Inclusion & Democracy: A Tennessee Tale (Blog 5)

   Chapter 19 on Inclusion and Democracy made me think of so many situations currently happening in my home state of Tennessee. Last week, a resolution to denounce neo-Nazis and other white nationalist hate groups as terrorists died because not one member of the House Subcommittee would give it a second motion so it could have the chance to be voted into legislation. (story here) When asked state Rep. Bob Ramsey, told WZTV ,“that they didn’t have enough information on neo-Nazis or white supremacy to be able to talk about it.” Later, in a statement to CNN, Ramsey said the committee agreed with Clemmons “on the intent and philosophy of the resolution.” The objection was to “the designation of ‘terrorist organization.‘” -CNN

   Now this is a scenario, just one of many I can think of, that fully displays the nature of the type of democracy present today. If there was a hate group that historically exclusively terrorized white communities, hanging thousands of them. I would believe there would be legislation in place to classify this group as a terrorist organization. There are entire museums dedicated to the heinous acts of the Klu-Klux-Klan, and not just about the methods of intimidation and terrorism they used, but also the pervasiveness of its active members working in the criminal justice system up to the state and federal level. Let’s also not also forget the Holocaust and how neo-Nazi’s idolize Adolf Hitler.

   But how did this become appropriate? How is it possible for elected representative officials to abstain in this manner? It begs the question, who do these men see themselves representing? How do they identify themselves?

   Iris Young critiques Elshtain’s argument that says, “either politics is competition among private interests, in which case there is no public spirit; or politics is a commitment to equal respect for other citizens in a civil public discussion that puts aside private affiliation and interest to seek the common good.” Young says that she believes this is a false dichotomy and I agree.

   The elected officials observed here represent a base that has, through structural advantage, normalized ignorance towards issues that have historically had adverse effects on minority groups in America. Because this dominant group has not experienced mass terrorism, and has immense power in: population dominance: structural societal power; and financial capital these attributes almost mute the voices of other groups. “Under circumstances of structural social and economic inequality, the relative power of some groups often allows them to dominate the definition of the common good in ways compatible with their experience, perspective, and priorities….The capitalist class is able to control deliberative modes and policy decisions for the sake of its interests and at the same time to represent those interests as common or universal interests.” – Young. I believe these Tennessee representatives fully exercise this notion. Tennessee is a very southern Republican Christian state, this is “their” turf and that’s the lense through which they seem to perceive their world. High cultural values of: land ownership, traditional blue collar jobs, gun ownership, disdain for government intervention, individualism, hyper-nationalism, service to the US military, and a white cultural dominance are normative beliefs created and reinforced within this structurally powerful community. Others in structurally weaker communities who don’t hold the dominant majority’s cultural values remain: unheard, seen as unconventional, and at sometimes threatening.

  These Tennessee state representatives could learn a thing or two from Young. She speaks about moving everyone beyond their own parochial interests. “Trying to solve problems justly may sometimes mean that some people’s perceived interests are not served, especially when issues involve structural relations of privilege. Even when the most just solutions to political problems do not entail promoting some interests are not served, especially when issues involve structural relations of privilege. Fairness usually involves coordinating diverse goods and interests rather than achieving a common good.”  I hope one day the tale of Tennessee becomes one of an inclusive democracy.


Blog #4. A Planning Crossroads: Where should I go from here?

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What stood out to me? With so much information packed within those 5 chapters I’m not sure where to start…

If I got to the meat of the arguments presented, what was the basis of so many competing perspectives was simply philosophy. It’s personal philosophical preferences that will determine your outlook on the built environment, and the role of the planner of these man made environments. It’s philosophy that informs an individual on the ideal government structure. It also a person’s core values that are also at play: whether it’s comprehensive plans based on data that will be enacted in the most efficient way, or city planning mainly focused on the collective bargaining with business leaders and developers, or more democratic deliberative processes based on qualitative feedback that highly values communal input above everything else. There are many perspectives concerning planning that are shaped by competing philosophies. These chapters were very informative and forced me to look within myself to try to further understand what do I personally value, and what philosophies have created the lense that I gaze through.

