‘Make cities and human settlements safe, inclusive, resilient and sustainable’. SDG 11 set a clear path forward for planners. Making planning an inclusive process is a central theme of the New Urban Agenda. The RTPI has called for an ‘inclusive recovery’ from the Covid pandemic, saying that this requires ‘Creating healthy and equitable places by targeting support to the most vulnerable in society; addressing regional inequalities; and improving capacities and processes for democratic community participation in decisions about the future. I support these sentiments. However, planners and placemakers need to confront exclusion if they are to deliver inclusion. This means understanding the forms exclusion takes and the processes that reproduce it, including the ways in which planning has been used to further disadvantage poor and marginalised people.
In January 2021 I explored these issues in a keynote address to the ISOCARP Annual Congress, which was held as a virtual event. This blog introduces my arguments. If you want more, please view the presentation.
A range of factors can exclude people from the rights and services that are the norm in a society. While these factors can often be mutually reinforcing, it is useful to differentiate them.
Social exclusion is based on being in a particular social group which is stigmatised and/or discriminated against. For example, gipsy travellers are often perceived in hostile ways, and there has been a long history of under-provision of sites through the planning system. Similarly, the voices of children and young people are often marginalised, while design for an aging population and barrier-free access still needs more attention.
More generally, planning systems have often found it hard to recognise, and deal appropriately with, the different development needs and aspirations of minority groups. In part this reflects the central role that the idea of the public interest has played in planning. The public interest is too easily equated with the majority interest, or worse still, with assumptions about what is normal and reasonable from the perspective of a particular class, gender, ethnicity or sexuality.
Groups who are socially excluded are also vulnerable to economic exclusion. This comes when people are priced out of goods and services and/or blocked in labour markets. People may be directly discriminated when it comes to getting a job, but the changing nature of labour markets is also a factor. Lack of the required education and skills, for example, can mean that even in cities that are economically strong there are people involuntarily unemployed. Also the growth of the gig economy, with low paid and insecure jobs and few opportunities for promotion traps people in chronic vulnerability.
Too often urban regeneration imposes economic exclusion. As an area is improved physically, so housing markets respond by increasing prices and rents, which can result in displacement of poorer residents. Conversions and demolitions of commercial properties to other uses can also result in loss of job opportunities. Temporary uses such as pop-up bars fuel the gig economy, while offering competition to outlets providing more stable jobs.
There is often a spatial dimension to social and economic exclusion. Housing markets clearly have spatial characteristics: where you live depends on what you can afford. Similarly, where you live is likely to influence how and where you can access employment, shops, open space, schools or health services, for example. People on low and irregular incomes are likely to live in neighbourhoods that are isolated from opportunities, so spatial exclusion compounds economic and social exclusion.
The negotiation of affordable housing provision as part of a planning permission, along with developer contributions to amenities and public services impacts on spatial exclusion. This applies even when the affordable housing element is located on the same site as the market housing but with separate entrances or fobs, and exclusive access to open space. Such circumstances reproduce exclusion on a daily basis.
While many of the forces creating and enforcing exclusion are delivered through the ‘hidden hand’ of market processes, public and private institutions also exclude in multiple ways, some direct and some indirect. Private sports facilities or gardens are examples of direct exclusion. Provision of, or under austerity urbanism closure of, public facilities such as youth clubs, pensioners’ clubs, museums, public transport links etc. will influence spatial exclusion.
There are fundamental questions here for planners and placemakers. Planning systems can be a powerful exclusionary force. For example, zoning standards that restrict housing development to large, low density, family household units can effectively exclude the less well off or single person households. Examples are well documented.
Many of the forms of ‘participation’ associated with planning are also exclusionary, as are the legal procedures embedded in the system. The appeals system is an example of unequal access, where big money can hire QCs and run multiple appeals in a way that objectors are unlikely to match. You need a certain understanding of the system to make a valid objection, or to influence a development plan. Digital forms of consultation are becoming increasingly common, and often allow for leading questions and slanted information that can shape replies, e.g. quoting without challenge developer claims for job creation, economic benefit etc., while not providing environmental impact information.
Political exclusion can take more subtle forms than voter suppression or even the absence or under-representation of particular groups in parliaments or local councils. It concerns also the commitment to human rights and to the legitimacy of the expression of cultural values. It is about citizenship and the ability of individuals and groups to exercise rights.
In Leading Change my co-authors and I argued for human rights based approach to planning, giving people a set of claims on the state which have to be respected and fulfilled. These include the right to adequate housing and the right to the city.
It is worth noting that the Secretary of State in England at the moment is seeking to use the planning system to protect from demolition or removal statues and monuments of people involved in slavery. Meanwhile the experiences of those who suffered slavery are all but excluded from our townscape and monuments. There are other ‘hidden histories’ – how many statues are there of women other than Queen Victoria, how many buildings named after working class heroes?
The global pandemic is widely recognised as an epochal event. It has exposed and deepened inequalities that had already been exacerbated by austerity urbanism. All expressions of a commitment to more inclusive routes to recovery are to be welcomed. However, if they are to have substance there must be an understanding of the depth of exclusion and its multi-faceted and interconnected nature. Good intentions amongst planners and placemakers will fail unless they confront the ways in which existing practices reproduce exclusion.