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“Mapping the Margins” – Planning, intersectionally.

04 January 2017 Author: Katherine Pollard

Intersection Image

Don’t use jargon they say. Well, here’s my attempt at dissecting intersectionality and making it relevant to planners. Despite creative attempts, the problem is that after three intense days exploring the issue at a Young Friends of the Earth Europe ‘intersectionality’ event, we realised that intersectionality is well, exactly that. It is the point where two groups that are marginalised meet. In unequal societies, often the struggle of marginalised groups like those living in poverty or the disabled may be affected by another conditioning factor such as race or gender/identity. Kimberlé Crenshaw first coined the term to describe how different types of discrimination interact.  Well, good news planners- I would argue that by its very nature planning is intersectional. It maps the margins and can help eradicate them, literally.

Diversity already exists- we don’t need to create it.

On the last day I ran a workshop on the importance of “place” when dealing with social and environmental justice. Different countries view the built environment and the role of planning differently, especially when confronting issues such as gender/identity, disability, race, class etc. There was a big interest and “aha” moment when I mentioned planning and place-making. It seems that the European planning playing field is unequal, especially in respect to community engagement or environmental considerations. It seems that challenges are similar across Europe yet there’s still a failure to make planning key to the solution. This is why the RTPI and partners were at Habitat III to put forward the case of the value of planners.

Air Pollution

Exposing yourself to a new environment is important as a planner. The way we communicate our mission- successful, healthy and sustainable place-making, is just as important as seeking windows of opportunity to improve “place”. Positioning planning as an enabler is something the RTPI is keen to advocate and our recent Place, Poverty and Inequality report, emphasises the importance of the place factor when addressing social and environmental inequality.

One delegate at the event commented that “many social layers are laid out in concrete”. Conversations such as this really emphasised how good planning can be the ‘missing link’. Our work on health and planning shows that the most vulnerable suffer the most from the effects of climate change and the impact of a poor living environment (high can have on rates of asthma in children in inner London areas (including Tower Hamlets), for example. That why we stress that it’s not just what you build it’s where you build it, why not build flats where you can walk to work or maybe avoiding building a high polluting factory close to a residential area?  Not only do we have a challenge as planners to plan for social cohesion but we also need to be a profession that is open to new ideas. We need to connect to different struggles by going to where people live, listening and finding out what they are all about. During the FoE event we discussed the need to show advanced understanding of how LGBTQ, elderly and disabled communities work, for example, to ensure we plan inclusively and not to miss important conversations.

Planning – doing it right

Time and resourcing pressures, accounting for conflicting stakeholders and opposing oppressions as well as identifying the role of a planner in a broader perspective can slow things down. On a practical level it seems we are stretched to meet a lot of criteria. However, the RTPI tries to help planners to think about these intersections. Planners can ask the right questions and challenge preconceived ideas. Mapping these stakeholders and groups is also an important step.

  • Planning Aid helps individuals and groups to become involved in the planning process, and I’d argue is good for social justice, allowing everyone to have their say in the planning process equally regardless of ability to pay.
  • Also, from the outset, RTPI members must adhere to a code of professional conduct based around 5 core principles, which includes equality and respect. This is backed up by advice on professional ethics and is assessed as part of our APC process for new members. Members can be struck off if they don’t meet the requirements.
  • We’re also producing advice for our members on dementia – very much a vulnerable group and working within the idea that if you create places for the most vulnerable people they work better for everyone.
  • Our bursary scheme was launched to help students from diverse backgrounds or living with a disability into planning, breaking down barriers to education. These small steps that can change a workplace culture and allow us to positively impact the environment around us. 

The FoE event took place in the neighbourhood of Molenbeek, a formerly industrial part of Brussels that is ethically and socially diverse (the kind that a speaker called a “lasagne” of layers of different social groups) and has had some bad press recently. It was here, that we learnt that “intersectionality” was a large slice of theory to take home and turn into practice. Planners have the knowledge and skills to create inclusive environments and without good planning we won’t emancipate the people and communities that we live in.

Katherine Pollard

Katherine Pollard

Katherine Pollard is Policy and Networks Adviser at the RTPI.