Blog #3: Land Ownership and Development in the West: The Conflict Over Federal Land Ownership – by Efon Epanty

Conflicts over Federal ownership of land in the West is a good example of the contradiction between the social character of the land and its ownership and control. In the class readings for today, David Harvey discussed the problems arising from the uniqueness land as a commodity. That is by its fixed location, is inherently subject to externalities or external effects. In some communities, there have been calls for the federal government to relinquish the control over federal grazing lands to private control. In some recent cases, tensions between ranchers and park rangers have led to armed protestations. This property contradiction illustrates the oppositional issues with land ownership, production, management and use (Feinstein et al, 2016, pg. 110-112).

Can Planning solve this problem?

According to a New York Times article the United States federal government owns 47 percent of all land in the West. [1] In fact, the federal government owns half of the land in 11 western states. [2] The federal government through its agencies are the biggest landowners in some states. For instance, about 80 percent of land in Nevada is federally owned.

Drawing from Castell’s notion of “The Problem of Planning”, Federal land ownership seems to favor his argument for state responsibility to meet the consumption needs of the working class, to maintain capitalism; from the individual consumption through the market to collective consumption organized through the state. In this case, through the current d=federal ownership of land, multiple stakeholders, including rangers, hunters, miners, etc., can collectively participate in the consumption of resources.

However, the issue of federal ownership and management of these large tracts of forest and grazing lands continue to be a core problem and the cause of anti-government protesters in Oregon, Nevada, and New Mexico. The federal government seems to allow free use of unclaimed lands by rancher and others, and there have been skirmishes over the years. But there is an increasing local demand for the transfer of land rights to states and local governments.

[1] Why the Government Owns So Much Land in the West (Quoctrung Bui and Margot Sanger-Katz, Jan 5, 2016) (Feb. 26, 2018)

[2] The Massive, Empty Federal Lands of the American West (Andrew Mcgill, Jan 05, 2016) (Feb. 26, 2018)


overcoming hazards- e.thompson blog 4

Urban Planning in an Uncertain World by Ash Amin discusses the complexities of ever changing cities, growth, and interactions between people. The city needs to be one with its people. Belonging has two meanings. First that someone feels they have a place and are welcome. Second, something they possess, that they take ownership of. A city must do that for its people and its people must also do that for their city. Amin believes this can be determined based on the quality of the civic areas and the care for the city. There is a call for resilience through the protection of citizens’ rights. A creative opportunity for planners to walk the balance between safety and freedom.

How can planners work to increase safety and resilience while maintaining citizens privacy? How much can citizens be involved in this process? Crowdsourcing and mapping for hazards and risks?

There is a lot that planners can do for many hazards.  A locality knows which roads flood every storm, where the wind is strongest in its jurisdiction, and who’s basement fills with water every rain. These hazards can be mitigated through planning. The locality is the boots on the ground mitigation force. It has the ability and position to impact disaster mitigation far in advance. Land use is the biggest tool a jurisdiction can use to control disasters through planning. Through planning and zoning, a local government can stop development in hazardous areas and allow for safer development in less hazardous ones. Planning requires forethought and a commitment to the future. Many localities struggle with  other more short-term needs such as economic development which deter an investment so far in advance. This is coupled with the knowledge that federal aid will be received when needed. Localities that invest in planning will reap the benefits in the future.  Planning towards New Urbanism goals and the push for Smart Growth through SmartCode which includes mitigation standards. This will reduce sprawl, increase open space, and provide for more natural drainage. Flooding has become a nation wide hazard with increasing cost to property and life.

Acknowledging Our Roles – Robert Flahive Feb 26

I appreciated how the readings introduced a degree of reflection and consideration for the tensions in working in a role that is embedded between the government policy (and wider trends) and the public or the users of that space. This role is a difficult position from which to operate due to the convergence of economic, social, economic, political, and environmental forces that bear on space and the work of the planner. This reflexivity prompted my own reflection on what sparked an interest in planning (and my dissertation topic on preservation of modernist structures more broadly) in the first place: Pruit-Igoe.

I served as a Literacy Tutor in an Americorps program for one year about nine years ago (before the release of the fabulous Pruit-Igoe Myth film was released). My placement was at Jefferson Elementary, a school located two blocks from former site. One of my first tasks was to “get to know” the community, teachers, and students at my designated site. I remember the look on faces when I asked: “what do you remember about Pruit-Igoe?” There was a mixture of disdain and pause. The reflections and stories I heard told of injustice, degredation, insecurity, and government neglect. I learned a lot more than I bargained for, and this prompted reflection on my own role in this community as well as the ways I represented the very institutions (local/federal government) that had meted out this open wound of racial injustice in St. Louis (and arguably, the wider country). Sure, segregationist policies ended, but the residue of those policies continued and still continues today in a city as racially segregated as St. Louis. This had an incredibly humbling and powerful effect on my views on the intersection of people, space, politics, and power that resonated with similar previously encountered injustices living in Dheisheh Camp in Palestine. Those encounters forced me to confront my own role as a beneficiary or as an emissary of the very institutions of oppression. I state this to suggest there needs to be a lot more self- and institutional-reflectiion on the implications of spatial interventions or the potential in those interventions on populations. My experiences underscore the need to acknowledge the limits of our knowledge and to think about the wider history that all too often forecloses potentialities and could reify systems of injustice.

