Lucilla Fuller Marvel, Humanist of the Year 2010
We are thankful for this great honor granted us by the Puerto Rican Endowment for the Humanities. I never thought I would receive an honor of this significance, especially because I see daily the work and contributions of so many people dedicated to achieving a better Puerto Rico, and whose labors are based on humanities principles. Tonight, I accept this honor with great humility.
Thank you also for the opportunity to talk about planning, and planning for the future. Although I have done many analyses of the planning that has been done during the past century — especially the golden age of planning in Puerto Rico, during the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s — this ceremony is the exception that gives me the opportunity to think about the 21st century and the coming opportunities for the planning profession to create integrated and just planning.
I refer to planning as a social exercise, whose objective is to attend to the needs of society as a whole. Through my analytical lens, I see everything as a large system, where each part is related and it is not possible to separate human beings from the social system, from the natural system or from the economic system. It is also impossible to understand in isolation how social, natural and economic capital work. In other words, all of these elements make up the whole and understanding how they relate to each other is one of the main objectives of planning.
Therefore, the theory of planning is closely related to the theory of systems. This is the source of the integrated nature of the planning I practice. Because everything is related, we must plan within a holistic model. Otherwise, planning will become a partial, biased exercise that leans toward the economic, or the physical, or the social. As students of the discipline, we are trained to concentrate on particular areas. Over time, some of us develop more experience in the social dimension, or the economic, or the physical-spatial. A good planner, however, has to conceive and execute his work while taking into account this big “everything.” This presents an important dilemma: if everything is connected and everything is relevant, where do you begin to plan? Today, the global scene tells us that the natural or environmental system is the place to start. We have to understand and plan, recognizing the other systems as complementary or subsidiary to the natural universe in order to, among other things, ensure the sustainability of the planet.
I would like to underline the importance of integration and contrast it with separation and specialization. A tendency in this ever more complex world is to try to break down everything, and treat it like a big jigsaw puzzle. I believe the intent is to make the pieces manageable, but the result, however, is that we find ourselves increasingly in a world where specialists analyze issues and produce very specific solutions. To me, this is very problematic, because starting from the specific leads to every effort moving in the opposite direction from integrated solutions and plans. Thinking about the trend toward separation instead of integration, I recall a very influential book from 50 years ago, titled The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution by C.P. Snow. In the text, Snow showed the danger of separating the sciences from the humanities in the search for solutions to widespread world problems. Despite his warning, we are still victims of this separation when debating central problems such as climate change and the redistribution of natural and financial resources. The main result of this fragmentation is that we lack a common understanding or language. If, instead of atomizing, we apply the theory of systems, we will look for ways to integrate different knowledge to be able to identify appropriate solutions for the whole. This is the planner’s job: the search for synthesis.
When I talk about planning, I am talking about a process and a guide to making decisions that lead to change. It is a process that is undertaken to achieve a vision of the future with defined and desired goals. And I emphasize participatory planning in which people — at all levels — are involved in the process from the beginning. The success and results of a good planning process depend, to a large measure, on participation, and that this participation is considered from the beginning, not during or after the process is finished. Why? Because participatory planning promotes communication among the components of the community and encourages them to have confidence in the process. It also fosters feelings of self-governance and empowerment. A participatory focus presupposes planning from the base, from the people, from below to above, unlike the traditional focus in Puerto Rico during the 20th century, which is from above to below. Fortunately, in the 21st century, we see a trend toward participatory planning.
From my perspective, planning is part of the humanities because it seeks to improve the quality of life of human beings. All of the decisions that are made in the planning process, regardless of which field or what level, have an impact on the individuals and the group. Therefore, planning should be framed by a system of humanistic values, such as justice, respect, freedom, solidarity and understanding.
Planning is also a process that tries to anticipate the result of various actions, scenarios, proposals and projects. In other words, it tries to decipher the impact of numerous proposed solutions because there is always an alternative, or a way of intervening in a situation or attending to a problem with various solutions. The ability to anticipate is essential for evaluating options. That is why I have titled this lecture Anticipating an Integrated and Just Planning, because I want to underline the idea that planning means trying to anticipate and doing so from an integrated and just perspective.
