Tired, but Hopeful

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Planning Theory & Practice

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Planning scholarship and practice from the vantage point of Portland, Oregon in the past year and a half has left me wishing for a theoretical classification well beyond ‘wicked’. The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated every persistent problem with racial disparities, economic inequality, and housing instability to the point where the word crisis is inadequate. It has revealed how badly hollowed-out our public institutions are, as workers from closed industries wait months for unemployment insurance payments due to outdated software and insufficient staffing (Rogoway, 2020), with state agencies relying on contractors to create the IT and finance systems to disburse emergency rent relief before the hundreds of evictions filed each week proceed to judgment (Biggars, 2021). Coming to the end of summer 2021, we returned to coronavirus restrictions due to the surging Delta variant and watched tent cities appear across Portland as shelters and services for people experiencing houselessness were overtaxed. We are entering a city budget cycle in which the Portland Police Bureau, having experienced a budget freeze in 2020 for the first time in decades, will seek more resources and positions despite over one hundred days of protest and a U.S. Department of Justice finding of ongoing civil rights violations and a need for continued federal oversight. The political environment for progressive planning – for any planning, really – has become toxic: from a national breakdown in democratic functioning; to a state legislature breached by right-wing rioters allowed in the building by an elected lawmaker; to a local backlash against social justice movements by growth machine-gunning developers (Carpenter, 2021).


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