Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

Planning as if People Matter: Governing for Social Equity

Planning as if People Matter: Governing for Social Equity

by Marc Brenman, Thomas W. Sanchez

See All Formats & Editions

American communities are changing fast: ethnic minority populations are growing, home ownership is falling, the number of people per household is going up, and salaries are going down. According to Marc Brenman and Thomas W. Sanchez, the planning field is largely unprepared for these fundamental shifts. If planners are going to adequately serve residents of


American communities are changing fast: ethnic minority populations are growing, home ownership is falling, the number of people per household is going up, and salaries are going down. According to Marc Brenman and Thomas W. Sanchez, the planning field is largely unprepared for these fundamental shifts. If planners are going to adequately serve residents of diverse ages, races, and income levels, they need to address basic issues of equity. Planning as if People Matter offers practical solutions to make our communities more livable and more equitable for all residents.


While there are many books on environmental justice, relatively few go beyond theory to give real-world examples of how better planning can level inequities. In contrast, Planning as if People Matter is written expressly for planning practitioners, public administrators, policy-makers, activists, and students who must directly confront these challenges. It provides new insights about familiar topics such as stakeholder participation and civil rights. And it addresses emerging issues, including disaster response, new technologies, and equity metrics. Far from an academic treatment, Planning as if People Matter is rooted in hard data, on-the-ground experience, and current policy analysis.


In this tumultuous period of economic change, there has never been a better time to reform the planning process. Brenman and Sanchez point the way toward a more just social landscape.

Editorial Reviews

Founder and CEO, PolicyLink, and coauthor of Uncommon Common Ground - Angela Glover Blackwell

"An incisive analysis of the most urgent issue facing America: how to build a nation in which all people can participate and prosper. This book is both a call to action and a practical guide for infusing equity principles into planning and governance."
Professor of Urban Affairs & Planning at Hunter College/CUNY - Tom Angotti

"This is a direct and accessible guide for present and future planners and policymakers who are deeply concerned about social equity. It is an ethical compass for those who face the complexities and dilemmas that arise when working within and confronting a system defined by deep racial and class divides."
Director of Research, Poverty & Race Research Action Council - Chester Hartman

"A clarion call to the planning profession to place social justice and equity at the center of our work. Rife with concrete recommendations regarding governance, public participation, technology and the promise represented by the nation's demographic shifts—all within the context of a changing global context."
RAND Corporation, and former Director of the Institute of Transportation Studies - Martin Wachs

"Brenman and Sanchez present equity as both a critical social need and a complex intellectual puzzle when applied to policy. Their book is a clear treatment of equity in emerging policy settings like the internet, land use, gender and age politics and more."

"Brenman and Sanchez tackle the issues of social equity head on and continually remind the reader of the centrality of social issues in planning....The subjects covered in this book are unwieldy, complicated, fuzzy and controversial, but the authors manage to establish the right balance without the discussion becoming too ethereal....I would definitely recommend it for practicing planners, urbanists, within and outside of academia, and to be used in classes on urban planning, urban politics or public administration."

"Social justice is one of those topics that are more honored in theory than in practice. Planning as if People Matter is an attempt to change that....They take up a wide range of topics—demographics, ethics, diversity, public participation, communications technologies—and conclude by suggesting a number of 'interventions' for social justice."
Choice - T.J. Vicino
"The authors nicely frame the book around key questions about how ethics, information, and equity shape everyday human lives. Readers, particularly practitioners, students, and faculty in professional programs, will appreciate the book's engaging tone and style."
Journal of Planning Literature

"a compelling and accessible volume"
Journal of Planning Education and Research

"[...] this book is a challenge to the planning profession and a call for much needed examination of the underlying purpose of urban planning."


"The authors nicely frame the book around key questions about how ethics, information, and equity shape everyday human lives. Readers, particularly practitioners, students, and faculty in professional programs, will appreciate the book's engaging tone and style."

