I’ve always wondered how planning practitioners, especially those working in public agencies, do or do not engage with the ethical and longer-term implications of their work. All the “Year 2050” sustainability plans, all the community visioning processes, all the good intentions cannot transform the ossified logics of bureaucratic planning processes. The Anrea Cook and Wendy Sarkissian chapter, Who Cares? Australian Planners and Ethics (pdf), is a valuable peek into how planners negotiate this disjunct between the backlog of permits and a backdrop of lofty goals. They begin with a quotation taken from the 1985 book Ethics in Planning: “Planning deals with choices and politics deals with choices, while ethics, on the other hand, deals with choices.”(Stanley Hallett, 1967. “Planning, Politics and Ethics,” in William R. Ewald (ed) Environment for Man: The Next Fifty Years. They then offer examples of three types of stories – ‘love/hate stories’, ‘bewilderment stories’ and ‘professional pleas’ — that characterize the ethical stories that emerged from their interviews with government planners.
One local government planner expressed a lack of ethical opportunity in his work that struck me as a quite common experience for practicing planners:
In my area, I do a lot of application process and I don’t have a lot of opportunity to focus on things like the environment. You basically have to assess if it is appropriate development based on particular design elements rather than looking at it in that broad context.
So I guess, in many ways, the values on the broader planning principles are prescribed to me, if you like. They are handed over to me. So how do we deal with questions of fairness and environment and all that sort of stuff if we have a much narrower field that we are touching?
One gauge of how much urban planning has been redirected toward “achieving marketability of its product — urban space” (as in yesterday’s Susan Fainstein quote) is which metrics are typically used to define success. Emphases added in the following quote from the Urban Land Institute article “Making Public Spaces Work Overtime”:
“As we densify, we must ‘green’ at the same time,” said Ed McMahon, ULI senior resident fellow and Charles E. Fraser chair for sustainable development. Developing high-quality public space adds value to surrounding real estate, he said, citing the High Line in New York City as a prime example. The city invested $115 million in public funds and raised $44 million from the private sector to convert an old, elevated freight rail line on the west side of Manhattan to a 1.5-mile [2.4 km] public park. The High Line park has boosted nearby property values by $2 billion overall and created 12,000 new jobs in the city, McMahon said. “If we don’t invest in the public realm, we don’t realize the public good,” he said.
Planners are less inclined to mystify their activities by pretending to be doing one thing (comprehensive decision-making in the public interest) while performing another (fostering capital accumulation and mediating tensions between capital and community). The connection between the economic structure and planning legitimation is now straightforwardly claimed, and the tactics developed to stimulate economic growth are frankly enumerated. Ideology thus no longer obscures the planner’s role; mystification instead resides at the level where private advantage is equated with public benefit.
The old justification for planning was comprehensiveness and the minimization of negative externalities. The new ones are competitiveness and market rationality. The debate over the utility of the rational model becomes meaningless in a context of negotiation with private investors. Whereas planning was previously seen by both its supporters and its right-wing critics as antithetical to markets, it is now directed at achieving marketability of its product — urban space. This term does not refer to territory per se but to a set of development rights and financial capabilities associated with a piece of land.
Susan Fainstein, “Promoting economic development” in Journal of the American Planning Association. Winter 1991, Vol. 57 Issue 1, p22.
The shift from the managerial city to the entrepreneurial city — that is, privileging economic development over any other municipal concern (housing, sustainability, poverty alleviation) — has stripped planners of “the vocabularies of architecture and the law.”
…planners now speak in the same terms as investment bankers, property brokers, and budget analysts. Changing planning modes have affected schools of planning, where students elect courses in real estate practice, budgetary analysis, investment management, and, when available, negotiation techniques and implementation strategies…
Fainstein is one of the mainstays of progressive planning discourse. I really like how clearly she laid out the transition to neoliberal planning practices.
