There is a renewed engagement with the role planners should take in the pursuit of social justice and social equity. Planners are privileged compared to marginalized communities. On the one hand, they can decide to use their privilege to their benefit by wielding power, status and knowledge and yet on the other hand assume positions of superiority during struggles for equality, Furthermore, they potentially sideline segments of marginalized communities with different concepts of social justice or how it should be achieved. Planners therefore hold power over theoretical and substantive knowledge that enables them to see what others cannot. Planners are privileged compared to marginalized communities.
Policy decisions impact different groups unevenly and those related to social equity are intangible, difficult to define and measure, such as perceived accessibility. Physical ability, gender, and ethnicity are rarely used to examine equity impacts of accessibility difference across groups which are increasingly related to social exclusion processes. Many trade-offs that exist among multiple groups must be clearly understood by planners, transparently integrated into the planning process, and clearly communicated to decision-makers and the public they serve.
With respect to transportation, equity issues and performance targets do not mesh. While measures should precisely capture objectivity, they should at the same time be viable given limited resources. To understand this, there must a clear definition of the differences between horizontal equity and vertical equity.
Horizontal equity requires resources to be allocated to each individual or group unless a specific subsidy is required. Vertical equity requires disadvantaged people to be given special consideration to ensure they are not worse off, and their needs are accommodated.
Planning and policy tools address distributional issues far less convincingly than they do effectiveness and efficiency (horizontal equity). Current policy debates almost always revolve around the benefits and burdens of programs and policies. This becomes problematic. Also there is a strong emphasis on mobility over accessibility in transportation circles. Having access to a vehicle or other means may miss key issues of social equity. This is a discussion that is taking place as shared mobility enters the lexicon.
In addition, fragmented and incremental planning that occurs today allows for individual decisions to contradict strategic planning objectives. Case in point, the Ontario Municipal Board decisions that contravene Official Plan policies or Transportation Master Plans.
While there is a movement towards congestion pricing, there is still a lack of political will and courage to implement such an initiative in many other municipalities. There is the notion that commuters could be priced out or pay a larger share if subsidization is not in place.
Transportation policy does little to alleviate social inequities especially for pedestrians and cyclists. As well, transit operators have conflicting objectives in providing service to attract new riders versus striving for convenience and frequency. Transit most times minimally benefits a downtown or inner suburbs resident with low accessibility to employment and other desired destinations due to poor infrequent and inconvenient transit on suburban cross and reverse commutes.Transportation policy does little to alleviate social inequities especially for pedestrians and cyclists. From an operational perspective, transit agenices have conflicting objectives in providing service to attract new riders versus striving for convenience and frequency. Shared mobility could potentially ease that strained relationship.They tend to be focused on old metrics such as farebox recovery or revenue/cost ratios, which Shailen Bhatt mentioned in the recent installment of the Talking Headways podcast.
Jonathan Pacheco Bell, a Los Angeles planner espouses the work of Edward Soja, a UCLA professor who passed in 2018. Soja raised the issue of spatial justice when it comes to how we define our spaces. This is a form of advocacy planning. In there, spatial justice has a few tenets:
- Create more equitable and democratic city-regions.
- Embrace the ideal of community engagement and outline ways in which planners can work with marginalized communities.
- Provide technical expertise to resource those communities.
- Cultivate ties to activists mobilizing various interest groups spanning class, gender, colour, etc.
- Collaboratively to bring various stakeholders to move municipalities towards social and spatial justice.
Toronto’s Housing TO Action Plan consultation sessions are examples that provides community members to support an affordable housing initiative to those community members. As a former member of Black Urbanism TO, we were able to obtain funding to support such an initiative within the Eglinton West and Mount Dennis communities .
This presents an opportunity for Black Urbanism TO members to devolve planning resources to communities.
Nevertheless we must analyze and understand where privilege emanates from. Instead of having concentration of resources in the hands of a few, diffuse those sources of power towards the marginalized populations.
As an advocate of transformational leadership in relation to social equity, there must be a “relationship of mutual stimulation and elevation that converts followers into leaders and may convert leaders into moral agents As an advocate of transformational leadership in relation to social equity, there must be a “relationship of mutual stimulation and elevation that converts followers into leaders and may convert leaders into moral agents”. Relationships are then reciprocal, engaging and supportive.
Are professionals meant to be role models for the community then? No, but they should play a significant role in serving as a strong foundation in which community building, education and reflection have the ability to thrive.
There must be a balancing act in the pursuit of social justice. While there must be strong engagement with marginalized communities, there must be a broader framework to hold a common movement, but also provide long-term goals without silencing alternative ideas of justice or devolving community knowledge. There is a general consensus that social justice will not be fully resolved while looking for optimal and efficient solutions without asking questions about the current governance models that exist today. Professionals need to move away from wielding power of knowledge and strategy of condescension to shape and steer organizations.