To be able to embark on a planning exercise, you must have methodologies that help define routes or guides for making decisions. If we agree to follow a model of integrated and just planning, which is also participatory, we have to develop a methodology that successfully applies the model. Perhaps that sounds redundant, but in reality the methodology is the plan that allows us to plan.
The methodology defines the steps to follow in preparing a plan and the time that will be required to implement it. Additionally, it identifies and describes roles and responsibilities for all of the actors and interest groups. Therefore, to establish a methodology, it is necessary to answer a key question: For whom are we planning? The answer to this question must be clear, no matter how complex is the context.
The planning methodology I propose and practice not only follows the lines of for whom we are planning, but also takes into account how the people affected by a plan are going to participate from the beginning, and how they can do so in a democratic way. For example, it must be decided if there will be participation through representatives chosen through an election process, or though community forums, or in large assemblies, just to mention a few options. These are logistics that perhaps sound too elemental, and maybe shouldn’t be mentioned in a speech, but experience has shown me that these details must be focused on and emphasized because they are fundamental, and they do not happen automatically, or through the kindness of human nature.
One of the main reasons behind the success of the Cantera Peninsula Project or the ENLACE Project of the Martin Peña Canal — projects emblematic of integrated and participatory planning — is precisely the fact that they developed governing methodologies that clearly defined who would participate and how. The two projects, in which I was involved from the beginning, began with the presence and participation of community leaders, along with people from the public and private sectors. Additionally, leadership training programs were offered to strengthen their social capital and their potential for participation. There was a detailed working plan that delineated how, when and where the residents of the community would meet with the experts, government agencies and non-profit organizations. In other words, the methodology also created spaces for building alliances, a key exercise for promoting the integration of the stakeholders. The projects were strengthened by the work of coordinators and planners trained in community development techniques. Their work was crucial in implementing a process that was participatory and continues to do extraordinary work.
I am often asked what motivates my interest and dedication to social planning with an integrated and participatory focus, and why I decided to work in unplanned urban communities, or spontaneous communities, such as Mameyes, La Perla, Cantera and El Gandul.
When we arrived in Puerto Rico, in 1959, and traveled around the island, we became aware that poverty extended widely throughout the urban and rural parts of the island. I realized then that the only way to mitigate poverty and offer a different road ahead was through a systematic and systemic focus that would define better policies and collective programs in which families could participate and educate themselves at the same time. I also realized that a system based on charity, individual philanthropy or on door-to-door organizing would never work, given the extreme level of poverty that appeared to dominate the entire territory.
At the same time, I began to learn about extraordinary policies and programs designed to attack poverty, such as the Land Law of 1941, which redistributed land ownership in Puerto Rico, and the program of handing over parcels to tenant farmers, known as the Parcels Program, or Lots and Services. I also learned about the Mutual Aid and Self Help Program and the work done by the Community Education Division. It should be emphasized that all of these creative programs were pioneering efforts that were emulated in many other countries. I learned about the shared passion and dedication of government leaders, their commitment to innovative programs such as Operation Bootstrap and, later, Operation Serenity. I learned about the work and vision of titanic leaders such as Rexford Guy Tugwell and Luis Muñoz Marín. I learned about the rich history of planning in Puerto Rico, put in motion by Tugwell himself. I was impressed with the combined efforts and the leaders committed to creating a national plan for the development of Puerto Rican society. All of these interventions reflect the importance and the need for having a shared vision, as shown in documentaries such as A Purpose for Puerto Rico of 1964.
I became interested in the education offered by the Graduate School of Planning at the University of Puerto Rico and I enrolled, 44 years ago! At that time, the school offered an excellent education with a curriculum aimed at national development and socio-economic transformation. I chose to concentrate on social planning, a new field in the United States and Latin America. The school had a cutting-edge program, based on the integration of various fields: urban anthropology and ethnographic studies, geography and sociology. It was an interesting era in which Puerto Rico was considered a social laboratory for academics here and abroad. I received an education that was more humanistic that technical, and that teaching still guides my focus and understanding of planning.
