Urban Planning Students Call on Industry Leaders to Support Campus Gaza Protests

As universities shut down student-led protests over Gaza, urban planning students have penned an open letter to the Planning Accreditation Board, the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning and the American Planning Association.

An encampment at the University of Oregon demands divestment from companies supporting Israel.

An encampment at the University of Oregon demands divestment from companies supporting Israel. (Photo by Ian Mohr / CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED)

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More than 100 urban planning students, alumni and professors have signed onto an open letter to the Planning Accreditation Board, the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning and the American Planning Association, calling on the leading professional organizations and institutions in the field to recognize the connection between their practice to the loss of life and built environment as well as the state response against protesting students and academics.

In recent weeks, students enrolled at universities across the United States have staged areas of protest located at the centers of their institutions. In some instances, their professors have joined to form a circle of protection as law enforcement has moved swiftly to perform violent arrests, repressing the speech of both students and faculty alike. Campuses represented are a mix of public and private institutions, both with an equal and direct line to state power that can immediately and physically quell any dissent from the academic community. The Planning Accreditation Board, the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning, and the American Planning Association has an obligation to speak out against violent arrests and continued threats by our accredited institutions.

The field of urban planning has a complicated legacy. Urban planners, historically and still today, have reinforced exclusionary zoning, enabled uses that have defined frontline communities, and supported unsustainable developments that gutted the urban core of so many cities. However, because our profession has a unique relationship to understanding the built environment as a social and political construct, planners are provided a lens through which they can imagine new ways of being. They should be empowered to intervene when the safety of our communities is at stake.

In The Urban Revolution, Henri Lefebvre, urban sociologist and French philosopher famously known for ‘Right to the City’ said, “Whenever threatened, the first thing power restricts is the ability to linger or assemble in the streets” (1970). We’re planners, our business is in the streets. If we are truly to plan through a lens of equity and justice, we have an obligation to intervene in moments that undermine our ability to maximize healthy, safe, and thriving communities. It is not enough to piecemeal equity into our plans and denounce the days of redlining if we are to, in the same breath, remain silent as our accredited institutions violently punish our current and future colleagues.

Planning is inherently political, and as such, requires the public forum. Images of students occupying their university’s public spaces as armed men hovered above them with long-range guns is heartbreaking. In 200 days, nearly 85 percent of Gaza’s population has been displaced, and over 14,000 children have been killed. There is not a single university left standing in Gaza. Our institutions are intellectually and financially intertwined with the Genocide against the Palestinian people, and for decades, students on campuses in the United States and globally, have been demanding for their universities to Divest from war. This demand should not be controversial. If we are to continue to practice planning that is rooted in democratic participation and equity, we must be clear in denouncing the behaviors of each university that have brought physical violence to members of its academic community and call into question the planning accreditation if their response continues to escalate.

Universities of concern

  • Columbia University
  • Cornell University
  • Hunter College, City University of New York
  • New York University
  • The Ohio State University
  • The University of Texas at Austin
  • Arizona State University
  • Wayne State University
  • University of Southern California
  • George Washington University
  • University of California, Los Angeles
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • Harvard University
  • Portland State University
  • University of Illinois Chicago
  • University of Michigan

See signatories here.

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Tags: protestshigher education

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