This self-/institutional-reflection should not prevent action, but should acknowledge contingency and transformation of the space beyond the imaginations of policymakers and should negotiate space for those most effected by policies or spatial interventions.This may not seem like an ideal scenario for local government, but the problem is the assumption of fixity in spatial interventions simply does not work.

Blog 4: Prisoner’s Dilemma x 5300

From chapter to chapter, I could not help but to think about the overlying theme contrasting capitalistic government ruled planning, over democratic/deliberative planning. I just do not, however, understand why this is even an ongoing argument. There are so many places being overlooked that need real planning, whatever way you want to frame or argue that should look like. Communities and the people in them are literally dying, because this argument of the “knowing” vs. “deliberative” planner is always a discussion, without clear concise action to uplift these places from the bottom – up. It’s like we constantly talk about what makes a great planner, but the core of any planning should be common sense, common to all, and answers one question: How can we make evergreen, thriving, empowered communities, without investing in the people who are actually alive in these places?

I have to ask: Why does capitalist, democratic,  place, orientation, deliberative, knowing planning all have to live in separate spaces? Why is it impossible for us to go into communities, maybe assert a little appreciate inquiry, and combine these ideals to create a community fostering the concepts of service? The book highlights the overall goals of a planner as being deliberative: act as intermediaries, speak for disempowered, harness lay knowledge, broker agreements motivate visions/diagrams of possibility, etc.   However, these ideals to me, should be normative and obvious. In thinking of these goals, I could not help but to think about the 5300 cities, or 5300 FLINTS, struggling with poor infrastructure, unsafe drinking water, high utilities, poor environmental maintenance, inefficient and inequitable land use, and poor circulation of capital – no jobs. These cities are typically the forgotten cities. The cities where the state can turn its cheek and entomb  filth,  until social media uncovers a crisis.

The reading also focuses on the dilemma of who should intervene, when, and on what level in planning. Whereas, I look at the reading and only imagine places where there is a high prenatal genocide and surviving kids with severe learning deficits, or behavioral issues. Where a grandma who enjoys a cup of coffee every morning will miss being able to add that $5.00 bill to their grandkid’s next birthday card, because she is killing herself exponentially. Water thought to be safer at higher temperatures.  I look at the places where Gold Bond, Desitin, and Cortisone 10, is what you budget for, outside of outrageous utility bills. Capitalism thrives on poor infrastructure and demand for REMEDY.

Where is this discussion of preventing hazards, deliberative, and circulatory capitalist planning in these places? Where is the state intervention in the areas where the ‘Prisoners Dilemma’ is every moment dilemma? Places that cannot support their jobless, hopeless, crime infested communities without high property taxes and utilities bills. Where is the deliberative planning in the poverty-stricken cities in Louisiana, like St. Joseph. People in St. Joe have given up on trying to get clean water, but still pay there last to have it. When the city knows that people have to have water ( “if there is no capital from creating jobs… we can just charge higher utility rates to keep the town going”); and are constantly figuring out ways to get the most money from people, not empower them. Where was the deliberative planning when the water supply was switched in Flint without the agents needed to properly maintain the water, (a “real money saver”)?  Where was this deliberative planning in Washington, D.C. – the “Flint x 10” decade before Flint happened! When stakeholders outside of the community, manipulated and hid the fact that poor infrastructure led to poisoning this “Chocolate City” for potentially decades before the unveiling starting in 2001. Where is this deliberative planning, this hope for thriving capitalist – democratic communities, where government may never need to intervene because the community governance keeps resources and capital circulating amongst all living and thriving in the community?

Civil Society and the Role of Urban Planners- Blog 4 Alison Cavicchio

What is civil society and why is it so important as we think about the role of urban planners? The World Bank defines civil society as “the wide array of non-governmental and not for profit organizations that have a presence in public life, express the interests and values of their members and others, based on ethical, cultural, political, scientific, religious or philanthropic considerations” (WBG, Civil Society). Urban planning is as much about meeting social objectives as it is about improving the built environment. In fact, I would argue that the social concerns planning seeks to address are the reason planners and the profession exist. Planning is not merely about the structure of the built environment. It seeks optimize the utilization of space in cities for the benefit of the people living there. This raises the question, how effective is planning in achieving social objectives?

