Promote International Networking and Local Action

by Barbara Loevinger Rahder

The value of Planners Network for me is the opportunity it provides for networking with progressive planners, academics, and activists in other places, and the support and ideas that these contacts offer my work locally. In thinking about where PN might develop in the future, I’d like to see these strengths built on through more international networking and local organizing, including more organizing within planning schools.

Encouraging more international links is important for a couple of reasons. Networking with progressives in other countries can provide PN with a broader perspective on planning issues and strategies to address these issues. Learning about the experiences of progressive planners in other contexts can stimulate new thinking about what might be possible in your own country or local area. Hearing about organizing efforts and local actions, as well as policy initiatives, undertaken in different settings › sometimes within very different political systems › helps us imagine other possible futures. This is not to say that networking and discussion of national urban policy within the U.S. aren’t needed, but there is also much to be gained by opening up the sometimes introspective focus of PN to consider these issues within a broader, more international or global framework.

It seems reasonable to concentrate this international networking, at least initially, with neighbors › Canada, the U.S. and Mexico. One might even argue that NAFTA (The North American Free Trade Agreement) makes this a necessity. We need to discover the progressive opportunities for planning within this new trade environment before these possibilities are wiped out by the corporate agenda.

Canadian membership in PN has been growing over the past few years. The series of recent PN articles and editorials has encouraged us to think about organizing a local Toronto chapter. I’d like to see PN explore similar links in Mexico and other countries, and support local organizing efforts as part of this strategy.

Support for local organizing is important for the future of PN. While networking with progressives in other contexts is an important source of support and new ideas, most of us work within a local or regional context. Organizing locally is an important means of promoting a progressive local agenda, or at least resisting the onslaught of neo-liberal thinking. It is not enough to have a network of spatially isolated progressives › either within the U.S. or across North America › though this is better than nothing. It is better to have a network of local chapters in which we can exchange ideas and experiences, and provide support and encouragement for planning practices that emphasize social and environmental justice.

I support Cathy Klump’s call (in the previous issue of PN) for PN to become a more vocal advocate for progressive planning education. In my experience, planning students are among those most interested in organizing and getting involved in Planners Network locally. They are eager, energetic, and interested in developing the knowledge and skills that will allow them to promote a more sustainable and socially equitable environment. PN could play an important role in advocating on their behalf and ensuring that planning education keeps pace with their changing needs.

Barbara Rahder is a PN Steering Committee member and Associate Professor in the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University in Toronto.