Urban Planning’s Trayvon Martin Conundrum
The NY Times released a great story this past weekend about Trayvon Martin.
Trayvon was a black, 17 year old, boy living in Orlando and was gunned down by George Zimmerman, 28 year old neighborhood watch captain. The neighborhood watch captain is questionably hispanic, and shot down Trayvon as he was walking home from a 7-11 with skittles and a can of ice tea. The neighborhood watch captain was told not to engage the boy by the police, but still killed Trayvon in what he called self defense. Self defense from what, most aren’t sure… but I assume his defense must be that, “skittles are a dangerous weapon.”
Now obviously there is going to be lots of discussion regarding the “racial sensitivity,” “black burden,” the laws “color-blindness”, and a plethora of other terms that are always used in situations like this.
Racism is a big issue. And most people would never consider themselves a racist, but our living patterns say otherwise. Actually, a long time ago governments/urban planners would participate in redlining, a process that encouraged banks not to invest in certain locations due to the minorities that inhabited the area.
Although, redlining was later outlawed, it was never really eliminated.
This map from Bill Ranklin displays the ethnic and racial makeups found in the City of Chicago. As one can see, races still are segregated, which drastically impacts the culture of these areas.
The second noticeable thing is looking at how little the racial boundaries change over time The racial makeup of most neighborhoods remained the same over 10 years.
Finally, look at the income of each neighborhood. Notice any trends after comparing this map to the one that displays the racial boundaries?
Now these maps, sure look like zoning maps, but are nothing of that nature. If anything it proves that communities no longer need redlining to ensure inequality. And this is the fault of urban planners and our elected officials.
We all sit and read stories like Trayvon’s found in the NY Times and feel bad about the situation, yet we do nothing. Rather than using the tools at our disposal to address these social ills and socially toxic development patterns, we instead sit by and do nothing.
Instead we focus our efforts on trying to turn former ethnic areas into enclaves for hipsters and hide it under the veil of equitable gentrification.
Urban Planners know how to transition neighborhoods and let them grow into the future. Using these same maps we can see how the demographics for the Wicker Park region has changed. It was originally a predominantly hispanic area, but that slowly changed over the past 10 years, as see more whites move into the area. Wicker Park, today has evolved into a neighborhood that is stereotyped as hipster community with few hispanics. The maps show some truth to this, then after observing the income levels, one can realize that there is much truth to the Wicker Park stereotype.
Rather than having a real discussion about some of the externalities of an urban growth boundary or the improper use of CDBG funds, our industry decides to turn a blind eye to these tools because they create density, improve livability, and embody new urbanism principles. Because of that we as an industry decide to ignore these tools shortcomings and also ignore how these tools might increase these socially toxic racial growth patterns. But its much easier to push these race issue under the rug of environmental justice, so most of the time thats what happens, which lets us ignore them for 90% of the time and are only forced address these issues (typically with minimal regard) when dealing with NEPA and CEQA.
We as an industry have the ability to do better, and we should…so that similar tragedies can be prevented. We should no longer have to read about crimes and silly statements like the law is “color-blind,” or see an investigation characterized as “racially sensitive.” Ideally, if we do it right…we won’t even see these issues in the paper anymore.