Planning in a Globalized World

The world has changed, is changing, and will continue to change. This week’s readings attempt to answer the question of how planning will respond to the era of globalization. Ward describes six unique ways planning crosses international borders. “Borrowing” allows the importing country to shape planning ideals to its own needs while “imposition” means the exporting countries dictate planning ideas, as happened throughout colonialism. Zheng and Feng compare and contrast the two experiences of China and the U.S. and outline numerous commonalities including the destruction of old, unique neighborhoods in favor of mass-produced modern landscapes. In both countries, urban growth took full of advantage of land-use policies and a favorable political climate.

For Evans, even in an increasingly globalized world, political action at the community level remains the most effective tool to create livable communities. Communities with strong social capital, a “shared longevity of residence and common cultural ties,” are most effective. This assertion leads me to a fundamental question. As globalization expands and communities, cities, and countries become more diverse, will this undermine the power of communities to act cohesively?

For the purposes of this blog, however, I want to focus on the Beatley’s analysis of sustainable practices in European cities. As a contractor for the USDOT, we are working every day to make sustainable mobility a reality here in the U.S., using many of the concepts Beatley outlines that began in Europe. There is a transportation revolution underway because of shifting demographics, emerging technologies, and innovative mobility services and business models. Mobility as a Service (MaaS) initiatives such as Kutsuplus, public-private partnerships with cities and microtransit provider Bridj and bridjother Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) like Uber and Lyft form what my co-workers and I call the “wild wild west of transportation.”

For the transportation industry at least, one of my main takeaways from my short time working for the federal government is that the feds are simply not equipped to keep up with the rapidly innovating private sector. The role of USDOT should be to set common standards and regulatory environments where private companies and cities are at the epicenter of innovation.

Thus, in a globalized era, cities are now the most important players in innovating and addressing the global problems we face. It is cities that must step up to the plate and tackle transportation, economic, environmental and other challenges. The power to influence, I believe is shifting away from national government towards cities. In this era ofcity-night-01 political gridlock and one-size-fit-all attitude of the federal government, cities will naturally fill the leadership vacuum. Unlike the federal government, cities operate on a more localized cross-sector approach, breaking down silos in city operations. Cities are collaborative as they work directly on the ground with citizens. Most importantly, cities can act as test beds for innovation and learn from other cities, as Beatley suggested, and can scale these solutions horizontally to each other.

Globalization is not without its drawbacks (e.g., global inequities, “world is flat” vs. “world is spiky”), but for planners and cities, the ramifications are immense. In this global era, cities will increasingly be the drivers of change and innovation and planners should welcome this opportunity.

For more: Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley, The Metropolitan Revolution: How Cities and Metros Are Fixing Our Broken Politics and Fragile Economy (Washington, D.C.: Brooking Institution Press, 2013).



Takeaways from Farrol Hamer

Given today’s political atmosphere, one particular insight from Ms. Hamer stuck with me. While discussing strategies for citizen engagements, Ms. Hamer argued that large rooms with one person speaking often results in poor discussion. Instead, she argues, planners should work to change the rules of engagement by breaking into small groups, sit around a round table, and exchange ideas face-to-face. When people are interacting and looking each other in the eye, there is increased understanding and dialogue.

I am reminded of a recent segment I saw with Van Jones, a CNN political commentator, in which he went to Trump voters’ homes to have open discussions about the election. Van Jones is a democratic strategist and former Obama Administration official, but the impact of the experience on him was striking. After sitting around the kitchen table with people you have such vast political differences with, Jones could understand their very real concerns, fears, and perspectives. To be clear, the point here isn’t to all get along and agree (because we don’t and we won’t) but to make more efforts to interact with each other in constructive ways. Whether its talking politics over the kitchen table or in city hall over development decisions, we may just learn something by listening.

Urban Politics, Governance, and Economics

Surprise! It is another blog mentioning the election results. Last week, Mr. Trump bulldozed the supposed “blue wall” in the Electoral College that ran through the upper Midwest of the United States. Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, all states with high white, working class voters turned out in droves to elect Mr. Trump. Pundits can debate the various reasons for this, but it’s also true that this is a portion of the country that has been shaken to its core by global economic forces, globalization, and free trade. Major losses in manufacturing have slowed the economy in these regions and working class people have suffered as a result. Desperate for change, these voters turned out for Mr. Trump. For Democrats, the question then becomes how they start speaking more effectively to these working class voters in the deindustrialized Midwest. To rebuild deindustrialized cities, our federal and local leaders must work on creating sustained competitive advantage, as Porter argues, for a 21st global economy. According to Porter, the potential is there with economically valuable areas, local demand, and integration with regional clusters to create vibrant economic activity. Porter argues that governments should support the private sector by directing resources to the greatest areas of economic need – inner cities – instead of building more infrastructure in sprawling suburbs. If Democrats cannot deliver on that promise, the Electoral College “blue wall” may disappear for a generation.

