Uncovering JAPA

Using Reparative Planning to Address Infrastructural Systems

How might planners incorporate reparative justice practices to address the harms generated by white supremacy in our cities? Recent literature highlights how repair and healing relate to planning theory, yet few empirical case studies examine how reparative planning translates into practice. In "From Infrastructural Repair to Reparative Planning," Journal of the American Planning Association (Vol. 89, No. 4), Lily Song and Elifmina Mizrahi urge planners to advance reparative justice goals across the issue areas, sectors, and organizations where we work in solidarity with the reparations movement and other anti–racist struggles.

Reparative Planning: Addressing Harm, Promoting Justice

The authors conceptualize reparative planning as a continuum encompassing reparations measures occurring within institutionalized venues and social practices centering on those who have been harmed, in seeking:

  • Restitution
  • Compensation
  • Rehabilitation
  • Satisfaction
  • Cessation/assurance of non-repetition.

Reparative planning extends the tradition of advocacy planning in which planners take an activist role in promoting social justice goals by representing marginalized voices in planning processes and with alternative plans. Sharing roots with equity planning, reparative planning focuses less on expanding choices and opportunities within prevailing economic, political, and social systems and more on stopping the systems, institutions, and practices causing harm, changing them to ensure they are not repeated, and making amends for committed harms.

The authors examine the case of infrastructural repair by the Alliance for Community Transit in Los Angeles (ACT-LA) to address racialized disinvestment and brutality in the regional transit system. ACT-LA's Reimagining Safety campaign is a divest-invest initiative that aims to shift funding from LA Metro's multi-agency law enforcement contract to fund critical investments in job creation, inclusive safety services, and rider-friendly active spaces that promote holistic safety for residents.

Following the lead of Black Lives Matter and People's Budget LA, ACT-LA decisively initiated the community-based infrastructural mobilization to push policy changes at LA Metro beginning in the summer of 2020. Applying a community-based and public health safety lens, the authors designed a conceptual framework for reparative planning (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Community safety through environmental design. Source ACT-LA (2021).

Figure 1: Community safety through environmental design. Source Song and Mizrahi (2023).

Reparative Planning Strategies Inform Community Activism

Song and Mizrahi used a multi-method research design combining direct participation and nonparticipant observation with document-based research using primary and secondary sources such as the reparations measures in California and Los Angeles. They also conducted interviews with ACT-LA staff and a member organization to understand enabling conditions, opportunities, and challenges of the Reimagining Safety campaign along with personal trajectories, experiences, and perspectives related to the creative work of advancing repair, healing, and justice through spatial practice.

The authors' findings help expand points of entry and paths for reparative planning, inform strategies by planners embracing the reparative turn, and strengthen connections between community-based mobilizations and reparative planning. ACT-LA's practices of centering most-affected communities, cross-racial coalition building, and shared activism can inform planners who seek to advance reparative justice goals. Based on this work, LA's Metro Board of Directors approved $40 million for seeding alternative public safety strategies as well as securing seats on Metro's Public Safety Advisory Committee.

Despite this success, Metro has yet to shift public investments out of the policing contracts. For planners in training like me, a deeper dive into complementary anti-racist actions and strategies inside and outside institutional boundaries would help identify strategies to dismantle institutions of white supremacy. As the authors note, no divest-invest campaign alone can guarantee limiting the racial harms of policing.

Top image: iStock/Getty Images Plus - Laser1987

About the author
Jess Shakesprere is a master in urban planning candidate at Harvard University.

August 10, 2023

By Jessica Shakesprere