The planning profession is imaginative, having long dreamed of and made decisions about the future at a scale beyond the community.
During the climate crisis, this is its strength. At the same time, community and place-based activists, and planners working with them, point to the profession's history of injustices at the local scale. The climate crisis demands urgency and broad-scale actions, but does making it our priority suggest addressing these past injustices is to be put aside?
Green New Deal Challenges Local Focus
"Planning the Green New Deal: Climate Justice and the Politics of Sites and Scales" in the Journal of the American Planning Association (Vol. 86, No. 2) brings this discomfort to the forefront.
As author Kian Goh explains, the Green New Deal (GND) proposes transformational change at the federal level. Just as climate change does not limit itself to political boundaries, neither should planning interventions.
Yet, this seems to conflict with the current zeitgeist of a field that prioritizes community-based, participatory planning.
At the moment when communities have become the standard scale of intervention, the Green New Deal calls for large-scale projects that may not be — and have not been — conducive to community-based justice.
Nevertheless, justice for marginalized communities remains central to the Green New Deal.
To fulfill the promises of the GND does not mean forsaking communities. Demands for climate action primarily have come from grassroots, community efforts. The Green New Deal acknowledges the futures of marginalized communities as being fundamentally intertwined with that of our climate.
Transforming Spatial and Social Justice
Goh believes that the intentions of GND alone will not demonstrate the alignment of climate and community goals, however. Instead, it will be planners who will be responsible for adapting federal climate initiatives into community-specific climate actions. It will be planners who will be responsible for ensuring the voices of marginalized communities are heard not only when decisions are made about their communities but also as they are made about our political and ecological future.
The author describes how the GND will redefine spatial and social justice for planners, and reinforces the idea that planners should not seek to create justice at any one site.
Albeit important, actions at one site neglect to change the realities that allow similar injustices to occur in others. Instead, it is our responsibility to advocate for and with communities, taking actions towards radical and transformational justice across scales and time.
I can only hope that the planning discipline into which I enter will share these same values.
Top image: Marchers for a Green New Deal in Detroit, July 2019. Wikimedia Commons photo by Becker1999 (CC BY 2.0).
About the Author
Kyle Miller is a joint Master in Urban Planning and Master of Public Health candidate at Harvard University.