Additionally, I believe one of the most effective ways to increase the competitive advantage of struggling deindustrialized cities is to invest in education (Thompson defines as merit goods). An educated workforce full of “eds and meds” can sustain production of high quality goods at a productive rate to turn local economies around. If Democrats want to win back the Obama coalition of white working class voters, they must not label all Trump voters as racist, but get to work addressing their very real concerns. They must invest in education and high-paying jobs to create sustained competitive advantage.


Map showing highest percentages of voters shifting towards GOP in upper Midwest

Davis and Madanipour each discuss the severe impacts of social exclusion in cities and the changing nature of public space. Today’s public spaces, according to Davis, are full of “invisible signs warning off the Underclass.” However, the economic, political, and cultural exclusion does not always have to be invisible. It can be outright blatant. A topic I have been researching is the case of the Rondo Neighborhood of St. Paul, Minnesota. In the 1930s, the Rondo Neighborhood was the epicenter of Saint Paul’s largest Black neighborhood, populated with families had lived in Minnesota for decades and others who were just arriving from the South. Brought together by a common bond and surrounded by predominantly white area, the resident of Rondo made up a vibrant, independent community. Then, the construction of I-94 right through the neighborhood in the 1960s devastated the community, and displaced thousands of African-Americans into a racially segregated city and a discriminatory housing market. The project was billed as an urban renewal project, but the highway ended decades of proud African-American culture in the St. Paul region. Today, many cities are only just coming to realize the effects decades-old infrastructure projects have had, creating social, economic, and physical barriers. Moving forward, transportation policies should be focused on connecting these under-served communities, overcoming barriers to mobility, and granting access to more jobs. The U.S. Department of Transportation has launched a program called the Every Place Counts Design Challenge to help cities tackle past mistake and correct them with innovative solutions that provide opportunity to all its citizens.


I-94 in St. Paul Minnesota where Rondo once stood

Planning Goals: Justice, Conflict, and the Right to the City

Scott Campbell uses the planner’s triangle to understand the tensions between divergent goals that planners must work to reconcile. Broadly, planners must grapple with three conflicting interests to grow the economy, distribute that growth fairly, and preserve the natural environment. In turn, each interest is in conflict with another resulting in property conflict (economic growth vs. social equity), resource conflict (economic growth vs. environmental preservation), and development conflict (social equity vs. environmental preservation).

After pursuing a degree in environmental studies and as someone who is passionate about combating climate change, Campbell’s development conflict was particularly striking. The term “sustainable development” is often critiqued by environmentalists as a positive goal, but too vague to implement meaningful policies. In fact, “sustainability” and “development” may not be compatible. The Brundtland Commission defines sustainable development as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. But how do we define needs? Who is defining these needs for both present and future generations?

The key question facing environmentalists and policy makers in terms of combating global climate change is how those at the bottom of society are allowed to pursue increased greater economic opportunity if environmental protection means diminished economic growth. The developing world wishes to develop as quickly as today’s world superpowers, but are now faced with the proposition that this may not be possible within the ecological constraints of the planet.  For developed countries, it is an extremely tough sell to the developing countries, since they see the developed world bearing most of the responsibility for today’s increasing levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Furthermore, it’s the developing world that is feeling the most severe impacts of climate change. Reconciling these issues of justice, fairness, and responsibility are complex and make agreements like the recent Paris Agreement from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC).

Therefore, the principles of “common but differentiated responsibilities” is critical because it acknowledges the vast global differences in capacity and responsibilities in addressing climate change. As part of the bargaining in Paris, the agreement adheres to the principle by asking the developed world to decrease its emissions at a much faster pace than developing countries as well as contribute a base amount to global adaptation efforts each year. However, for island countries like Bangladesh and the Maldives the focus on adaptation is worrisome. Wealthy countries, who have mostly not felt the worst impacts of climate change can afford adaptation instead of mitigation. But for these especially vulnerable countries, adaptation may not be enough to save them from rising sea levels and becoming part of the growing contingent of climate refugees.

Campbell’s development conflict – where environmental preservation is in tension with social equity – is the lynch-pin of global effort to combat climate change. If leaders can find ways to implement policies recognizing each respective countries varying capabilities, responsibilities, and vulnerabilities, then maybe more agreements like that were made in Paris earlier this year can be made in the future. As Fischer says, in his social constructionist perspectives on policy, we must recognize structural inequities in society as “policy making is a constant discursive struggle over the definitions of problems, the boundaries of categories used to describe them, and the criteria for their classification and assessment…” It’s imperative during climate change negotiations to give equal footing to the developing world, and to not let the developed world by itself define the issue and its solutions. There is simply too much at stake.


