The BIPOC Planning Collective, a recent affiliate of the Planners Network, is a peer-support group committed to supporting planners of color and planning processes that affirm historically exploited communities in the United States. We banded together in 2020 while witnessing how our communities struggled through pre-existing planning outcomes exacerbated by the pandemic, in a context of heightened racial reckoning that occurred following the George Floyd murder.
Though still a nascent formation, we dedicate ourselves to the support of planners of color as a first principle because we have seen how often and consistently our representation in mainstream institutions can lead to erasure or to our contributions being temporarily exploited if profitable. We have seen that this undermining can have detrimental emotional and psychological impacts on scholars and practitioners, so beyond simply a representational ethos, we work to provide peer support for BIPOC planners who seek to transform planning into a set of actions committed to decolonial, redistributive, and collective repair. We believe this kind of support is important groundwork for building a future that confronts the long history of harm wrought by federal, state, and local planning across the United States.
We recognize that we write from the northeast of the United States, specifically the ancestral lands of the Lenape peoples. Land acknowledgement has been a sign of awakening to a fuller account of the true history of colonization, albeit with important caveats and concerns about exploitative platitudes. We know that the wealth and power of the richest city on Earth was built on land theft, indigenous genocide, the know-how of diverse Native Peoples, stolen African labor, and associated profits from the Transatlantic slave trade. In order to make acknowledgements more meaningful, we work to center Indigenous and minority visions for transformative planning. We do this because we believe that supporting BIPOC planning practice amounts to a counter-history that all planners can rely on as an alternative to the usual epistemic violence of ideas about the “dawn of modernity” or the industrial revolution, only two of the many contexts that we have found to be hegemonic, dishonest, and ontologically harmful in mainstream planning pedagogy.
As a result, our intention is to contribute in some small way to transforming and redirecting these harmful planning perspectives. We have formed ourselves into a peer education and professional support collective in order to partially address the void that professional planning education and practice spaces often create. The co-conveners of the collective identify as people from the African diaspora, Asian American, and the Tuscarora (originating from what is now called North Carolina). Participants from communities of color, including Indigenous nations, have been represented in some of our discussions (including Diné), and all are welcome who find themselves committed to an agenda that seeks to disrupt oppressive systems toward freedom, solidarity, and greater self-determination for communities of color. We build our witnessing capacities by rotating across member-participants from historically marginalized communities, making space for participants to present their planning work with grounded, mutual education on the structural and spiritual relationship between their cultural/ethno-racial identities and their planning labors, however these are defined. We believe this peer education model allows member-participants to write their full selves into the story of their planning labors—often in a way that is much less possible or acceptable in so-called professional settings. Whether through rotating online peer presentations or through our recent Infrastructure & Equity Workshop conference hosted at The New School, we seek to improvise and deepen our practice of intentional support and transformation-minded education. As Chinua Achebe reminds us, “...until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”
We believe that pursuing just Indigenous futures is a process that can only begin as we awaken mutual awareness of the ongoing presence, vitality, and injustice against the original peoples of these lands, together with the ways in which these have become intimately enmeshed with the histories of those from the African and immigrant diasporas. Thus, bearing witness to our intertwined histories in mutual study and support forms the foundation of our work together. We know there is no clear roadmap for the kind of reparations that would account for the enslavement of African peoples or for repair of the violence and trauma that was and continues to be enacted against the original peoples of these territories. We believe if any roadmap is possible, it will come about through mutual study and collaboration, where visions for just Indigenous futures are conjured together with visions for justice for descendants of the enslaved and exploited. As a result, the BIPOC Collective exists to develop ideas across communities and practitioners, with the goal of contributing to the broader arc of solidarity and justice. We write to express our commitment to just Indigenous futures, and we believe that centering the survivors of planning provides the most realistic roadmap for reclamation and repair and, ultimately, a total transformation of how we envision life together.
Byron A. Nicholas, Sean I. Robin (Tuscarora), and Mia Charlene White