I raise the importance of civil society in this conversation on the role of urban planners, because a vibrant civil society is the cornerstone of strong community and ultimately a strong city and nation. One of the primary functions public sector planners should be responsible to perform is promoting collective interest in communities. That is, ensuring that the voices of the many, not the few, are heard and that their ideas for the community come to fruition. Planners can help enhance the role of civil society in both capitalist and socialist societies through their promotion of the collective interest, and that alone is important in achieving and addressing social objectives and concerns. Take for example, my favorite case study of an urban planner working on the conservation and rehabilitation of the Walled City of Lahore in Pakistan. In the Walled City, there was a program funded by the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) and the World Bank (WB) to revitalize one specific neighborhood as a pilot example to ultimately be replicated throughout the rest of the city. Planners and preservationists working for the Government of Pakistan, AKF and the Bank needed to understand the interests and concerns of the Walled City of Lahore Authority (WCLA), and balance WCLA’s needs with the collective interest of the neighborhood community. Civil society, referred to simply as community organizations in Pakistan given public mistrust of the term “civil society,” is still growing in strength in the country, and as a result there were a limited number of formal organizations to solicit feedback from. By working with communities to understand their concerns and organize these concerns into action groups, planners effectively helped the neighborhood to form their own “civil society” organizations that are still in place today. Many citizens were concerned with the trash and rubble that lined the streets of their neighborhood; planners provided recommendations as a starting point, and today the community group still meets to discuss and monitor trash collection services in the city and ensure that their communities needs are being met in this regard. There are numerous examples of such groups that were formed out of the guidance provided and questions asked by planners.

This brings me to my final point regarding the role of planners. Why should planners not serve as more than intermediaries? In any other profession, one is expected to provide analysis, advice, and guidance to outsiders of that field. Planners should, based on their knowledge and expertise, be able to devise a plan for a community that can serve as an example. Such recommendations should not be viewed as pretension of total vision, as Ash Amin notes. This is particularly important as a planner’s role relates to increasing the voice of civil society organizations. A planner can provide recommendations to groups, while also serving as the mediator to help reach understanding and unite them under a common voice or collective interest. The planner, combined with voices of the community, can then help identify both the failures and successes of the market, and where greater government or private intervention is needed. By addressing successes and failures separately, planners and community groups can better identify where greater government intervention is needed, and where it is working and not working. Enabling civil society promotes a checks and balances system on government and the market that will help protect citizens from abuse by public or private actors. It is in this promotion of collective interests and enhancement of a vibrant civil society that planners will realize what it means to do better.

Boom and Bust; life in the wake of the capitalist planning dream.

In small cities and struggling towns, economic development often dominates the planning process. Simply put, the promise of jobs often outweighs every other consideration. Decision makers chase this dangling carrot, often spending tens of thousands of dollars to get a foot in the door when site selection begins for a new plant, call center, etc.

Was this always the case? Doesn’t it seem odd that the public sector essentially pays the private sector to create jobs in economically distressed ares? A critique of planning mentioned in the readings postulates that planning is a tool of the business elite, used to conjure places conducive to their bottom line.

How did we get here and why? My answer- capitalism.

Lets take the example of Roanoke Rapids, a small city in Northeastern North Carolina. I spent almost a year working the county economic development commission here, and I got see firsthand how 150 years of business driven planning panned out in the long run.

To give the reader context, we must travel back to 1960. The city was the center of the region’s textile industry. Over 10 textile plants dominated the local economy and unemployment was far below the what many consider to be the natural rate. Everyone had a job, everyone was making money, and the plants essentially ran every aspect of the town.



A view of the downtown area of Roanoke Rapids, NC 

Looks pretty nice, right? New cars, a busy downtown- it looks almost to good to be true for this typically rural, agricultural area of the state. Lets now take a look at the same location as of 2014.

The Crumbling Remnants of the J.P. Rosemary Plant located in the center of the City

Roanoke Rapids NC

Log trucks pass through the gravestones of past businesses and a thriving downtown

These two pictures tell two completely different stories- one of prosperity and one of unmitigated economic disaster. How did this happen? The perfect storm of outsourcing, offshoring, and capitalist planning.

Starting in 1970, the threat of unionization combined with national economic downturn was the catalyst for large scale offshoring for virtually every plant. This process started in 1972 and ended in 2001, when the last remaining plant shut its doors.

Look at the pictures and you can get a pretty good idea of how the city is doing now. An abandoned plant looks over the center of city longingly, reminding residents of the prosperity the enjoyed in the past, while reminding of the hardships they confront daily.