President Obama in Paris at COP21

Social Justice: Race, Gender and Class

This week’s authors each strive to address challenges planners face in increasing diversity and equity in the profession and grapple with the implications of today’s politics of identity. Frisch argues that planning dualisms (order/disorder, order/disorder, public/private, household/family, production/reproduction, natural/artificial) have an implicit bias towards promoting heterosexuality (Frish 385). Urban planning as field grew out of the chaotic urbanization of the 19th century, and Frisch argues in an attempt to bring stability to cities, planners have also built a heterosexual dominant landscape. Instead of large single family homes, Frisch argues for planners to design spaces to entice people to interact outside of the protected surrounding of the home, promote social mixing, and in turn, empower gay and lesbian people (Frisch 401).

Similarly, Hayden draws a connection between the organizational structure of cities and gender roles. The home, Hayden argues, acts a haven or shelter from the outside capitalist world, creating a segmented labor market for men and women (Hayden 362). Hayden offers policies that would reward parenting as a fundamentally important service to society, and encourage some male responsibility for childcare. Sweden’s parent insurance, providing paid leave for new mothers AND fathers was provided as an example.

While studying abroad in Denmark, I spent two weeks in Stockholm, Sweden observing the very policies that Hayden describes. During a tour of the city, the group noticed a large group of middle-aged men, each pushing a stroller with young children inside, entering a coffee shop. With our American biases, seeing men as the primary caregivers in the middle of the work week was striking. Our Swedish tour guide noticed our puzzled faces, and explained that what we were seeing was a common practice. “Latte fathers,” he called them, are a product of Sweden’s generous leave programs allowing new mothers and fathers to divide nearly 500 days of leave between the couple as they see fit, but each have to use a minimum of 2 months. The program is paid through Sweden’s high tax rate and the business community has bought in to the idea. The increase in human capital and social benefits of dads being involved in their children’s early lives appears to outweigh any concerns from the Swedes about paying for such friendly parental leave.


“Latte Father” Source: BBC

Thomas attempts to answer how planners can strive to bring about equity and ensure that professional planners themselves represent the diversity of the region. Do planners who are minorities help to create more equitable outcomes, or are they more effective with creating a just process? (Thomas 343) I, like Thomas, have to agree that a diverse set of planners can assist most with creating a more inclusive process. A diverse planning staff brings new perspectives, ideas, and strategies to the table. Additionally, Thomas argues racial minority planners can serve as effective bridges between disenfranchised neighborhoods and include them in the decision making process (Thomas 348). This does not guarantee, however, a just outcome.

As does Thomas, Young tackles the concept of diversity through the politics of difference. Young argues against conflating the politics of difference with identity politics (Young 329). When I look at today’s political landscape, it is hard to miss the importance of identity politics. Whether it is Black Lives Matter and police brutality, immigration, Syrian refugee crisis,


Black Lives Matter Protest Source:

and gay marriage, the issue of identity underlies everything. Critics argue that identity politics divides people along identity lines, but Young argues that what critics call identity politics is actually political claims for justice (Young 333). In short, the claims of Black Lives Matter protests or Muslim immigrants are not identity claims, but claims to live freely without fear of persecution. Recognizing the reality of structural inequities exist would make for a more just decision making process. Dismissing these claims are divisive identity politics is a defense mechanism used by critics to fuel fear and political inaction.


Planning in Action – Smart Columbus Partnerships

Each author analyzes the entanglements of power and knowledge throughout the planning process and its effect on community development today. Defilippis defines today’s current community development as market-based in their larger goals and work with private sector initiatives, non-confrontational engagement process with no extreme political tactics, and a reassertion of the idea of community. Defilippis identified various problems with today’s community development including an assumption the interests of capital should be assumed to be parallel to the interests of communities. In reality, however, capitalism produces inequality. One cannot assume that what is good for the individual is good for the larger group.

Both Flyvbjerg and Siemiatycki use case studies in their approach to the concepts of knowledge and power. Flyvbjerg argues that the field of planning lacks an understanding of core power relations. Power, he argues, “often ignores or designs knowledge at its convenience.” Using a case study from Denmark and survey results, the author demonstrates that it’s the interpretation of data that matters. It’s not about which interpretation is rational, but “which party can put the greatest power behind their interpretation.” In this case, power defined reality in which the winner was the business community in downtown Aalborg who opposed measures to restrict cars, but accepted improvements for cyclists, pedestrians, and public transportation.

