Dare to Change

Jan 5, 2010   //   by PlanSmart NJ   //   Speaks Out Blog  //  Comments Off on Dare to Change

More than forty years ago Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. asked us to keep our “eyes on the prize” – a new social order in which oppression and segregation did not exist. These conditions however still exist. For this reason, on this holiday, PlanSmartNJ challenges everyone to join forces to change them.

PlanSmartNJ’s contribution to change is its work to reform the current land use decision-making system. Dry as changing the land use decision-making system may sound, PlanSmartNJ sees it as a glittering prize indeed. The current system – the plans, policies, regulations, tax structure and infrastructure investments – promotes deep disparities among communities.

Fixing this system, built up over the last hundred years, with PlanSmart NJ’s new tools and strategies, could mean transforming the future prospects for hundreds of communities, thousands of people in New Jersey. For it is New Jersey’s broken land use system that has pushed jobs away from public transit and made housing unaffordable to most people. It has eroded our economic base and concentrated poverty in a way that promotes despair.

In New Jersey, if you are white and poor, you are likely to live in mixed-income communities, with access to good schools, safe neighborhoods and good jobs. If you are black and poor, on the other hand, you are likely to live entirely surrounded by poverty, in places where many schools are failing and jobs continue to be lost in the cities and are difficult to access in the suburbs.

To meet our own challenge, PlanSmartNJ commits to educating people on the shocking disparities among communities across regions. We will strive to make visible the connections between us that are palpable, but invisible within our Home Rule structure.

We will challenge anyone who wants to frame public issues as “us” versus “them.” And we will ignore anyone who dismisses us with “that will never happen!” or that is “too difficult to do.”

As a founding member of the NJ Regional Coalition, we will promote regional equity, the concept that a region can act together to reduce the disparities among its communities and improve everyone’s access to opportunities within it. In addition, we commit to making the concept of regional equity a pillar of land use planning.

We challenge everyone to question, think through, find out, plan actions, and celebrate success. And As the famous anthropologist Margaret Mead is often quoted as saying:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”


Dianne Brake is currently President of PlanSmart NJ, Founded in 1968, PlanSmartNJ is a Trenton-based statewide not-for-profit research and advocacy organization that advances the quality of community life through sound land use planning and regional cooperation. PlanSmart NJ aims to renew the landscape so that communities in the future will have a sustainable economy and environment, based on strategic approaches for resource efficiency and social equity. Email her at dbrake@plansmartnj.org

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