When I was reading there were a number of interpretations of planning that I felt really stood out to me. Growing up in Memphis (yes I mention Memphis all the time, but it really impacted my understanding of planning) it was ranked the #1 most residentially segregated city in the entire U.S. Coming from a middle class African-American family that lived in a mostly white suburb, I felt like I lived in two worlds. All of my extended family (my mother has 6 siblings, my dad has 9 siblings) lived in majority black neighborhoods and attended majority black schools, yet I didn’t. This constant navigating between a very southern conservative white evangelical culture and what felt like an African-American cultural outpost had a dramatic effect on me, and shaped how I viewed myself and those around me. Early on I understood who had power and who didn’t, who had a stronger political voice and who didn’t, and who was valued and who wasn’t so much. When communicating with others I learned to code-switch. Early on I learned to dialogue about issues such as crime and urban escapism with suburban individuals, while later that day speaking on same topic in a totally different way in a different context using a different style of language. However, one thing I always ended up coming back to was that each side had way more in common with the “other” than either one of them could have imagined. My whole life has been a scenario of grappling and attempting to understand competing philosophies and competing values from two very different groups of people, this intersectionality was one thing I found interesting while looking at myself in reference to the readings.

So where I am in regards to the readings, what stood out? Well I saw myself in just all of them, but one many of these reading made me think of an organization that I would love to work for someday call MASS Design Group. I happened to stumble upon this TED talk and it blew me away at its core principles. The TED talk is called Architecture That Heals.

The premise is about using the built environment to heal specific issues endemic to that specific region. Whether it be inequality, segregation, low access to affordable housing or suburban isolation, lack of community connection, and few links to culture these can all be severe deficiencies of a community. This perspective is very similar to the deliberative democratic social justice stance, but it could also look very different. It a community that’s wealthy, certainly may have deficiencies in other areas that need “healing”. In planning most people seem to think that every area needs to look like a middle class area that has green initiatives, because every middle class area with sustainable green initiatives doesn’t have any problems and is perfectly healthy in every way. I feel this is unwise. The built environment has such an incredible effect on so many entities outside of urban green roofs and bike lanes, it affects relationships. Carports, porches, and car centered communities have changed how we communicate with each other on a human level. I think perspectives like these (one that tries to access health on an individual and community level, and then seeks to come up with an action plan to “heal”) forces us to step back and look holistically at what is the state of how we are living, and how can it be improved to help us both individually and communally.

In the video Michael Murphy explains that downtown Birmingham, AL has over 40 different Confederate public monuments to the Confederacy. Yet this city has zero markers that acknowledge the victims of slavery or it once having the largest domestic port for slave trading in the nation. This is yet another example of how the built environment can literally personify racism, which is why he partnered to build the monument to the thousands of those lynched in downtown Birmingham, AL. 

Utopian Cities: A Complex Tale of Trial & Error

Howard was a cooperative socialist, Wright was a Jeffersonian democrat, and Le Corbusier had many of his designs published in revolutionary journals.  These men did not want to reorient the world, they wanted to change it! In order for man to progress to the next level of society, it was time to reshape and reorient the systems that previous cities were predicated on. These men thought that if that could change and reconstruct the city then it would create a revolution in how humans behave and live. This was all an effort to promote this new wave of theory referencing “social harmony” , an almost spiritual movement where bricks and buildings were believed to have the power to undo the massive social ills of the time. Howard, Wright, and Le Corbusier knew they couldn’t just rely on their designs to change the inner systemic workings of society, this would require deep political and economic reform. They each had various means to achieve this end.

Ebenezer Howard

Howard, one f the most prominent architects of urban planning is known for his contribution to the field via the Garden City. His approach stemmed mainly from his idealism and socialist background intending to challenge the the systems of capitalism and inequality. Howard wanted a system based on community and  cooperation. Howard came out with a book that became very popular it provided practical solutions to everyday life, and challenged the current thought process of city planning at that time. Howard grew his following by organizing and doing speeches promoting this new idealism towards how built environment directly affects the pace and direction where societies go. Howard’s unique approach was for the decentralization of urban centers and creating hundreds of thousand of Garden cities across the country in the effort of giving each individual person a higher standard of living. This standard of living was mainly based on public health and wellness, but was intended to be classless and full of leisure.