Similarly, Siemiatycki uses a case study from Vancouver to analyze the merits of public-private partnerships (PPPs), as the narrative of PPPs “have become institutionalized as the project delivery mechanism.” The author raises several questions that should be asked by planners of PPPs. First, during the design of the technical specifications of the project, there is risk of so specifically designing them that it leaves little room for innovation. Second, the selection process requires a high degree of secrecy about the specifications of the project, leading to a lack of information for the general public. Third, there is risk of corporate conflicts of interest.

Siemiatyki’s article was impactful for me as it relates to PPPs. As part of my job as a USDOT contractor, I have been supporting the implementation of the Smart City Challenge grant, a $40 million federal grant won by Columbus, OH. An additional $90 million was made available by other private and philanthropic partners. One of the selling points of Columbus’ application was its commitment to leveraging PPPs, which is a top priority for the USDOT. However, as we have been moving into the implementation phase of the project, we have been running into many challenges. As Flyvbjerg argued, there are power imbalances that planners must recognize and work with in the decision making process and various political, executive, and private interest groups. Without getting into specifics, there are business and political interest groups and partners that wield enormous power in the implementation of the Smart Columbus project. These groups main priority is to put technology on the streets as soon as possible, so they can reap the political and economic benefits of promoting the new Columbus brand. However, other technology partners and the USDOT have different interests, and want to take a slower, more methodical approach to ensure technical success of the complex set of technologies planned for deployment.

Moving forward, the team faces the daunting task of getting dozens of partners around the same table, all with different interests and solutions, and working towards a common goal of making Columbus the go-to Smart City case study. The sheer number of partners is challenging. Partners must not be worried about publicity or solely profit. As Siemiatyki argues, PPPs have potential, but we as planners must ask the hard questions in order to be successful.


Columbus Skyline 2013

Planning in Action: Successes, Failures, and Strategies

This week’s readings seek to define the most effective governance structures for cities. What are the various level of citizen participation and how can planners leverage it to create a more just city? How can we overcome the challenges posed by today’s dominant American ideals? Downs challenges the current ideal American suburban development that is dominated by excessive use of the private automobile, provides little low-cost housing creating a spatial mismatch, and has no fair infrastructure financing strategies. As a result, Downs argues for a mixed-use, regional approach where suburbs have single family homes AND apartments for low-income residents. Similarly, for those cities in decline because of globalization, deindustrialization, and other economic factors, Hollander argues for a regional scope for the smart decline planning process. These processes must be deliberative and political, and planners must facilitate discussion and debate.

Wilson and Kelling apply this concept of citizen involvement to crime in the community. They argue crime rates increase “once communal barriers – the sense of mutual regard and obligations of civility – are lowered by actions that seem to signal that no one cares.” I found this piece to be extremely timely given the current political debates in this country. I think the “community policing” that Wilson and Kelling describe can be very effective for many communities. A police officer patrolling on foot, as opposed inside a vehicle, will inevitably interact directly with citizens, building a mutual trust and respect. Rather than having law enforcement physically enclosed in a police vehicle, citizens can speak directly with a police officer, which goes a long way in building bridges between communities that are increasingly talking past and distrust each other. These police-citizen encounters, I believe, are the future of more equitable policing.police-officer

Arnstein defines varying level of citizen participation on a ladder. At the bottom of the ladder is manipulation and therapy, where citizens have no power and instead those in power seek to educate or cure citizens. As we travel up the ladder, other forms of participation include informing, consultation, placation, partnership, delegated power, and citizen control. The bottom rungs of the ladder, representing “non-participation” struck me. Too often, poorer and communities of color are faced with these levels of citizen participation, leading to vast injustices.

My alma mater, St. Lawrence University, is situated in the poorest county in the state of New York. During my time there, my environmental justice classes studied the local area extensively. The Aluminum Company of America, General Motors and Reynolds Metals all developed aluminum refineries in nearby Massena, NY using hydro-electric power from the St. Lawrence River. The byproducts of the industrial processes contaminated the nearby waterways that run through the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation that extends across the U.S.-Canada border. Fish species that the Mohawks depended on were wiped out and many livestock were killed and suffered from severe tooth decay. Alcoa’s relationship with the local Mohawk tribe represents the bottom rungs of the citizen participation ladder defined by Arnstein. Alcoa was a dominant part of an otherwise struggling economy in northern New York. Thus, their public relations focused solely on “curing” the area of economic decline and unemployment, and the Mohawk tribe’s cultural interests were not included in genuine levels of participation. When you visit the area, you can still see the remnants of the large-scale dredging that took place as a result of the Superfund legislation in the 1980s to aid the clean-up. A few years ago, the Mohawk tribe finally won a multi-million dollar lawsuit as compensation for the damages. Arnstein’s ladder of citizen participation provides us with a path forward and a strategy to avoid these injustices in the future.