The Planning Program Review 2020-21: Challenging Racism in Planning

June 30, 2021 by Planning Program Director Katharine Rankin

Like many North American Planning programs, we at University of Toronto committed the 2020-2021 academic year to introspection—in the wake of the urgent social movements against racism in the summer of 2020, to an open student letter urging the program to reflect on how anti-Black racism and injustice manifest in planning education and practice (including our own), and to significant changes in our faculty complement and planning practice over the last decade. These events and changes inspired and necessitated a different approach to our periodic curricular and program review insofar aswe aimed to specifically address anti-Black racism in our Planning Program and the discipline more broadly.

From the outset we wanted to give due expression to the specialized knowledge and experience of our graduate students in the areas of BIPOC racism and related academic fields, including critical race studies, Indigenous studies, Black geographies and decolonial theory. Thus we selected paid “Special Student Advisors” to join a Planning Review Committee (otherwise comprised of faculty and student research assistants). The Student Advisors were Alycia Doering Keisha St. Louis-McBurnie, and Sneha Mandhan. The team also included Research Assistants Hazel Valenzuela and Kuni KamizakiAbigail Moriah, a Black professional planner and program alumna, supported us in designing our process, developing analytical tools, and conducting consultations with students and BIPOC practitioners.

We aimed to develop a process rooted in discussions about first principles through which to evaluate, refine, and sometimes restructure our approaches, our program, our courses and our modes of communication. To that end, we reviewed and revised our mission statement. We prepared an anti-Black racism framework to guide our review—giving due attention to the specific violences and histories of anti-Black racism in Canada, in Toronto, and in planning, while also acknowledging the intersectionalities of multiple forms of oppression and the imperatives of afro-futurism, Black excellence, Black inclusion. Finally, we identified a range of competencies that we considered to be “missing,” both in our core curriculum and in the rubrics of the Professional Standards Board—for example, how to work with and in communities, including community engagement, community-based research, participatory action research, organizing, political strategy, participatory planning, anti-oppression thinking, decolonial thinking.

Data collected for the review was then read against these principles—through a phased iterative process involving mapping our curriculum, reviewing the core and concentration specializations of peer programs, reading all of our syllabi together as a committee, and finally conducting a series of consultations. This may have been the first time that planning faculty and students viewed together all of the Program’s core and concentration gateway courses in relational manner; this holistic and collaborative view allowed us to recognize strengths and inadequacies, as well as explore the opportunities for confronting anti-Black racism in a mutually supportive manner. The consultations provided an opportunity to engage with the communities that make us who we are—the students, faculty, alumni, community-based practitioners, and senior planning professionals in Toronto and around the world. Over the summer we will be preparing a report documenting changes to the program deriving from the review process. We look forward to sharing the outcomes, and soliciting feedback at a town hall in Fall 2021.