As professional planners, we like to think of land use planning as a fairly benign occupation that may stir controversy and discourse every now and then. I doubt many of us would consider the profession as being evil. But, as I am in the process of reading In Exile From the Land of Snows, the heartbreaking account of the Dalai Lama’s exile from Tibet, it has become clear that in the wrong hands or with mal-intentions, land use planning certainly can be a weapon of evil. And, the more I thought about it, I realized that throughout history, including in the present, many of our fellow human beings have been or are being subjected to the bitter sting of evil land use planning decisions.
Below are a few (certainly not comprehensive) examples of where/when land use planning has been or is currently being used in an evil manner. So not to show favoritism, the list starts with three shameful examples from my own country, the United States:
- The forced relocation of Native Americans via the Trail of Tears, the Trail of Death, and other similar one-sided resettlement programs to reservations. Quite often, the most inhospitable land was chosen for the reservations.
- The Atlantic slave trade and plantation system of the South prior to the Civil War.
- Japanese-American internment camps established during World War II (see map at the beginning of the post).
- The current use of detention centers and internment camps for holding immigrants and separating families.(Added 2019)
- The forced relocation, imprisonment, and killing of millions under the Khmer Rouge.
- Invasion and forced relocation of Tibetans, as well as of opponents within China itself, by Mao’s Peoples Liberation Army. North of Gansu and Amdo, in a region known as Chinghai, upwards of 10 million prisoners were housed in labor camps and prisons.
- Colonization of Africa, North America, Asia, South America, and elsewhere.
- The penal colonies of French Guiana, including Devil’s Island.
- Internment, forced labor, and extermination of Jewish, Polish, Russian, and other ethnic/religious groups during World War II.
- The erection of the Berlin Wall during the Cold War by East Germany/Soviet Union.
- The imposition of new settlements on Palestinian lands in the West Bank without permission or compensation.
- The system of gulags (forced labor and prison camps).
- The system of exiling dissidents and political opponents to Siberia.
- The establishment of the Iron Curtain during the Cold War.
- The division of races throughout South Africa under apartheid.
- Establishment and use of penal colonies in Australia, including Botany Bay, where as many as 165,000 prisoners were sent between 1788-1868. Many of these prisoners were guilty of minor/petty crimes.
Granted, planning as an established ‘formal’ profession is historically new compared to some of these horrific events. But that should never diminish the fact that evil has been done in the name of national, state, local, or regional planning. What is most imperative at this point is to assure that as professional planners we always adhere to the rights of others as stated in our Code of Ethics no matter our role or position. In addition, planners must resoundingly speak up, protest, and object whenever we become aware that basic human rights are being violated, whether it be written down on paper, depicted on maps or plans, or demonstrated through individual and/or collective actions.