Mai Thi Nguyen, Associate Professor
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
It’s been a year since the closure of the beloved PLANET listserv and in this essay published in Planning Theory & Practice, “When a joke represents so much more: the end of PLANET and the rise of planners 2040 Planning Theory & Practice” (Vol. 18 , Iss. 1, 2017) we give our perspective on the events surrounding the closure of PLANET and the creation of an alternative professional discussion platform, Planners 2040. We argue that a generational shift is occurring within the field of urban planning and the existing structure of privilege and power should be dismantled so that we have a more inclusive planning academy. The way planning faculty and students communicate and interact with each other creates an environment of inclusivity or exclusivity and the PLANET listserv evolved over time to become unwelcoming and exclusive.
The authors of this essay founded Planners 2040 to help facilitate and cultivate an online planning community that promotes civil discourse, productive exchanges, positive interactions, and connects a diverse set of faculty members, students, and practitioners with shared intellectual interests. The discussion group is moderated by five faculty members, has a set of official guidelines, and members can be removed if they do not abide by the guidelines. Planners 2040 has over 1700+ members (and growing daily) and has generated considerable activity, with substantive dialogue and engagement on a wide variety of topics, many of which were never discussed on PLANET. There is a much greater diversity of individuals engaging with one another as evidenced by “likes” – a quick, standardized show of support with no easy equivalent on an email listserv – and comments on postings. As shown in the infographic, 52% of Planners 2040’s members participating by liking posts, 26% of members commented on other posts, and 18% of members created original posts. The ability to post links to newspaper/magazine articles, journal articles, or other references promotes richer engagement and discussion in a way that is impossible on an email listserv. The diversity of topics and contributors has also expanded from what was represented on PLANET.
Thus far, the tone and culture on Planners 2040 has been supportive and respectful, with few, if any, personal or ad hominem attacks. Some have not chosen to join Planners 2040, especially more senior members, because they are not Facebook users and do not wish to join the site. We respect and echo the concerns of those reluctant to join Facebook and acknowledge the new “digital divide” that may be opening up in academia with the loss of those voices not participating in Planners 2040. It reveals an evolving communications challenge for the discipline, given that many younger planning scholars appear to be more comfortable using these social media tools. We continue to advocate for a permanent platform that would seek broad engagement in a simple to use format. ACSP is currently working towards this goal with UNIverse. In the meantime, Planners 2040 has demonstrated that resetting expectations can result in healthy and active professional dialogue.
Now that a year has passed, perhaps it is time to reflect on what we lost when PLANET was dissolved. What has been gained with the creation of Planners 2040? In addition, how can Planners 2040 and UNIverse serve the planning community better?