Product Details

Island Press
Publication date:
Metropolitan Planning + Design Series
Edition description:
New Edition
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.50(d)

Read an Excerpt

Planning as if People Matter

Governing for Social Equity

By Marc Brenman, Thomas W. Sanchez


Copyright © 2012 Marc Brenman and Thomas W. Sanchez
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61091-012-5


Governance and Equity: Planning as if People Matter

Very little has been written that spans governance, planning, and social equity. As practitioners and teachers in the fields of social justice and public administration, we want to help fill this gap. Great needs continue to exist. Poverty statistics from the 2010 Census show that real median household income declined between 2009 and 2010, and the poverty rate increased between 2009 and 2010. Over 23% of the population experienced a poverty spell lasting two or more months during 2009, and 7.3% of the population were in poverty every month in 2009 (Short 2011). It has been noted that the United States has now created a larger gap in the distribution of wealth than that in the Great Depression of the late 1920s and 1930s. Today the top 0.001% of the US population owns 976 times more than the entire bottom 90% (Winter 2010). Many people are angry about the increasing disparity, as shown by the Tea Party movement, the "Occupation" of Wall Street, the Arab Spring, and the demonstrations against Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin.

Government regulates infrastructure systems that keep cities economically vibrant, clean, safe, and livable, and it must ensure that systems and services are available to citizens evenly—otherwise social inequality will result. Planners and public administrators fall between elected officials and the people, because they oversee the placement and use of public capital facilities and systems such as streets, sidewalks, and bridges; open space; drinking water and sewage treatment facilities; stormwater systems; and municipal buildings and services such as police and fire. Uneven infrastructure delivery, especially in health and transportation, led to the concept of environmental justice. As defined by the EPA, environmental justice (EJ) is "the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies." A 1978 study by Dr. Robert Bullard of the history and pattern of waste facility siting in Houston on an African-American community's class action lawsuit (Bean v. Southwestern Waste Management Inc.) to block the siting of a sanitary landfill, marked a growing awareness that health and environmental hazards like toxic dumps were disproportionately sited in communities of color and low-income people (Bullard 1999). In fact, in 1983 the Government Accountability Office reported that three of four hazardous waste facilities in the southeastern United States were in African-American communities. In 1987 the United Church of Christ, under the leadership of Dr. Charles Lee, published the groundbreaking study "Toxic Wastes and Race in the United States." The new environmental justice movement joined the rising concern for environmental degradation with civil rights concerns to respond to environmental racism, link grassroots struggles, and make agencies aware of environmental justice concerns. Over five hundred organizations participated when the UCC's Commission for Racial Justice convened the first People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit in 1991, resulting in a set of guiding principles for the EJ movement. By the time President Clinton issued his Executive Order on Environmental Justice in 1994, EJ came to encompass fairness in the distribution of both the benefits and the burdens of public decision making, and provided a new lens for structural inequality.

In the executive order, planners are charged with overseeing the connection of their work to nondiscrimination. Similarly, the National Environmental Policy Act requires a series of analyses before projects can be built with federal funds. These analyses include one on socioeconomic impacts. Socioeconomic status (SES) is the sum of a person's circumstance or context in society, which may be expressed or measured using criteria such as income, educational level attained, occupation, health, and value of dwelling place. A good definition of planning is hard to find. The American Planning Association definition states that planning is "a dynamic profession that works to improve the welfare of people and their communities by creating more convenient, equitable, healthful, efficient, and attractive places for present and future generations" (American Planning Association 2012). It involves design and physical and social arrangements, the built environment, and uses of a given area and set of relationships. It involves consideration of infrastructure, needs, and resources. Planners work toward the deliberate improvement of the spatial organization and design of human settlement and human movement. It does necessitate working for a future that is better than the present, rather than maintaining the present conditions into the future. Planners engage with the human experience, as well as the material reality, of constructed space.

While aiming for social justice is aspirational, it is not possible to do justice in the abstract—real people are affected. Thus planning has the advantage of being a direct linkage to the public. Medea Benjamin, cofounder of Global Exchange and Code Pink, has said that social justice means moving toward a society where all the hungry are fed, all the sick are cared for, the environment is treasured, and we treat one another with love and compassion. These are not easy goals (quoted in Kikuchi no date).