Now, looking toward the future, where are the opportunities to continue a planning process that is just, comprehensive and participatory? Certainly, there are many opportunities in the communities of Puerto Rico; that is, the communities as defined by their geographic space. Although the Special Communities Program — which began in the Municipality of San Juan in 1996, based on the Cantera Project, and was extended to the entire island in 2001 — focused light and attention on the marginalized communities, especially through its programs of empowerment and leadership training, there still is no integrated plan for socio-economic and physical-spatial improvement, or the allocation of human and financial resources to implement it in many communities of the island.
As a planner and consultant for the program, in 2002 I visited 150 unplanned urban communities around the island to make an inventory of their socio-spatial conditions and infrastructure. They main problem they shared was related to ownership of the land. Without a clear title to the land, the residents and the communities, some of which had existed for more than 70 years, are susceptible to being displaced and to the shifting political winds of the moment. Although it would take us a long time to resolve this situation, the eight communities in the ENLACE Project of the Martin Peña Canal provide us with a pioneering model for attacking the problem: the creation of a Community Land Trust through which people continue to be the owners of their respective homes while the Trust maintains common title to the land. This is a very appropriate solution for Puerto Rico. Unfortunately, the idea has not been understood — or some have not wanted to understand it, because it conflicts with the individualistic values of some in power — and is under attack.
Along with common problems, I also found treasures: the people and their leaders. From the time I began working in the communities, in my years of academic studies, the residents have impressed me with their sense of belonging, their efforts at self-help, their sense of coming to the aid of one another and their ability to survive. I learned early on that the residents of the communities are the ones who can speak authentically about their needs, their resources, about their vision and the future. And the best way to help the marginalized communities is to let the residents speak, while providing them with technical assistance and a methodology so they can plan and take ownership of their plan.
Other opportunities for planning in a fair, integrated and participatory way are found in the rural communities that resulted from the Lots and Services Program of the 1940s and 1950s. There are more than 610 communities of lots on the island. Imagine if the representatives decided to organize and, as a block and with a united voice, demand integrated plans for each of their communities, representation in the process of distributing resources and a seat at the table where the island’s planning happens.
Similarly, we see another huge opportunity in the traditional urban centers, which in reality are the hearts of the municipalities and our legacy of the Indies Laws. In Puerto Rico, there are 78 opportunities. The time has come to focus genuinely on the rehabilitation, repopulation and revitalization of these spaces. There is a chance to correct the abandonment of the urban centers, which was born when the Planning Board in the 1950s decided to encourage development of the suburbs (in other words, urban sprawl) instead of strengthening the traditional centers. This focus speeded the process of the population leaving the urban centers and led to their physical-spatial and socio-economic deterioration.
Historically, there were efforts to intervene in some of the urban centers. An excellent program was created in 1960 called “Rehabilitation in Place.” This was an effort by the state government aimed at improving unplanned urban communities and addressed problems of ownership, infrastructure and improvement of housing. The program is another example of the creativity that can come from the government when it conceives and implements programs that lead to better opportunities for the communities. The governing concepts and methodology of this program were incorporated into the Cantera Peninsula and the Martin Peña Canal ENLACE projects. Some of the concepts of the Community Education Division were also adopted, such as the principle of helping the people to help themselves, and the need to educate the base.
The contemporary examples I mentioned open a new window of opportunities for advancing a planning process that incorporates the energy and resources of the residents, the true architects and developers of their homes and communities. But these opportunities are not found only in Puerto Rico. According to the United Nations, more than 50% of the world lives in an urban environment and 50% of that population lives in poor and inhuman conditions. Our successful Puerto Rican examples of urban improvement serve as an example for similar areas around the world, as once occurred with the Parcels and Mutual Aid and Self Help programs, more than 60 years ago.
To end, I want to say that looking toward the future, I am left with the same question from 50 years ago: What are we going to do to help those who have less, the less privileged? Because I use this systemic lens, it is hard for me to ignore that we are all in the same boat. As a planner, I believe the best opportunities and possibilities come from providing help, training and resources directly to communities, at the lower levels, so they can plan and participate in improving their conditions and quality of life. Because when they prosper, we all benefit.
Author: Lucilla Fuller Marvel
Published: April 29, 2015.
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