountability. To better understand the relationship between rationality vs. power and truth vs. politics in the real world planning, we also need the “phronetic planning research” that Flyvbjerg called for.

Planning in Action: Successes, Failures, and Strategies

This week’s readings continue to expound upon the significance of citizen participation in the development of public policy, giving particular emphasizes to the aspect of citizen control and government- community partnership. The readings outline some of the success and failures of these collaborative practices, and provide guidance to how organization and assembly along with government partnership in communities may further advance the common interest. Collaboration and citizen control also has the potential to influence how policy is designed and shape the way programs are developed. The readings bring into question the limitations of private and public partnerships. Should these arrangements adhere to the same scrutiny as fully funded public projects? and should these arrangements follow the same level of transparency? Most importantly the readings pose the question, if the public good can be met when there are competitive gains and monetary interest involved?

Siemiatycki examines the implications of private-public partnerships in his analysis of the design-build-finance-operate (DBFO) model used in the planning of public infrastructure in Canada. In theory, the concession of public land to private entities for the interest of the public good, assumes a greater standard of dedication and preservation to the maintenance and administration of public facilities. . Government contracts are held to a great level of scrutiny. As in most government programs, citizens have the opportunity to review contracts and object to the issuing of rewards to ensure that government agencies are making best use of public taxes, and that opportunities advances the public good . This presumption of good is often diverted by the emergence of greed and personal gain, not necessary providing the greatest public benefit.   Siemiatycki found that the public-private partnership intended to streamline government processes, lower costs, and uncover bureaucratic red tape in government projects actually produced additional procedural and regulatory restrictions, decreased transparency and increased development costs. In my opinion the government procurement process has the potential to severance relationships with both community members and local small businesses. Government- community partnerships in this regard are often motivated by outside incentives and are also heavily regulated.

James DeFilippis evaluates the history of community involvement in public policy, where certain groups and interest seek self-governance and community control. These groups sought to have control of the issues that directly affected their community, governing the process to how programs are developed and implemented. In examining the concept of community control, DeFilippis identifies that certain discrepancies and imbalances existed in collective organizations. DeFilippis describes various movements during the 1960s where certain groups in America sought empowerment of an unjust society and regulations that encouraged isolation from the political workings of government. DeFilippis provides a narrative that groups with ambitions of having complete control of the needs and organization of their community ultimately failed with the absence of regulation and government participation. Government intervention in community development provides the structure and stability to the way communities are organized. Government intervention also can promote equity amongst class and other social organizations, and balances the distribution of resources and services.

Govrenment-communtiy participation in policy making is needed and creates a balancing act amongst various interests. Citizens has the ability to identify the inequalities that exist in their community and provide recommendations how programs should be administer, where government has the resources and expertise to execute polices and plans.

Power, Partnerships and Public Participation

Matti Siemiatycki’s article “Implications of Private-Public Partnerships on the Development of Urban Public Transit Infrastructure” provided an interesting perspective of private-public partnerships and the effect on the public planning process.  An important part of the public planning process is effective communication and transparency.  For example, when a local government is working on establishing a private-public partnership to construct public infrastructure – it is difficult to fully involve the community in the process.  The author indicates that this is mainly due to the confidentiality requirements of the private industry.  In addition, the private sector has an incentive for being creative and innovative in their approach.  In many cases, this type of partnership does not embrace Sherry Arnstein’s “ladder of citizen participation”.  How are other important stakeholders involved in the process and able to weigh in on the decisions being made about the proposed development?  In terms of project delivery, the design-build-finance-operate (DBFO) approach can be successful…especially if there is political and financial support for a particular project.

One example of a private-public partnership is a recent redevelopment of the Ballston Mall in Arlington, Virginia.  The Arlington County Board approved this project in November 2015 and expressed how beneficial the project would be to the Ballston community.  The partnership would consist of the County funding approximately 17.5% of the entire project which is $317 million.  The County funds would be used to, “improve the public garage and public infrastructure such as street work on Wilson Boulevard, a new pedestrian bridge across Wilson Boulevard and streetscapes”.  The project consists of the redevelopment of the Ballston Mall (“Ballston Quarter”) with the hope to enhance the vibrancy of the neighborhood and attract new businesses to the area.  The property will include mixed-use residential, outdoor shopping and new office space.  A portion of the taxes generated from the redevelopment will go towards the Community Development Authority (CDA) bond that will finance the process – the remainder of the taxes will go towards the County’s General Fund.  In this case, there was a robust public outreach process during the consideration of the site plan amendments (included in the press release link below).  I am interested to follow this project to determine whether or not this partnership will be a true success.


Ballston Quarter Drawings | Arlington County, Virginia

Press Release – Ballston Quarter

This brings me to the other article in this week’s reading that was interesting to me.  In Bent Flyvbjerg’s “Bringing Power to Planning Research”, the author discussed the question of power in relation to the planning process.  Is knowledge power or is power knowledge?  I will say that working for a local government agency is much different than learning about how it operates in school.  There are many factors that you cannot learn from a textbook….you need to be immersed in it to truly understand.  The power of an elected body can ultimately change the outcome of a development proposal or create an entirely different committee to complete a task.  As Flyvbjerg states in the article, “as students, we were not exposed to knowledge that addressed the question of whether it is true that knowledge is always important or what decides whether knowledge gets to count as knowledge or not. Such questions were not asked”.  This is an interesting point because as a planner, your planning recommendations can be swayed by those who hold decision-making power.  The special interests of different organizations can play a significant role in the viewpoints surrounding a project.  This also can affect what type of developments are built, transportation infrastructure that is invested in or the environmental goals that are set as priorities for a particular jurisdiction.  As the author states, these interests are not always in line with the planner’s recommendation and analysis of what is best for the community.