When land use planning turns EVIL

Map of Japanese-American Internment Camps - Source: en.wikipedia.org

Map of Japanese-American Internment Camps – Source: en.wikipedia.org

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.

Source: randomhouse.com

Source: randomhouse.com

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)
Source: potawatomi-tda.org

Source: potawatomi-tda.org


  • The forced relocation, imprisonment, and killing of millions under the Khmer Rouge.



  • Colonization of Africa, North America, Asia, South America, and elsewhere.



  • 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.
Source: washingtonpost.com

Source: washingtonpost.com

Russia/Soviet Union:

Map of gulags - Source: en.wikipedia.org

Map of gulags – Source: en.wikipedia.org

South Africa:

  • The division of races throughout South Africa under apartheid.

United Kingdom:

  • 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.

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13 Responses to When land use planning turns EVIL

  1. I could give some more details about the continuing theft of Indian Reservations in the USA, piece by piece, for example:
    1. Kinzua Dam
    2. The locations of the big dams on the Upper Missouri River, placed so that key parts of Reservations would be flooded; these dams ended the traditional agriculture that had been done on the riverside alluvium, enriched by annual floods.
    3. Routing of the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline right across some Reservations, enraging especially the Rosebud Sioux.


  2. Andrea says:

    wonderful piece. I delightfully posted it on Facebook


  3. Excellent article and timely reminder, although when I saw the title I first thought of some planning authorities I have had the misfortune to deal with!


  4. You may also consider the large prison populations in the United States, where many people are imprisoned in overcrowded conditions for crimes that would carry no more than a fine if done by a Wall Street master of the universe.


  5. vered Hermannoff Kranz says:

    Very interesting article. Here are two more major happenings:
    The division of the Middle East in 1916 by the British and the Franc empires, creating new kingdoms and countries.
    The second one in the change of population between Turki and Greece.


  6. QK says:

    One person’s utopia has always had the potential to be another’s hell. The idea that planning is benign as a process assumes Pareto optimality which may not be the key decision making objective and/or is not achievable.


  7. Jesse Richardson says:

    Land use planning is used in evil ways every day- mostly to exclude low- to moderate-income families from the community. The map of the United States would be predominantly covered if you marked communities employing exclusionary zoning. The planners and NIMBYs try to blame it on the “EVIL” developer- as if developers somehow create market demand.


  8. Rajasaar says:

    Nothing is mentioned about Russia’s innvasion to independent Baltic countries in 1940-ies, occupying and invading the land for almost 50 years. During these years the billions of sq-meters of housing were built for relocated foreign people – e.g. labour power from all over Russia relocated to invaded countries for mostly military plants. Israeli’s settlements are a minor effort to compare – look pics: http://moodnekodu.delfi.ee/news/sisustusjadisain/fotomeenutused-lasnamae-esimesed-moodsad-kodud-ja-teenindusasutused?id=80060050#!dgs=dgsee-205164:AQ_GFYLF4wm8RYg5uuQySv


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