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The Slow Violence of Business As Usual Planning: Racial Injustice in Public Health Crises

This thesis is a critical analysis of the normative planning practice in relation to the aspirational principles of the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) (especially Section A, Part 1: Overall Responsibility to the Public). By exploring several dimensions of typical, or Business As Usual, planning practices in a local planning department in Springfield, Massachusetts and contextualized within larger planning concerns in the United States, I illustrate that socio-spatial, racialized oppression is deeply embedded in these common practices. Through a multimethod approach that includes historical survey, archival research, interviews, and direct observation, I argue that most professional planning operates from within antiquated frameworks that prioritize professionalism and expertise over genuine community engagement, relationality, and collective agency. This structure contributes to weakened trust in government and inequitable allocation of attention and resources, thereby reproducing inequity, particularly in disaster contexts. While these are my findings from site-specific research, I contend that such outcomes are evident in planning departments more generally. Thus, I conclude that the exacerbation of inequity during crises is not isolated, but instead a result of deeply embedded neoliberal planning practices. Specifically, I identify key barriers to equitable planning as 1) absence of care, 2) over-reliance on economic development, 3) disconnects between research and implementation, 4) degraded linking social capital and top-down public participation, and 5) illusions of objectivity in planning. These patterns contribute to what I, following Rob Nixon (2011), call slow violence against vulnerable populations through professional silence about and complicity in violent structures. Associating these trends with the violence of COVID-19 and racism, I find that planning may be participating in structural slow violence against communities of color, especially in Legacy Cities such as Springfield, Massachusetts. Finally, I call for a shift in planning practice, wherein we acknowledge and take responsibility for the unavoidable political role of the planner. I propose five steps to redirect our practices: 1) acknowledge our past, 2) reject illusions of objectivity, 3) identify injustices and define resilience collectively, 4) center care frameworks, and 5) invest in the implementation of research findings
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