UP540 Planning Theory (home)
Fall 2013
Prof. Campbell

last updated: November 27, 2013

Students are expected to complete all the required readings before the scheduled class time, actively participate in class discussions and presentations, write three short essay assignments, attend and critique a planning board meeting, and write a final exam.  Evaluation of your work will be based on substantive content, the logic of your argument, and writing quality.  (some tips on writing)   Late assignments will result in point reductions.


Assignment tent. date due suggested page length percent of grade
Short Essay One Oct 1 5 pages 20%
Short Essay Two Nov 12 5 pages 20%
Short Essay Three Dec 3 5 pages 20%
Critique of a Planning Board Meeting Oct 29 4 - 5 pages 15%
In-class Exam -- (see study guide) Dec. 10 --- 25%


Format and Style Guidelines (READ CAREFULLY):

Three Short Essays

Throughout the semester students will write several essays in response to questions tied to the course readings.


Essay One (due Oct 1)
[moved from Sep 26 due to Expanded Horizons trip]

Answer ONE of the questions below. Read the instructions above about format and style. Please use at least three of the assigned readings to support your argument. (Feel free to refer to other sources as well.) Page length: 5 pages (not counting the bibliography).

  1. What holds urban communities together? In class discussion we speculated about the "glue" (if that is even the right metaphor) that holds communities together: is it proximity (getting along with neighbors in a dense urban setting), or shared values, or a shared interest in the economic growth of the city, or faith, or strong state authority, etc.? A reoccurring theme in the readings is the nature of community -- how it is shaped by scale, by architectural design, by proximity (or distance), by the rural or urban character, by civic institutions. Select at least three relevant class readings and discuss their views of "community." What assumptions does each make about the relationship between the built environment and community, and about the dynamics that either create relationships or alienation between urban residents?

  2. Can the major problems of cities be "solved"? Bettencourt and West confidently asserted that the nature and logic of cities can be readily understood, perhaps even "solved". Others (such as Webber and Rittel), see cities as complex phenomena that elude easy explanation and solutions. In your essay, compare these two perspectives (with reference to the above authors and perhaps other class readings as well). Differentiate between those aspects of cities that you judge are easily modeled/predicted/explained and those aspects that are unpredictable, unsolvable, and/or mysterious. What are the implications of this debate for understanding the contributions and constraints of urban planning?

  3. To fix or to start anew? Ebenezer Howard proposed a fundamental alternative to the industrial cities of the 1890s. Howard's vision was in dramatic contrast to those who advocated for the reform and improvement of existing cities. Discuss the strengths and weaknesses of Howard's proposals (both the structure of garden cities and the steps towards their implementation). How does the history of the garden city idea inform a core debate in planning: is the best path towards better living conditions through rehabilitation or through a comprehensive new start? Does this debate still have relevance in the 21st century?

  4. "City Beautiful" or "City of Monuments"? Is Peter Hall fair in his withering comparison of the City Beautiful Movement to monumental architecture (often implemented by authoritarian regimes)? Examine why Hall is critical of the City Beautiful Movement, and contrast Hall's conclusions to those of William H. Wilson (the other class reading for the session). Finally, what legacies (either positive and/or negative) has the City Beautiful Movement left for contemporary cities?

Essay Two (due TUESDAY, Nov 12, in class)
You can either turn in the essay in my faculty mailbox (second floor, across the hall from room 2210) or, if you are done with the essay early, in class on Thursday.

The theme is the interplay between social justice, race/ethnicity and identity in urban and regional planning. I strongly recommend that you attend the Friday, Nov 1. symposium on this topic (be sure to RSVP). If you are able to attend the symposium, please answer Question #1. For those who are not able to attend, please answer Question #2. (As with all assignments, read the instructions above about format and style. Please use at least three of the assigned readings to support your argument. Feel free to refer to other sources as well. Page length: 5 pages, not counting the bibliography.)

  1. Taubman College of Urban and Regional Planning is hosting a symposium on "Planning in a "Post-Racial" Society (?): New Directions and Challenges". The symposium will "explore the role of the urban planner in a supposedly "post-racial" society. Join nationally recognized scholars and practitioners to discuss the contributions that urban planners of color have made to cities and to the field of planning; examine how planning is engaging critical debates about race, ethnicity, and poverty; and suggest what will be needed to meet the challenges of the 21st century and to serve the needs of the nation's evolving demographics." Identify several important themes/ideas/arguments emerging from the symposium. Contrast these to selected class readings on social justice/race/equity. What do you think are the most compelling ideas that arise at the intersection of race, social justice and urban planning? Do you see a special, distinctive role for urban planning in addressing racial inequality and spatial segregation in the US?

  2. The planning profession faces a puzzling paradox: the discipline ostensibly places high priority on socio-spatial justice (i.e., on promoting racial, ethnic and gender equality in communities and workplaces). However, the discipline has a surprisingly low percentage of planners from underrepresented minority groups (especially in the private sector). (The profession has arguably been far more successful in achieving gender equality than racial/ethic equality in planning education and practice.) Drawing from historical through current examples from the readings, to what extent are racial/ethnic equality and diversity incorporated into the ideas, plans, and practices of urban planners? Explore the implications of what it means for planners not always to be members of the public or segments of the public they claim to represent. (If useful, define and differentiate themes such as "equity," "equality" and "diversity.")