I still have an accidental side research interest in food systems. Came across Aaron Bobrow-Strain’s 2008 article ”White bread bio-politics: purity, health, and the triumph of industrial baking” in Cultural geographies 15.1 (2008) which lead me to his 2012 book White bread: a social history of the store-bought loaf. He looks at the process by which baking became a modern industrial science: in 1890, 90% of America’s staple starch was baked in homes by women; in 1930, 94% of bread was baked outside of the home by male professional bakers. Bobrow-Strain describes this as “a story of massive commodification and industrialization, and, as with any such story, it is an account of enormously complex cultural change.” In his 2012 op-ed adaptation for the popular media, he wrote on how home-made bread and neighborhood bakeries became tarred as unsanitary and unhealthy:
But they could all agree on one thing: Incorrect food choices were the root cause of nearly all of the nation’s moral, physical, and social problems. So, in a fashion reminiscent of many community-garden and anti-obesity campaigns today, well-meaning reformers poured into the country’s urban tenements to spread “the gospel of good eating.” What happened next entangled choice of bread with high-stakes questions of race, responsibility, and citizenship. Small immigrant-run bakeries came under intense scrutiny, with sanitary inspectors and women’s groups painting pictures of dank, vermin-infested cellar workrooms where sewage dripped into dough-mixing troughs.
Even that sentimental icon of all that is good — “Mother’s bread” — was denounced under the banner of a safe and efficient diet. Scientific American, women’s magazines, and home-economics textbooks portrayed careless home baking as a threat to family health, while other observers wondered whether even the most careful housewife should bake at all.
Whether or not bread from small bakeries and home ovens was actually unsanitary — it probably wasn’t — anxiety over unclean bread was a gift for industrial bakers. “I want to know where my bread comes from!” an affluent woman demanded in a national advertising campaign. Strange as it might seem, especially to contemporary foodies, the language of “knowing where your food comes from” was a publicity coup for industrial food.
The somewhat grouchy book reviewer from the NYT emphasizes this racialized and class-based fear:
A frightened public fixated — with encouragement from city officials and shrewd advertisers — not on labor law or social services, but on cleaner bread. It would be produced by machines, with tired, diseased hands kept away. The hygienic Ward Bakery, the country’s largest, opened in Brooklyn in 1910. And instead of social reform, we got bread that did not rely on society.
[A delivery truck in front of the factory in 1923. (via Streets of Washington)]
This national fixation on sanitation is corroborated in the Streets of Washington (D.C.) blog’s post on the history of local bread manufacturers and the factory buildings that remain neighborhood landmarks:
For years to come, attendees at ball games would be treated to the sweet smells of the Bond Bread factory wafting over them as they sat in the stadium’s bleachers. Excavation work at the bakery site began in 1929 for the $650,000 state-of-the-art building, designed by Corry B. Comstock of New York, an experienced bakery architect. An article in the Evening Star noted that the building would be one of the largest and most modernly equipped in Washington. “Particular attention will be paid to sanitary measures, the bread being touched by human hands only twice in the baking and once in the wrapping.” It was completed in 1930.
Even at the turn of the 19th century, this sanitation/scientific transition was in full effect (emphasis added).
An 1893 article in the Evening Star observed that "Home-made bread is a back number. Machine-made bread takes the cake. The twentieth century bakery is a thing of beauty and the up-to-date baker is a joy forever." At the popular Pure Food Show at the Washington Convention Hall in 1909, D.C. bakeries put on a massive exhibit that filled the K Street end of the hall. Visitors could observe machines doing the work in a modern factory setting; dirty human hands never touched the bread. In that same vein, a 1919 advertisement for Dorsch’s in The Washington Times urged consumers to give up their old-fashioned reliance on the corner store: “Why buy bread at the grocer’s, fresh for each meal, when it is possible to get good, wholesome, and fresh bread that tastes as good at the last bite as it did when you first cut into the warm loaf?”
Taxi hailing apps have become controversial. Like hand-wringing, subpoena-serving, rock-slinging, 10,000-car-protest controversial. “Ride-sharing” companies have been widely attacked and praised, accused of bypassing laws as they turn non-professionals into taxi drivers who can be dispatched with a few clicks. The controversy has raised critical questions for “the sharing economy” about labor, liability, and trust.
But strangely, somewhere along the way, the meaning of ridesharing itself got lost.
Cab-sharing app Bandwagon’s take on ridesharing.