by Tom Angotti
I agree with Chester Hartman that Planners Network’s development in recent years has been healthy. PN is increasingly recognized as a progressive voice in planning. The newsletter has evolved into a magazine with lots of contributions that challenge the staid and push the boundaries of professional practice. We have an active editorial board and student assistants. (Happily, Ann Forsyth has stepped in as Co-Editor while I’m out of the country until August, 2002). The PN conferences are always exciting because they engage communities and go beyond a talking heads format. PN’s new web site is up and running. We are starting to have a consistent presence at professional conferences. The New York City and Toronto chapters are busily working with other progressive organizations and planning schools on local initiatives. PN has developed ties to like-minded Brazilian and Argentine planners, and Rachel Bland is working on a chapter in Europe.
While the center of PN moved to Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, the secret to our success has been the leadership coming from an increasingly active Steering Committee. This wasn’t always the case, and it has taken some time to establish the principle that our governing body is more than honorific. Our growth is also attributable to generous support from many conference funders, in particular the Fannie Mae Foundation.
But PN has reached a crossroads. It’s not sustainable as currently constituted. Our greatest asset is the incredible volunteer labor that keeps us going, but that is also our deficit. To make any more progress, we need to have paid staff.
I think PN’s political voice is still weak. We need to be more consistent when we engage and confront the professional organizations. We need to strengthen ties with other progressive organizations on national and local levels. It is too easy for professionally-based groups to go out on their own and lose ties with the movements that are together able to make inroads in the achievement of “fundamental social change,” which our statement of principles declares to be our objective.
It is important to preserve the networking in PN. Our members tell us they benefit from this aspect of the organization. But it is now time to move beyond the network. Our ultimate purpose isn’t self-enrichment but to bring about social change. Our networking with other planners and activists should be imbued with a higher purpose — protesting injustice, supporting progressive legislation, and promoting cutting edge practices that build the basis for fundamental change. At a time when war cries are used as a rationale to advance every right-wing agenda item, when racial profiling is once again legitimate, it’s time to redefine and renew our progressive purpose.
Final note: Our publication is still evolving. We’d like to hear your reactions to the new format and content. What do you like and what’s missing? Suggestions for improvements? We welcome small notes and lengthy articles.
Tom Angotti is Professor of Urban Affairs & Planning at Hunter College and Co-Editor of Planners Network.