Frank Lloyd Wright

Wright supported an anti-collectivist system that highly stressed individualism, very different from Howard’s socialism. Wright’s beliefs ultimately manifested into his creation of Broadacre City, his utopian vision. Even though Wright and Howard had opposing fundamental beliefs, the manifestation of their core values came out to be quite similar. Frank Lloyd Wright envisioned an American society where each person received at least one acre of land per person. Wright believed that the innovation of the automobile and the telephone rendered cities obsolete and a non-essential facet of society. “He believed that the personal freedom and dignity of land ownership was the way to guarantee social harmony and avoid class struggle.”
Le Corbusier

The Radiant City is the urban structure Le Corbusier believed to be the ideal societal function. It’s interesting when looking at the many influences that shaped his thought process, one of these influences was the Great Depression. Corbusier was for a more authoritarian syndicalist system that were most of the power was concentrated at the top of the proverbial societal pyramid, the common worker was at the bottom. Corbusier believed that planning was not a political issue, he believed it was a scientific issue that should be managed and engineered by industrial processes based on rational and logic. He believed elite experts completely detached from social pressure should be the ones to establish and construct this new urban movement. However, Corbusier was vehemently for the classless society without economic hierarchies he opposed about capitalism. He supported the welfare and needs of working class families which he felt should include leisure and adequate green spaces.


Gazing at the City


As a collective all of the readings brought up very interesting points, and challenged my own thinking when it came to cities. To be honest, it was difficult trying to read and understand some of the statements made by these men. I’m very biased. I’ve lived in cities my entire life. But it was good for me to understand the context of one of the authors (Georg Simmel) and why he wrote what believed to be true. Overall, with all of these men it was obvious that the turn of the century (with all of its new ingenuity, but also environmental & peace-time setbacks) shaped the lense of which they gained their perspective. It’s something we can’t help but do, to gaze through the lense of our culture, our community, and our deep personal convictions that lead us to make judgments.


At a glance, overall Simmel wrote about the psychological and sociological ramifications of living in a metropolis vs. a rural area. His perspective often seemed very subjective and based mainly on his experiences, personal idealism, and own knowledge of these two variations of lifestyle. “Small town life in antiquity as well in the Middle Ages imposed such limits upon the movements of the individual in his relationships with the outside world and on his independence and differentiation that the modern person could not even breathe under conditions.” During his time (turn of the century) it was the first time in a while that people were migrating on mass scales to live in cities. (Side Note: I felt that Simmel made sweeping generalizations when referring to the history of the growth of cities, not referencing cities that have historically been massive: Rome, Constantinople, Cairo, Babylon, Timbuktu, Beijing, London, etc. Yes, the Industrial Revolution brought incredible changes, but rural natives have been moving to cities for employment for thousands of years.) Georg Simmel’s belief was that living in cities were: unnatural, uncharacteristic to humans, a negative consequence of industrialization, and overall a new phenomenon that needed to be alleviated. He repeatedly made statements referring to the modern metropolitan person being reduced to a sphere of thinking that’s insensitive and lacking depth in personality.


Regarding Mumford, he attributed social value to the city structure. Unlike Simmel, Mumford considered the built city an asset to community and important to building human culture. Mumford argues that through history the inception of cities have been centers of: learning, gatherings, art, and overall higher degrees of culture. “He saw the urban experience as an integral component in the development of human culture and the human personality. He consistently argued that the physical design of cities and their economic functions were secondary to their relationship to the natural environment and to the spiritual values of human community.” (Mumford pg1) Lewis Mumford often described cities as a theatre. Many of his analogies describing the sociological interrelations with cities (libraries, schools, community centers) are all what he calls actors, set designs, and different acts within one unified play. “The city in its complete sense, then, is a geographic plexus, an economic organization, an institutional process, a theatre of social action, and an aesthetic symbol of collective unity.


While reading Wirth’s writings it was was evident that his “Urbanism as a Way of Life” was the most pragmatic out of the three readings. He covered a lot of information specifying how to adequately define what exactly a city is, and how they operate in relation to rural towns. Wirth noted that cities do not reproduce themselves, they depend on recruitment from other places, often leading to a melting-pot of cultures and peoples.

“The historic influence is reinforced by the circumstance that the population of the city itself is in large measure recruited from the countryside, where a mode of life reminiscent of this earlier form of existence persists. Hence we should not expect to find abrupt and discontinuous variation between urban and rural types of personality. The city and the country may be regarded as two poles in reference to one another…”

Louis Wirth also touched on the sociological definition of the city, which he expressed the vastness of a city’s complicatedness. From the nature of the local economy, to the balance of varying commerce in the city, to age age of the city, the transportation culture, to the relationship of surrounding residential communities were all integral parts defining sociological characteristics of a city. He argues that  cities need to be defined in a multi-disciplinary way.  Wirth also argued that urbanization is not the product of industrialization or capitalistic enterprise, he then references cities pre-capitalistic societies.