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REBEL WITH A PLAN: Norm Krumholz & Equity Planning in Cleveland

Cleveland stood the city planning profession on its head forty years ago with publication of the Policy Planning Report by City Planning Director Norman Krumholz and his staff in 1975. That plan placed “social policy” on its center stage, replacing the land use and infrastructure plans that had played the lead roles in city plans up until that time.

Cleveland’s new plan was unabashedly ideological in setting policies for Cleveland’s future. In the words of the plan: “In a context of limited resources and pervasive inequalities, priority attention must be given to the task of promoting a wider range of choices for those who have few, if any, choices.”

Promoting choices for those who have few, if any, choices, meant giving priority to the needs of Cleveland’s poor and disenfranchised residents, including the city’s growing African-American population. The plan viewed issues ranging from housing to transportation to social welfare through the lens of “equity” – always asking how proposed projects or programs would benefit or harm those at the bottom of the city’s socio-economic ladder.

Just as importantly, Krumholz and his young planners were social activists, not content to produce a precedent-setting plan, but committed to taking action to achieve results – going so far as to lobby elected officials and rally constituencies in support of their initiatives. Cleveland’s city planners saw themselves not just as facilitators but as community leaders.

Here on the 40th anniversary of the Policy Planning Report, I tell the story of Cleveland’s experiment in equity planning, and its aftermath, in the following article.

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