Ted Rutland visits Mount Allison to give talk on displacing Blackness

Mount Allison alumnus returns to present about his research

Rutland discussed how racial biases and power relationships inform urban planning which, in turn, affects individuals and communities – often in ways that are harmful to Black people. Louis Sobol/Argosy

Last week, Dr. Ted Rutland gave a presentation about displacing Blackness in urban environments. The talk revolved around his book, which focuses on how urban planning creates inequality in Canadian cities. Rutland is a professor of geography at Concordia University and a Mount Allison alumnus. He was invited to speak by the geography and environment and the Canadian studies departments.

Rutland began his talk by explaining the racial bias involved in urban planning. “Modern urban planning, my book argues, is formed by particular entanglements with race and power,” he said. “The power of modern planning is expressed less in the creation of sovereign territory than in the creation of material conditions that act upon individuals and populations.” Rutland said that some aspects of modern planning are not harmless. “The paradox in modern planning is that these benevolent things [like tangible improvements in health, happiness and wellbeing] are structured by evolving, normative conceptions,” said Rutland.

Rutland then talked about how anti-Blackness, in particular, has been inseparable from the way cities were and continue to be designed. “Anti-Blackness has been fundamental to the operation of modern planning,” he said. “The moves of modern planning, its attempts to improve urban terrain have been rendered conceivable and achievable through the displacement of Blackness. This displacement is sometimes physical – the displacement of people from the land – and sometimes symbolic.”

Rutland also offered words of advice and caution to students who might be considering going into urban planning after their time at Mount Allison: “Do it for sure. My critique is not to say that we shouldn’t plan but that, clearly, planning needs to be done differently.”

In Rutland’s opinion, “planning differently” means focusing on Black voices and urban geographers. “What I found is that the planning literature doesn’t have much to say about Black communities, but the urban history literature has tons of things to say about [Black] communities,” he said. “Some urban geographers have really interesting things to say because they are interested in not just physical space, but they’re interested in the relationship between space and people, and how rearranging space can either produce more social justice or more social injustice.”

Keith Nicholson is a fourth-year international relations student who attended the talk. “I didn’t realize how colonial cities were manufactured to be a certain way,” said Nicholson. “I didn’t realize the structural implications urbanization on a systemic level. The talk will absolutely make me think differently when visiting cities.”

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