The question the city faces now is simple- how to do we turn this around? The photos above suggest this is no easy task especially when the entire city was planned around commercial development. Essentially, to be hasten the city’s precipitous decline, the current generation of planners must work to actively reverse the decisions of their predecessors.

This, however, is largely not the case. Despite a few small efforts at resiliency, the city has spent almost all of its resources recruiting businesses in an effort to recreate the environment that created their current situation. For instance, instead of converting the 30 acre industrial parcel that looms in the center of this city to desperately needed affordable housing or assisted living, the city is actively pursuing new businesses to take its place.

While jobs are necessary for prosperity, they cannot be the only factor in the decision making process. Unfortunately, this capitalistic system blinds the decision makers of these once prosperous cities and towns, resulting in millions spent on economic development while the housing stock crumbles and the school system fails.

The most basic understanding of this system is hinged on the principle of winners and losers. What we see in post-industrial setting is the transition of winners to losers. Ironically, these loser become obsessed with being winners once more, and chase after the toxic influence that lead to their decline.

Big business and the promise of jobs is the femme fatale of this story, and unfortunately this story is so similar to others across the region, state, and country. Billions are spent on economic development while CDBG funds are slashed to pieces.


Roanoke Rapids

Dead leaves keep boarded windows company

Rust belt communities must break free of its proclivities towards big business and must look inward. My hope is that Roanoke Rapids wakes up from this dystopian dream and chooses its citizens and critical infrastructure over the vague promise of jobs and a chance at reliving the past- especially considering where the past has gotten us.

Planning to serve the interest of the poor and marginalized

Blog 4

As someone constantly looking for answers to the different problems facing my home country, I see these readings to be intriguing. In my understanding, the readings help to explain the role of individuals in the community, community leadership, planners, politicians and government, and the global world in community development. The readings also talk about some of the conflicts in the decision making pertaining to the different interest of the community, government, and the international world. One part of the reading that caught my attention the most is the effects of economic and environmental hazards on the planning decisions.

I would like to analyze the readings around three themes including democracy in community building, Globalization influences in community building, and planning in accordance with the interest of the community. My analysis of the readings will be incorporated into some planning, developmental, political, climate hazard issues affecting sub-Saharan African countries. There are many planning, developmental, political, economic, and environmental issues in sub-Saharan Africa worth analyzing in relation to these readings.

People always want to be heard for one reason or the other. In terms of planning and community development, people’s opinions are not just opinions. In a village community, people’s opinions are their beliefs and cultural identity. Let’s take the case of the pub in the Sussex Downs. I am convinced to argue that the people in the community were in opposition because they feared to lose the one thing that strengthens their belief and cultural identity. People in the village meets in the pub fostering community unity and bond. Perhaps the pub has been there for years and has become part of community life and culture.

Whether it is pollution that drives the decision making like in the New York or it is religious differences that force the decision like the Nazareth example does not always matter. The people of sub-Saharan Africa does not even have the opportunity to discuss how their communities develop. Planning and development in sub-Saharan countries are not strictly decided by a unified body. Rural community planning and development are left in the direction of rural dwellers and their leaders. While the planning and development of cities are left solely in the hands of the government. Despite the planning decisions of cities left in the hands of the government, the planning is still not properly done. Governments make planning and development decisions for political gains not for community benefits. According to a report by the University of Ghana on urban housing supply challenges, one government started an affordable housing project in Ghana, but another refused to complete. Differences in political ideology have affected the development of sub-Saharan African cities. Cities are developed not in accordance with the interest of the people nor economic gain, but rather for political gain.

But it is not always that politicians’ and governments’ decisions are their own. There have been more recent issues of governments and developers decisions influenced by globalization. Climate change has become a recent global concern. The global society demands that certain things are not done to cause future harm to our environment. But despite the effort not to cause more harm to the environment, some communities are suffering from climate change effects. Past negligent activities have caused a change in the environment and inflicted harm on poor countries. For example, the entire Republic of Niger is in water stress as a result of extreme heat caused by climate change. How would a poor economy like Niger develop the ability and urgency to build communities resilient to this climate change effect?

I liked chapter nine because of the argument on planning according to the interest of the community. The market system should be in accordance with the interest of the community. But that is not always true, capitalism makes it be always about money. Politicians representing our communities must work and debate for the interest of the people who voted them into power. But that is never the case because politicians everywhere work for their political interest and for their political ideologies. I would argue that all planning must fulfill the fundamental social requirement. The following questions occurred to me while I read these chapters. What would we need planning if it is not done in the interest of the people in the community? But how do we identify the interest of a people who have more fundamental things to worry about like food, water, basic healthcare, and poverty? How do we incorporate urban planning into globalization to effectively meet these basic needs especially in poor economies?