Swier: Everyone Has a Right to Control How Resources Are Used in Cities

I recently interviewed Mark Swier, Operations Director at Right to the City and one of RPA’s partners in developing the fourth regional plan. Here’s what he had to say.

KS: What is Right to the City?

MS: Right to the City is a national alliance of about 65 organizations around the country that work on issues of displacement and neoliberal urban development, and trying to put forward an assertion that everyone has a right to live in the city and control decision making processes about how resources are used. We believe that everyone has the right to remain in and help rebuild neighborhoods.

KS: What strategy do you use to promote racial and economic justice in your work?

Central for us are the politics and values around leadership. We have a deep belief that deep transformative solutions need to come from communities most affected by racism, displacement and housing instability. Because housing and land policy is so rooted in racism in our country, it’s disproportionately people of color and working class folks who have to be front line leadership in fighting for change. The Alliance was started in 2007 by community-based organizations in largely working class black and Latino communities. We were responding to the fact that there wasn’t a sector where the politics of race and gender were central. On one level it’s a commitment of leadership, but also talking about race and understanding history of racism and connection to land and housing policy. Being real about challenges we face in our cities and make it accessible for people.

KS: What have you learned from the Fourth Regional Plan partnership and how has that changed?

MS: We work to lift up front line organization using narrative stories to build power at municipal, state and even the national level. Regional Plan Association in my experience is in a moment where it’s open to taking on the issues of racial, economic and ecological justice that we see central.

RPA is also willing to inject a different logic about what growth means. RPA is a linchpin between folks on the ground and those in the private sector, development, and public sector sphere. It’s an interesting tension to hold. What is the logic around growth? Can growth happen without leading to displacement  and without leading to profit at all costs? There’s been an openness from you and staff to engage these questions.

You are putting your organization’s heart and soul into the Fourth Plan not for it to live and fossilize on a shelf but to be implemented, and it should be because we have real crises in our communities. The climate change crisis is real. Displacement is so real that some places don’t exist anymore. Children have right to live in a neighborhood where they can build a community, and not worry about being ruptured because of rising rents and displacement.

RPA has been able to show its interest and willingness to stand with people on the ground as we move these initiatives for change forward in our neighborhoods.

KS: How should urban planners represent underrepresented voices, not just in RPA but as a profession?
It’s a question of how do we plan for people and planet and not for profit. How can we think outside the box beyond the nuts and bolts of technical planning and find an alternative bottom line.  Also we need to need to shift the terms of engagement because those are rooted in history that’s fundamentally oppressive to people in our cities.

Learn more about Mark’s work here: righttothecity.org



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