Social equity is an aspect of environmental justice but it goes well beyond environmental issues. It has been defined as "the fair, just, and equitable management of all institutions serving the public directly or by contract, and the fair and equitable distribution of public services, and implementation of public policy, and the commitment to promote fairness, justice, and equity in the formation of public policy" (National Academy of Public Administration no date).

Today social equity not only is a problem of conscious public policy, but can also be seen as a failure of governance processes administered by the leaders of our implementing institutions. Individuals, institutions, and governments make decisions every day, consciously and unconsciously. Lack of action often constitutes a decision. The social relationships among groups of people are an important aspect of the infrastructure of cities. City decline begins with the erosion of social capital, justice, and delivery of basic social and public goods. The Kerner Commission, which was created in response to the race riots of the 1960s, called for, among other things, a national fair housing law, and found that the United States was becoming "two nations—one black, one white—separate and unequal" (US National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders 1968). The National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (the formal name of the Kerner Commission) issued a report in March 1968 that painted a stark picture of American society dividing into two worlds. The commission placed much of the blame for the riots on conditions in African-American ghettos, neighborhoods separated not by law but by practice (US National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders 1968).

There are numerous governance successes, such as the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Such successes fill needs, usually as identified by those who have suffered inequality. Our focus is more on where there are continuing or neglected needs. One way of identifying these needs is to have metrics to determine what equality and fairness look like, and to provide a comparison. We provide a number of metrics in this book. Several are required due to the complexity of the issues, in the same way that numerous tests are needed in the medical community to determine the health of humans. We look at metrics for issues such as income equality, poverty, literacy, access to health care, education, proportion of citizens incarcerated, quality/availability/affordability of housing, and homelessness. Planning for social equity requires such yardsticks and a firm concept of human rights. To have legitimacy, a government must protect and preserve human rights.

Thus one of our major thrusts in this book is for an effective governing process. Effectiveness is the extent to which the objective of a project, plan, or initiative is achieved, or is expected to be achieved, taking into account their relative importance, the magnitude of the challenge, and the resources and time devoted to it.

We recognize that even in a democratic society, the Civil Rights Movement and other movements to increase the rights of constituent and discriminated-against groups have sometimes had to bend or even break restrictive, unethical, and immoral laws. However, in this book one of our basic assumptions is that effective and positive change can be accomplished without breaking laws. Sometimes laws have to be tested and changed, and those who administer them have to be creative. For laws to have force and effect, they must be created with all the people in mind, and enforced by duly constituted official governmental bodies. Otherwise, they are hortatory, or just full of positive feelings. Not all enforcement is of equal value and effectiveness. Sometimes there are laws that do not deserve to be enforced, such as the Jim Crow laws that grossly disadvantaged African-Americans in the southern and border states from the 1880s to the 1960s. The Jim Crow laws, such as segregation in day-to-day activities like education, eating, and riding public transportation, perpetuated the forced inferior status of African-Americans that grew out of slavery.

The planning, legal, and judicial systems should be independent of the government, so that it can serve the interests of its citizens rather than a particular political party. In this way the civil rights of its citizens are protected against a predatory and even a nominally beneficial executive structure (Abdellatif 2003).

We believe in a strong civil society. The concept of civil society commonly embraces a diversity of spaces, actors, and institutional forms, varying in their degree of formality, autonomy, and power. Civil societies are often populated by organizations such as registered charities, nongovernmental organizations, community groups, women's organizations, faith-based organizations, professional associations, trades unions, self-help groups, social movements, business associations, coalitions, and advocacy groups. It includes the arena in any community of voluntary collective action around shared interests, purposes, and values distinct from those of the nation.

We believe in collective as well as individual action. The individual in a civil society has a social responsibility. Social responsibility is the duty of people and organizations to behave ethically and with sensitivity toward others and toward social, cultural, economic, and environmental issues. There is much debate about where social responsibility comes from—a social contract, a Darwinian concept of group survival, even theories of an altruistic gene. Social responsibility becomes embodied in planning institutions and planners, on the theory that it is better to plan than to let events happen randomly, anarchically, or with malice.

