Planning in Black and White (Hal Baron, 1968)

Synopsis by: Briana Gipson

Hal Baron was a strong proponent for anti-racist planning and Blacks’ right to the city during his tenure as Research Director of the Chicago Urban League. In 1968, Hal Baron and the Chicago Urban League would further showcase their advocacy by identifying, evaluating, and challenging the gaps that existed in the City of Chicago’s 1966 Comprehensive Plan. This was the first plan created by City of Chicago planners and influential planning scholars such as Louis B. Wetmore that attempted to address Chicago’s long legacy of racism, anti-Blackness, and segregation. The Chicago Urban League would argue that the Plan failed to significantly challenge Chicago’s infamous racial and class divides in its 1968 critique of the Plan. This critique was titled The Racial Aspects of Urban Planning: An Urban League Critique of the Chicago Comprehensive Plan. Baron served as the critique’s editor and wrote “Planning in Black and White” as an introduction to the critique.

Baron’s introduction makes a strong case for planners and the planning field to support and enforce anti-racist public policies and designs. He begins his article by defining planning as an evolved form of racism. He supports his argument by discussing a significant challenge that still exists within the planning practice today: planners are often obligated to act in the interest of the public but there are different definitions of the public in practice. These definitions do not often include historically disadvantaged communities but instead property owners and predominantly White communities.

Baron discussed how planners were not acting in the interest of Blacks especially property-less Blacks in the 20th century. Blacks often lacked property due to legalized real estate and home-lending theft practices such as contract selling and redlining especially in Chicago. This led to planners being able to intentionally displace Black communities under the guise of urban renewal. Baron claims that urban renewal was the strongest microcosm of planning’s racist roots and practices. He incorporates a quote from prominent 20th century planner and architect Hans Blumfeld that provides an explanation of the latter. Planners engaged in urban renewal to address concentrated urban decay in Black communities. However, the quote explains that urban renewal and planners failed to address the root cause of blight—economic exploitation, racism, and anti-blackness. Instead, planners revitalized the area for those in power, White property owners, and increased costs and distress in Black communities. Baron’s article suggests that planners used planning tools such as urban renewal to maintain racism and subsequently plan segregated Black and White neighborhoods. This is a key theme of Baron’s introduction and the Chicago Urban League’s larger critique of Chicago’s 1966 Comprehensive Plan.

Baron would dedicate the rest of his article to explaining how planners and the field of planning can engage in anti-racist planning and eradicate segregation. He listed four ways planners could carry out this anti-racist work as government officials. He began explaining these four mechanisms by calling out social science researchers on their failure to educate planners on racism. He implied that they must address this issue by producing studies on racial and economic segregation and the racial implications of planning. He encouraged planners to incorporate these studies into their plans and policies. However, he recognized that planners in the 1960s existed within the confines of racist and segregated institutions and organizations. He urged planners to find ways to convince these institutions and organizations to support racially conscious studies. To further challenge the power dynamics of the time, he strongly advised planners to standardize their studies and use large and frequently updated datasets. He also demanded that planners create plans that uncover racism and segregation and clearly describe how planners will chip away at these systems and processes.

Baron made it clear he understood planners faced major limitations to completing this anti-racist work. They were up against power structures that would not adopt and enforce plans due to a lack of support, resources, or jurisdiction powers. Baron implied that these challenges should not stop planners from fighting against racism. He explains that planners have the potential to confront racism through advocacy planning. He describes advocacy planning as planning that is directed by and in the interest of marginalized communities and activist groups. The results of this planning had the opportunity to be presented to and incorporated by planning officials. Baron hoped that planning officials began to serve the interest of Black communities in the 1960s with or without advocacy planning. Black communities were becoming the predominant racial group in central cities due to discriminatory real estate speculation and white flight, and consequently should have been considered the public, in theory.

While history shows that planning officials did not often act in Blacks’ interests in practice as white flight skyrocketed in the 1950s and 1960s, Baron and the Chicago Urban League were adamant and rightfully so that racism cannot be eliminated without anti-racist urban planning practices. Baron ended his article describing that the Chicago Urban League’s 1968 critique was the League’s attempt to shed light on planning’s racial biases and implications. He explained that the critique was designed as debate between the Chicago Urban League and five planners, two of which were planning academics that contributed to Chicago’s 1966 Comprehensive Plan. The League provided a frank critique of the plan and the five planners Baron referenced responded to the critique. Baron and the Chicago Urban League hoped that this debate would fuel new anti-racist practices within the field of planning. The League’s critique provided at least five ways for Chicago and planners across the world to understand and engage in the anti-racism Baron demanded in “Planning in Black and White”.