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Urban planning researcher working to strengthen anti-discrimination in national ethics code

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

LAWRENCE — A University of Kansas urban planning researcher has received a recent appointment to work on a national effort examining how to raise the bar on anti-discrimination language in the code of ethics for planning professionals.

Bonnie Johnson, associate professor of urban planning in the School of Public Affairs & Administration, recently received a one-year appointment to the American Institute of Certified Planners, or AICP, Ethics Committee, which oversees the national organization's code of ethics and professional conduct for certified planners.

Her appointment stemmed from her recent work as the elected professional development officer of the Kansas Chapter of the American Planning Association, known as the APA. In recent years, she has received feedback from Kansas planners in the profession who believed the language in the current code of ethics that only mentioned "unlawful discrimination" did not go far enough.

"It sounds nice and broad until you look at and see that different states have different definitions of what is unlawful discrimination," Johnson said.

Johnson was a practicing city planner for eight years, and her work focuses on the planning profession, the roles and ethics of planners. Her research interests include civic bureaucracy, staff reports, television and citizen participation, planners working with city managers and competitive elections.

After a session she led at the 2016 Kansas Planning Conference that focused on inclusion and LGBTQ issues — based on the KU Center for Sexuality and Gender Diversity's Safe Zone Training — dozens of professional planners voiced concerns that the discrimination language in the AICP code of ethics did not go far enough. Later, 49 Kansas planners, including three current and former presidents of the Kansas Chapter of APA, sent a letter to leadership at the American Institute of Certified Planners. AICP is under the umbrella of the APA.

"We know in Kansas that the current wording doesn't have any teeth to it as far as gender identity or sexual orientation are concerned," Johnson said. "We had to stop the ethics session in mid-session because the planners wanted to have this discussion. The consensus that day was that we needed to find out what we can do to be more inclusive and that our code should be a higher standard. Planners care about this."

Johnson said it is crucial for planners to be mindful of the ethics of anti-discrimination practices because they work at all levels of government, in nonprofit organizations and in private practice.

"By nature of what it is that we do, we are working to make better communities," Johnson said. "We are in the public-service business, and thus we are guardians of the public interest. We are to work to provide choices for those who don't have many choices. If that is your career, you need to follow ethical practices. These codes of ethics also tell the public what it is that we care about and what to expect from us."

Demographic numbers in the planning profession among American Planning Association members tend to lag behind the overall U.S. minority population, Johnson said, likely making broadening the anti-discrimination language in the AICP's code of ethics an important conversation for future recruitment of planners.

"We should send a stronger signal that we truly do seek social justice by changing this part of our code," Johnson said.

Photo(s) via Pexels.com.


Ruth DeWitt, Communications Manager
KU School of Public Affairs and Administration
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