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Overlooked America 2009/12/09

Posted by aespagnuolo in Land and Community Development.
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Overlooked America examines the groups most often neglected in planning activities to date.  Written in response to Hurricane Katrina and the lack of response towards the victims, the American Planning Association began a series in Planning magazine to discuss and address the needs of five most often overlooked groups in our society: the homeless, the special needs, the jobless, poor communities, and Katrina victims. Overlooked America defines being overlooked as being de-valued in the within formal labor markets and being underserved or ignored by the government. Each section of the book identifies an overlooked community and each article within the section delves into a specific issue and identifies planning and community efforts that are occurring around the country to address these concerns. The book provides a general overview of emerging community issues, the role of planning, and efforts being taken to meet the needs of these various groups.

Although the book provides only a brief and superficial glance at these issues, it does however highlight successful programs that have been implemented around the United States to help address the concerns of these overlooked members of society.  For example, when discussing the issue of homelessness it describes four types of homeless in America: the urban poor, the rural poor, migrant workers, and teen homeless.  The articles reveal the differing causes of homelessness between the groups, but also examine the successes of the “housing-first” approach towards this issue.  This movement towards establishing immediate supportive housing provides a much greater opportunity to remain off the streets and maintain employment than previous emergency shelter programs.  When discussing each section, the authors provide interesting and innovative case studies for how communities are addressing these concerns.  In San Diego for example, Villa Harvey Mandel is a six-story affordable housing development with 90 units catering to the hardest hit members of the community.  These units provide not only housing for the extremely low-income, formerly homeless, physically disabled, those with substance abuse problems, and mental illnesses, but also provides a wide-range of services that include medical and dental treatment, job training and placement, and legal assistance.

Overlooked America and the articles within were a direct response to the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina and the articles dealing with these issues seem to be the least solution-oriented.  The articles call for the increased need for emergency evacuation plans for the carless nationally, but does very little else in terms of solutions or suggestion for helping the Katrina victims today or suggesting alternate recovery solutions.  The articles simple rehash the lack of emergency preparedness and response.  The article addressing the children victims of Katrina also lacks the detail and innovation the other sections highlighted.  It also simply explained the situation but did very little to help find a solution.  It appears that despite the use of Hurricane Katrina as an inspiration and justification for the book, it is extremely disjointed and hollow.  The authors should have explored more pertinent solutions to the situation beyond adding procedures for the carless into evacuation plans and to support funding for the renovation of libraries, schools, parks and youth programs.

While Overlooked America provides a good introduction to the issues and concerns facing these underrepresented groups in society, greater detail and understanding of the issues could be found elsewhere.  Planners can use this book to provide a brief introduction to the issues facing underrepresented groups, but would not find it helpful or essential in providing data or new and interesting innovations for the planning field.  While the programs highlighted in the book are interesting they are only responses to the lack of consideration for these groups.  They do not aim to address the source of the problems, but merely treat the symptoms.  Overlooked America also lacks in providing insight in the methods that can be utilized to include these overlooked communities in the planning process.

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