In my preparation to enter the Urban Planning program this fall, I have been reading books about planning, past practices, and related subjects. I am struck beyond all else by two phenomena: first, the role of democracy and money-powered groups in determining the direction of a city, and second, that few people participate in planning, and that number is dropping because we are working toward an ideal of ultimate individual control that, rather then making us more diverse, will make our societies extremely homogeneous.
It is always the poor (or those perceived as poor) that cannot get credit to improve their houses, always the weak (often minorities) whose houses are bulldozed for an expressway that serves the wealthy on the outskirts of the city. The history of planning and especially now democratic planning is one where the participants are primarily in the majority ethnic group (white, usually), well off, and prejudiced against the poor. The highways go through poor neighborhoods, transportation projects are chosen based on what helps the wealthy, and people who often have no role in a service (such as with the people who think taking my Park & Ride away is a good idea because they "like the idea" of a park). Our so-called democratic process of referendums and ballot initiatives (I wish these would be ruled unconstitutional) is so undemocratic and dominated by the wealthier elites (there is that word again) that it must be abolished in favor of outreach methods of decision making that bring all people to the table. It is vital if we are not to repeat the mistakes of the past 50 some-odd years.
I have already talked about most of these things, but I am increasingly bothered (but sometimes heartened) since I usually win the arguments I have on buses or in church, etc. My enemy in this is the increased ability for people to customize their social environments. I am unable to reach many people simply because they have ear buds in (just like in Fahrenheit 451) but cannot lip-read (unlike in that book). People who are checked out of society and into their self-designed, specially controlled clique do not care. They are our ultimate challenge since they are the ones who by not caring will doom any hope we have of increasing justice, improving domestic tranquility, and securing for ourselves and our posterity the blessings of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.