Education and Politics and Urban Planning

06 Jun

I cried when I read the article posted by Dr. Reza Banai as posted in the Journal of Sustainable Education. His article was the first piece of literature that articulated HOW I want to do what I plan to do. Banai’s discussion of the urban sustainability-education nexus made me hopeful. Hopeful that I can continue to live my personal vision statement to:

Creatively impact urban change by designing sustainable communities.

I hope that through your work, (professional, personal and volunteer), you continue to have the moments of joy that I experienced in preparing this post.


Our educational systems are only beginning to make use of the local community and the region as a locus of exploratory activities: but before the resources and activities of a region are treated as abstract subjects they should be understood and felt and lived through as concrete experiences.” The Culture of Cities (Mumford, 1938, p. 383)

In 1938, Lewis Mumford, a renown Urban Planner, was encouraging planners and people to explore the connection between schools and community planning. Here, it is obvious that Mumford was aware of how educational content would influence urban sustainability and vis versa.

The word sustainability is used within all fields. My personal interpretation of the word is: A concept that encourages the creation of systems, processes, and people who protect and improve what already exist.

As shown in Figure 1, three spheres of sustainability are explored.

Center for Teaching. (nd.) What is sustainability?

Most commonly sustainability is discussed in the context of the environment with an emphasis on preserving and allocating limited natural resources. Despite global discussions on the preservation of natural resources, assets and resources are defined in the eye of the beholder. Where do people learn what to value? How is value actually taught? What systems and experiences reinforce people’s values? Banai highlights the unique connection between classroom and community and the effects of these principles on urban sustainability values. Although the three spheres overlap at times, it is only natural that they also remain separate.

Through the larger aspects of schooling (formal teaching) and education (learning in all experiences) (Lawrence-Lightfoot 1988), people are taught what to value and decide what they will work to sustain. In her 1988 interview with Bill Moyers, Sarah Lawrence-Lightfoot describes “good schools” as schools that mirror the community. At times, the community-classroom model becomes the community vs. classroom model due to teaching operations and leadership that are implanted within schools, instead of groomed alongside (Spring 2009).

Blair, Doug. (2005). Black Power and Education in the Afro American Journal 1968-1969.

An example of community vs. classroom is the integration of schools during the Civil Rights Movement. While Blacks were being taught to adjust, accept difference, and value educational resources, their academic envrionment was hostile, unethical, and systematically working against the academic success of Black students (Stone nd). Integration of the school system presents the realities of sustainability as being in a state of competition at all times due to varying (American) values and a lack of an articulated vision for all spheres of sustainability.

I sum up sustainability in this way to show how complex and challenging the urban sustainability- education nexus is, and why there is a need to create a global plan of action (or atleast a National one) to curtail the competitive nature of sustainability. Without such a plan we will continue to waste two very valuable resources: time and children.

Professor Lorna Walker from the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment discusses how human conditions should influence the built environment and planning in general. In the clip of her interview shared below, Walker insists that plans must start with people as opposed to systems.

Too often plans are made to satisfy people who conform to the neoliberal model (Harvey 2007). Although many Americans may unintentionally work to support a neoliberal agenda, a small percentage of people in most communities set the tone of the neoliberal agenda. If planning is done with people in mind, then systems and operations, including educational content, should be created to meet the sustainable needs of the masses instead of the few.

CSL Cartoonstock. (nd.)

On May 18, 2011 Huffington Post Business published a report that identified prisons as the number six fastest growing industry in the U.S. This number is projected to grow 7.5% by 2016 (Huffington Post 2012). The neoliberal direction in which America is headed has allowed the education system to  serve as a platform to systematically structure injustice and hierarchy. Standardized test scores at early ages is the beginning of people shuffling that ultimately dictate what type of work and lifestyle individuals will encounter. It becomes apparent that once in a “higher” power, once has to decide what they value and will work to sustain.

Brian Finoki, a writer for the Archinect website, wrote a blog post reflecting on his interview with Raphael Sperry, the newest president of Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility (ADPSR). Sperry described the Prison Design Boycott he has recently initiated as “….[a goal] to develop the leadership of the design and planning professions in addressing social problems through emphasizing both our social responsibility and our ethical vision.”  Sperry’s tactic is a far cry from the neoliberal model that has become inherent in the American socio-economic decision-making process (Harvey 2007). The potential of a prison design boycott includes the restructuring (and possibly dismantling) of models of personal sustainability for architects, prison employees, tax bases, local justice systems, education and families. While some systems are working to keep people out of jail there are other systems working to sustain prisons as an economically viable employment sector that ultimately pays into the world’s tax base. Here in lies the need to develop a transparent strategic plan using the best practices and case studies of Urban Planning that allows educators to prepare curricula, testing, and shadow education that focuses on the future planned. Through the urban sustainable-education nexus, we can level the socio-economic playing field as created in conjunction with community values and educational content.

Additional sites to explore on this topic:
Inclusive Cities addresses urban poverty by supporting and building the capacity of membership-based organizations (MBOs) of the working poor in the urban informal economy. Building the capacity of MBOs in the areas of organizing, advocacy, and policy analysis ensures that urban informal workers have the tools necessary to make themselves heard within urban planning processes.
The article is about the contemporary public health movement and how Urban Planning intentionally relates to health outcomes.
The website explores the challenges with the reentry population of ex-prisoners. It is important to understand how communities diverse demographics affect how development occurs and what is valued.
The company addresses sustainability at both a micro and macro level. SustainAbility appears to be a solution seeking company that is working to create a more unified and transparent national plan that can guide environmental, economic, and social sustainability.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s definition of sustainability focuses on the environment and preservation of natural resources as a global priority in order to accomplish all other work.
Cloud Institute is a pedagogical consulting company that bridges the concept of environmental planning and education.


Banai, Reza. (2012). A Note on urban sustainability-education nexus. The Journal of Sustainability Education.

Blair, Doug. (2005). Black Power and Education in the Afro American Journal 1968-1969. Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project.

Brian Finoki

Center for Teaching. (nd.) What is sustainability?

CSL Cartoonstock. (nd.)

Harvey, David. (2007). A Brief History of Neoliberalism. Youtube.

Huffington Post, Business. (2012). 10 fastest growing u.s. industries: IBIS world.

Bill Moyers. (1988)  Interview with Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot. Bill Moyers Journal.

Mumford, L. (1938). The culture of cities. New York, NY: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc.

Spring, J. (2011). The Politics of American education. New York: Routledge.

Walker, Lorna. (2009). Sustainable Cities Conference. Youtube.


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