By Patricia Nolan
“While we think and plan, we shouldn’t let thinking and planning get in the way of or substitute for doing.”
When I decided to be a planner, a colleague and mentor of mine shared this thought with me after I expressed dismay at the way planners allow a lack of political will to halt plans and projects specifically aimed at “eliminating the great inequalities of wealth and power,” as the PN mission statement says. Planners usually forget that planning doesn’t stop with a plan, a map or a memo. Planners can develop a process and support organizations that act as countervailing forces against entrenched political and bureaucratic interests to insure that those historically denied a voice are heard and taken seriously. Planners Network is a group of planners that has come together to discuss, publish and meet about issues of equity and change in our political and economic systems. The fact that our membership is committed to this goal is heartening. However, sharing the same ideas and beliefs and just talking about them is not enough. In our mission statement, we say, “We advocate public responsibility for meeting these needs….” Exactly how have we been advocates, and how should we be advocates in the future? And for whom?
If Planners Network is going to be a sustaining organization working for social change, we are going to have to start collectively “doing.” Individually, we may affect change and public responsibility in our respective communities. In what sort of ways can we bring those talents and energies together to affect a larger change in the United States and, possibly, globally?
I propose several ways we can encourage more “doing” as an organization. First of all, I think someone from each region needs to commit to organizing local PN chapters. I volunteer to organize the Chicago-region members. Ken Reardon has led a Champaign-Urbana chapter for the past several years. Tom Angotti and others have supported the New York chapter. If we are serious about taking action on issues that extend beyond our own cities and towns, then we will have to organize local chapters which can be mobilized for action. Local chapters can recruit members to PN, host workshops and public forums, lobby for legislation, offer pro bono services to non-profit and community organizations, write articles for the newsletter, mentor new planners, raise funds, and promote citizen participation and community education in local planning efforts.
At least once a year, PN should mobilize the local chapters to take action on an issue of national or international importance. We have done some work at national planning conferences like the APA and ACSP by organizing panels and receptions, and these events have attracted new members, reunited old members and friends and introduced new ways of thinking about planning. Yet, we have not done enough to rouse our members to act collectively on issues that reach beyond our backyards. Has PN ever participated in a protest or demonstration? Have we ever issued a formal policy statement to the public (beyond our newsletter) on timely issues of national importance as they relate to planning? [Editors note: On several occasions in PN’s history, the organization has advocated beyond the newsletter, but these occasions have been rare.] Can PN directly serve the public in any way, especially communities with limited resources?
If PN wants to increase its level of public involvement and community organizing, we will need strong leadership from the steering committee. Without a paid staff for the organization, the steering committee is responsible not only for developing PN’s agenda and vision but also for carrying them out. If we stick with this model, then it may be wise to elect only steering committee members who are also local chapter organizers if we are serious about moving towards action and a broader membership.
In the short term, PN should establish an award or recognition for those efforts that promote equity planning. In some way we should celebrate the efforts of our members since they are often dismissed by the mainstream. In this way, those people and organizations committed to equity planning can be recognized for their outstanding work in much the same way that the traditional planning organizations honor traditional planning practices. Although the PN newsletter is a great resource for groups and individuals to get the word out on the work they do, I think PN needs to draw more attention to exemplary progressive planning ideas and practices through an annual recognition celebration or award. Look again at the words of my mentor. After reading this issue of PN will we let something get in the way of our collective “doing”? Or will we take all of the ideas and turn them into something that in a year from now we can say made a difference and not only “promoted,” but also produced “fundamental change in our political and economic systems”?
Patricia Nolan is a co-chair of the PN Steering Committee.