Friday, December 7, 2007

"The Wire" and The Post Industrial CIty

Critically acclaimed HBO TV series "The Wire" chronicles the gritty street environment of the underclass in the post industrial era of Baltimore. While this show has done an excellent job in detailing all the complexities of the drug trade and how it intertwines with local neighborhoods, law enforcement and elected government, "The Wire" has also provided a great social commentary on how a city can decay.

David Simon, the show creator explains "The Wire" as:
"...really about the American city, and about how we live together. It's about how institutions have an effect on individuals, and how... whether you're a cop, a longshoreman, a drug dealer, a politician, a judge [or] lawyer, you are ultimately compromised and must contend with whatever institution you've committed to."

This quote really sums up the over-arching premise of the show. The institutions of the city, be it private industry, government, or illegal street trade puts individuals in situations where they may have to compromise their morality or principals for the overall good for their specific institution, no matter how much reverberating damage their actions may cause.

For any city planner working in a major metropalitan region, we understand that the nuts and bolts of modern city planning will not be a cure in hleping the plight of a city's underclass. While there are structural causes that help enable the continuation of the cycle of poverty in cities, there are also widespread societal problems that City Planning as a profession could never solve by itself.

So the question being posed is, What can City Planners do to help address societal concerns in their profession?

It would be great to hear from all city planners on this. And if youre not a city planner then leave a comment on what you think city planners should do.


Anonymous said...

I'm not a city planner, but I work with developers and investors on affordable housing projects. I think poorly designed affordable housing projects and the lack of housing are key contributors to crime and violence in most cities. I'd like to see city planners focus more on housing, and work with community activists, local business people, etc. to plan more mixed-use, mixed-income, sustainable housing for city residents.

Zig B Free said...

I agree, a lof of times Government will work with the community, business owners and sustainable development...when money is involved. It seems like no one want to flip the bill to help struggling communities.

On the flip side though, if the community isnt organized and vocal, government will not respond to their needs at all.

Carls said...

It's weird. I thought off this question before. It seem so limited to what a city planning can actually do to invoke the positive influence. Though that might just be how limited my knowledge of my position entails.

Anonymous said...

I agree w/ Beth c...planners need to help address the root cause of inner city social ills. That is, the physiological feelings of helplessness and despair. Alleviating these feelings can be accomplished (in part) by empowering residents with sustainable, affordable housing. This is one of the biggest contributions that planners can provide.

The key is for planners to convince the legislature to do several things. Namely; lobby the state legislature to pass land reclamation laws that create viable, non-profit land banking initiatives. Once that is done, localities should take advantage of revised laws to formulate their own, locally specific land banking authority. Next, these localities should approach firms, which handle mixed income and affordable housing projects, but more importantly, have experience working with local land banks. This is of course assuming the local economic development planners, or community-housing authorities cannot do these functions independently. Not to downplay their roles, but these functions can often better serve the community if they are rolled into a single, umbrella entity (e.g. land banking authority).

These steps would enable the assemblage of land to re-create sustainable urban communities. But, it will not be successful unless the residents are willing to take responsibility and ownership. It's a team effort on all sides. Institutions, community organizations, and faith-based resources much continue to raise the bar for residents.
If the communities truly want change, that sustainability of that change must occur from within the individuals who make up that community. This is where community based, advocacy planning has the biggest contribution to make.

In short, planners can do a lot to help neighborhoods. But, it all starts with the government being proactive and innovating with their land use laws. Governments must be willing to take the risks in an effort to create real change. You can’t take the politics out of planning, but you can be a champion for specific political action that benefits everyone.

Toure Zeigler said...

I would love to see more advocacy planning tied in with local government. Unfortunately it seems like we only see advocacy planning when there is major decay or neglect.

I think the most important way for people to improve thier neighborhoods is to be educated about the process of government. I know from working as a planner that I run into citizens that feel helpless against government because they do not know the process of how to affect change. Once residents can be educated on how governments function, they can begin to excert some control over the future of their neighborhoods.

Without community support, local government may not act to help save a neighborhood until it has hit rock bottom. If decaying neighborhoods knew how governments function they could at least jelp change or slown down the prcoess of neighborhhod decay.