If governance is representative of the people constituting a society, then it will reflect a range of cultural values. Cultures can come into conflict, and have implications for governance processes. Conflicts, disparities, and suffering in society become events for which being an active, caring person is a primary mode of participating in public life, and in which issues are simultaneously both local and national. If a person has chosen to be a member of the planning profession or a governance structure, she or he has already chosen to be involved. Successful planning emphasizes the importance of effective involvement.

The planning profession has long had ethical codes, as have other professions. In addition to the examples we give, more resources can be found at http://www.planning.org/ethics. These ethical codes have not necessarily prevented harm, due to disregard for the condition, needs, and perspectives of traditionally discriminated-against people. We therefore offer concrete recommendations in the ethics chapter for what new ethical codes might look like that take into consideration social equity principles. One of our recommendations is to move ethical rules from aspirational to adopted and followed.

The planner needs to understand the dynamics of the larger society. But lest this sound overwhelming, that larger society is composed of smaller, manageable parts. The smallest unit is the individual, and we encourage those who participate in planning and governance to undertake self-education and commitment to this new ethical approach to social justice. The legal approach to social justice mandates nondiscrimination by all parties. The benefits approach to social justice provides subsistence and incentives to those in need. The ethical approach underpins action by providing a built-in evaluative mechanism, a conscience for infrastructure before it is built and when it is modified or repaired.

In a time when politics is polarized, the individual cannot wait to act until political guidance is received. Martin Wachs (1985, p. 55), one of the deans of transportation planning, quotes Norton Long: "The question is not whether planning will reflect politics, but whose politics will it reflect? Plans are in reality political programs.... In the broad sense they represent political philosophies, ways of implementing different conceptions of the good life."

In this book, we expand on themes of our first book, The Right to Transportation. We are going beyond a particular aspect of planning related to physical infrastructure to the notion of social infrastructure—which like public capital facilities and systems requires design, construction, maintenance, and evaluation. And like physical infrastructure, social infrastructure experiences shocks and disruptions that test its strength, durability, and resiliency. Also like physical infrastructure, social infrastructure helps to keep cities and other public areas economically vibrant, clean, safe, and livable. Social infrastructure is uniquely the responsibility of government. As discussed above, government's role in infrastructure is to build and maintain social interconnections and services that no individual or small group could do alone. Government represents the people and must ascertain its will. In a democracy it does not follow all whims of small groups, but must balance benefits and burdens. It is not entirely utilitarian, because minority rights are preserved through due process, basic fairness, and nondiscrimination concepts. These do not happen by themselves, but take real people to implement. These people are often planners and public administrators.

We are concerned about the quality of life of all people in the United States. However, we recognize the limitations of what government can do, what the people will tolerate—even for their own benefit—how much inertia there is in social situations, and how obstacles like racism can prevent doing what's right. While we generally trust in collective wisdom, we know that crowds have not always made wise choices. Education is a constant requirement. It is possible to succeed, at least at the margins, at least in some places and at some times. As President Calvin Coolidge said, "We cannot do everything at once, but we can do something at once." Martha Nussbaum and Amartya Sen (1993) point out, "The search for a universally applicable account of the quality of human life has, on its side, the promise of greater power to stand up for the lives of those whom tradition [read economic and political forces] has oppressed or marginalized. But it faces the epistemological difficulty of grounding such an account in an adequate way, saying where the norms come from and how they can be known to be the best."

We have a commitment to social improvement, and hope that we show a realistic ability to separate the possible from the utopian. To accomplish the task we have set for ourselves, we are providing elements of the previously missing framework and methodology. We believe that inequality is unsustainable, and that equity has an important role in sustainable development. Our inability to promote the common interest in sustainable development is often a product of the relative neglect of economic and social justice within and among nations (van Wyk 2009).


Excerpted from Planning as if People Matter by Marc Brenman, Thomas W. Sanchez. Copyright © 2012 Marc Brenman and Thomas W. Sanchez. Excerpted by permission of ISLAND PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Marc Brenman is Principal, Social Justice Consultancy. Thomas W. Sanchez is Chair and Professor of the Urban Affairs and Planning Program at Virginia Tech and Nonresident Senior Fellow at The Brookings Institution. Together they authored The Right to Transportation: Moving to Equity (2007).

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews