Why do these urban planners – including many from Pa. – think we should defund police? | Friday Morning Coffee

August 7, 2020 7:12 am

Good Friday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

The tragically unnecessary death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May, coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic, has forced us to come to a long-delayed reckoning of inequities in almost every sector of American life. From schools and healthcare to policing and criminal justice outcomes, no quadrant of our public debate has been off limits.

So it feels inevitable that, sooner or later, the discussion would alight on the very question of how we design our cities and towns. We already know, for instance, that housing and mortgage inequities are one of the biggest drivers of racial inequality and segregation in the country. And when the Divider-in-Chief starts blathering about saving the suburbs, it’s hard to ignore the racist bullhorn that’s being sounded.

In an extraordinary letter, more than 650 urban planners — including nearly 20 from Pennsylvania — have called on the nation’s largest urban planning organization to support defunding the police, arguing that “neighborhoods that were racially segregated by a range of planning policies have become further denigrated by police violence and harassment of Black people,” Bloomberg’s CityLab reported Wednesday.

“Historically, planners have been responsible for manifestations of institutional racism including redlining and the construction of freeways and toxic industrial development in poor and Black and Brown neighborhoods, among many others,” the July 24 letter to the American Planning Association reads. “These actions have had reverberating effects, including creating the preconditions for over-policing of communities of color and disinvestment in community health and safety (just as they created the conditions for safety, wellness, prosperity, and limited policing in predominantly white suburbs).”

According to CityLab, the planners point to the famed Vision Zero initiative, which aims to reduce or eliminate traffic fatalities.

Despite their seemingly good intentions, these programs ““rely on police-led enforcement and may inadvertently direct additional resources to police” (As a matter of full disclosure, during my time as PennLive’s Opinion editor, we editorialized in favor of the program, as Harrisburg looked to reduce traffic deaths. The city took our editorial board up on that invitation. The more I read, the more I have come to reconsider that stance).

The skyline in Center City Philadelphia (Philadelphia Tribune photo)

As CityLab reports, the letter also highlights “‘striking” disparities in life expectancy by ZIP Code. The planners argue that some funds now allocated to ‘hyper-militarized police departments’ could go to anti-racist planning efforts that advance best practices for ‘building affordable housing, creating accessible transit systems, promoting environmental justice, and advancing more equitable economic development.'”

Sara Draper-Zivetz, one of the planners who authored the letter, told CityLab that these disparities are one of the reasons that she and her seven, fellow co-authors do not belong to the nationwide group.

“We perceived this moment as an opportunity to pursue a conversation we’ve been needing to have for a long time,” Draper-Zivetz told CityLab.

APA President Kurt Christiansen told CityLab that the national group has “been listening thoughtfully to many voices during the past month and every thought shared has enriched our understanding of the nature and scope of the challenge, and informs our evolving thinking on how we can make a sustained, constructive impact as a large, complex and diverse association of planners.”

And while the APA hasn’t specifically spoken out on police defunding, it has decried police violence, saying in a May 31 statement that the “impact of Mr. Floyd’s death and other recent grave injustices like it must be viewed in light of the historical trauma inflicted on African American communities, including discrimination wrought by the planning profession itself, which led to structural disadvantages in housing, transportation, education and employment that last to this day,” CityLab reported.

So when people blithely dismiss systemic and institutional racism, point them to this discussion. Inequities are so thoroughly embedded that they’re even in the streets we walk on and the buildings we work in. And that’s why the work, the questioning, can never stop.

The Pennsylvania Capitol building. (Capital-Star photo by Sarah Anne Hughes)

Our Stuff.
State health officials have sent a stark warning to people exposed to COVID-19: Break quarantine and risk legal action. Stephen Caruso has the story.

It’s easier than ever to get a COVID-19 test in Pennsylvania, but national backlogs are still delaying results, Elizabeth Hardison reports.

This week marks the 55th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. On Wednesday, two Black lawmakers explained why the best way to honor those who suffered for that right is to get out and vote this November.

The Wolf administration has recommended postponing all interscholastic sports until January 2021. The PIAA is scheduled to meet today to discuss this guidance — which the administration stresses isn’t an order or a mandate.

Protesters in Lancaster took to the streets Wednesday to call attention to gentrification in their hometownCorrespondent Lauren Manelius reports.

After several, very fraught weeks, Lincoln University’s Board of Trustees voted to approve a contract with embattled university President Brenda Allen, our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune report.

On our Commentary Page this morning, Mark Segal, the founder and publisher of the Philadelphia Gay News, and a veteran LGBTQ civil rights activist, has some stern words for state Rep Brian Sims, D-Philadelphia. If the pandemic proves one thing, it proves we need to reimagine long-term care, opinion regular Ray E, Landis writes. And two attorneys for Community Legal Services argue that the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission needs to retire a regulation governing utility shutoffs that unfairly targets Black and Brown Pennsylvanians.

En la Estrella-CapitalWolf sigue contando con Pa. para seguir las reglas de la pandemia, pero la policía está en modo de espera. Y el Secretario de Educación Rivera anuncia su partida mientras las escuelas luchan por los planes de otoño.

Vanessa Garrett Harley, Deputy Managing Director, Criminal Justice & Public Safety and Mayor Jim Kenney discuss preventive initiatives aimed at reducing gun violence and gun trauma (Philadelphia Tribune photo by Abdul Sulayman)

Philly Mayor Jim Kenney says city residents’ DIY home improvement projects are contributing to an overflow of trash in the city, PhillyMag reports.
A Pittsburgh bar has been warned about a COVID-19 violation, the Tribune-Review reports.
WellSpan Health will provide on-campus testing services at Shippensburg University, the Sentinel of Carlisle reports.
The Morning Call rounds up reaction to Gov. Tom Wolf’s recommendation to shut down fall sports.
Penn State announced Thursday that fans will be banned from sporting events on campus this fall, including football, the Citizens-Voice reports.

Here’s your #Pennsylvania Instagram of the Day:


View this post on Instagram


So beautiful now but I cant wait to photograph this field in the fall ? • • • #august #latesummer #pennsylvania #naturephotography

A post shared by Amy ? (@a_alde_photography) on

Residents in a West Philly neighborhood gathered for an emergency meeting after a 7-year-old was shot, WHYY-FM reports.
GoErie takes a look at how colleges in northwestern Pennsylvania are preparing for the fall semester.
Fixing a pothole? Critics have been questioning CARES Act spending in some states, reports.
Roll Call updates its list of the 10 Most Vulnerable House Members. Rep. Scott Perry, R-10th District, remains on the list, in a seat that ’tilts Republican.’

Heavy Rotation.
We’ll go out this week with a bit of Linkin Park, here’s ‘In the End.’

Friday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link.
 blanked sentimental faves Winnipeg 4-0 on Thursday to advance to the playoffs.

And now you’re up to date.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.