Essay Three (due Dec 3)

Answer ONE of the questions below. Read the instructions above about format and style. Please use at least three of the assigned readings to support your argument. (Feel free to refer to other sources as well.) Page length: 5 pages (not counting the bibliography).

  1. Public Space: The claim:  Traditional public spaces are being threatened due to privatization and/or securement (through restricted access, physical barriers, etc.).  The loss of common public spaces leads directly to the decline of a shared public interest, and thus to the decline of civil society.   The counter-claim: The threat to public spaces is exaggerated, and there is no direct link between public space, public interest and civil society. In addition, social critics who decry the loss of a shared public space get their urban history wrong: they inaccurately glorify and romanticize a lost era of great public spaces (that never quite existed). The real work of a democratic civil society takes place in social, political and economic institutions, not in physical public spaces. Citing class readings (and other sources if relevant), develop a rigorous, analytical argument in response to these opposing assertions.

  2. Suburbia:  The OED (2011) defines a "suburb" as "the country lying immediately outside a town or city; more particularly, those residential parts belonging to a town or city that lie immediately outside and adjacent to its walls or boundaries."  The identity of suburbs has thus been historically dependent on its relationship to the central city. However, many writers (such as Robert Fishman) have observed a historic transformation of city-suburb relations since the era of the "classic suburb;" our historical conception of suburbs may be increasingly antiquated and inaccurate. The majority of Americans now live in suburbs, and the range and variation of suburbs are so vast that the term "suburb" itself may be too simple and crude to encompass all the permutations. In addition, many of these suburbs are largely disconnected to the central city. The Detroit - Southeast Michigan region is but one example of this transformation.  And new forms of suburbia are emerging in other places in the world (e.g., China, India, South America, etc.) – often representing fascinating and unexpected hybrids of urban & suburban forms.  If we now live in a "suburban nation," discuss how planners need to rethink and update their understanding of the "suburb": e.g., its function, nomenclature, relationship to the central city, variation of forms, and its merits and dangers as a human settlement pattern. Where appropriate, discuss the veracity of various new suburban typologies articulated in the readings.

  3. Are we still Modernists?  Writers such as Peter Hall, Leonie Sandercock and James Scott have strongly criticized Modernism as a source of numerous ills in cities and in urban planning. In your essay, select several class writings and analyze the anti-modernist arguments. What specifically about modernism elicits such objections? Discuss whether these attacks on modernism are valid, wrong and/or misplaced. Be sure to define terms and disaggregate the concept of "modernism" where appropriate.

  4. Communicative Action Planning: Advocates of communicative-action (or collaborative) planning (e.g., Healey, Innes, Forester, etc.) have emphasized the shortcomings of past planning models. However, subsequent authors (e.g., Pennington, Flyvbjerg, Richardson) have pointed to the weaknesses of the communicative-action model. In your essay, analyze both the strengths and weaknesses of the communicative-action model of planning. Under what circumstances might the approach be more or less effective? Finally, how might the communicative-action model be modified to address these apparent shortcomings?

  5. Is Urban Planning about Promoting Growth and Change or about Conservation and Preservation? Urban planning has two seemingly contradictory impulses. On the one hand, the field promotes growth through urban growth coalitions, the expansion of jobs and tax revenues, the construction of infrastructure, the intensification of capital and land uses, etc. On the other hand, planners often emphasize the importance of urban growth boundaries, sustainable development, "small-is-beautiful," the preservation of existing landscapes and historic buildings, and the downsides of excessive materialism. How does planning reconcile this paradox between growth and conservation? To what extent is planning's current interest in sustainable development compatible with the field's traditional emphasis on growth and expansion? (Cite course readings, including from the sessions on sustainability and economic development, where appropriate.)


Analysis and Critique of a Planning or Zoning Board Meeting (Oct 29)

suggested length: 4-5 pages [you may turn in this assignment anytime during the semester before the due date]

You are to attend a meeting of a planning agency and write up an analysis of the session. You may choose a planning board or commission, a zoning board, an historic preservation board, a transportation commission, or any similar public meeting dealing primarily with city, county or regional planning issues.

The locale is up you: you could choose Ann Arbor, Detroit, Washtenaw County, Ann Arbor Township, Pittsfield, Toledo, Ypsilanti, or any other place of interest. You may find it helpful to attend the meeting with several other students.

Your paper should include the following:

  1. cursory background information date and place of meeting; the type of planning agency; the community's size, location and social-economic profile and how these factors might shape planning issues;
  2. the meeting's format, including structure of agenda and length of meeting; the board's composition (e.g., affiliation if known, gender, race); profile of audience, etc.
  3. a summary of the issues covered (You need not give a run-down of all 17 agenda items down to a variance approval for a two-car garage. Instead, provide a brief overview on the types of issues, with a bit more discussion on the few most interesting topics.)
  4. MOST IMPORTANTLY: an analysis and critique of the meeting's process. For example: How effective was the meeting? How "democratic" did the process appear? How much citizen participation was involved? How did the board respond to the public? What was the role of the staff planners in the meeting? Did it appear that decisions were actually being made at the meeting, or that the real decisions had already been made behind closed doors? How did the board deal with controversy? What was the language used in the meeting: planner's jargon, or layperson's English? Did you see any ideas from planning theory (e.g., comprehensive vs. incremental planning, equity and advocacy planning, communicative-based action vs. technocratic planning) reflected in the proceedings? If the meeting was remarkably boring, what might be the reason? and so forth. (This is the core section of the assignment, and should be the main focus of your writing efforts.)