UP540 Planning Theory (home)
Fall 2014
Prof. Campbell

last updated: November 9, 2014

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 Sep 23 5 pages 20%
Short Essay Two Oct 28 5 pages 20%
Short Essay Three Nov 25 5 pages 20%
Critique of a Planning Board Meeting Nov 6 4 - 5 pages 15%
In-class Exam -- (see study guide) Dec 9 --- 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 Sep 23)

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. Should planners still read Ebenezer Howard? Howard's 1898 book on Garden Cities has been a standard text for generations of planners. It serves as one of the foundational stories in traditional accounts of planning's birth as a profession, and even contemporary advocates of greenbelts, clustered development, new urbanism, local agriculture and collective property arrangements find inspiration in Howard's text. In your essay, discuss the benefits and problems of relying on Howard's garden city vision as both a key moment in planning history and as an enduring vision of an alternative community scale and structure. Does Howard deserve this continued attention, or is it time to put away our dusty copies of Garden Cities of To-morrow and look elsewhere?

2. "Let your watchword be order and your beacon beauty." (Daniel Burnham). In your essay, examine the dual aspirations of structuring social order and promoting beautiful civic design in the City Beautiful movement. Are these two goals compatible or are they inevitably in tension? Were there specific physical and social conditions present in the turn of the 20th century city that gave rise to the City Beautiful movement? Can you still see modern variations of "City Beautiful" efforts in contemporary cities? (If appropriate, you might engage Peter Hall's distinction between "City Beautiful" and "City of Monuments" in this discussion of social order versus aesthetics.)

3. 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.

4. Should we fix existing cities or start anew? The various authors we have read so far have proposed a wide variety of visions for the city. Some have outlined incremental reforms of existing cities, while others have proposed fundamentally new alternatives (sometimes new towns on greenfield sites, other times on cleared, bulldozed land in the old city). Using several examples from class readings, discuss plans that engage both sides of this debate: rehabilitation versus new start. Explain why each author chose the reformist or the radical path and how that choice was tied to their critique of existing cities.



Essay Two (due Tuesday Oct 28)

Answer ONE of the questions below. IMPORTANT: Read the instructions above about format and style, and also be sure to diligently follow proper citation/quotation practices (to avoid any problem of plagiarism). 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). [Writing advice: strive to craft a tightly argued, focused essay. Develop a rigorous, analytical narrative. Be nuanced and proportionate, avoiding unsubstantiated claims and overgeneralizations. In planning theory, to "theorize" is to carefully, critically and openly examine the arguments, concepts and assumptions in planning.]

1. Urban communities: Several class readings have addressed, either explicitly or implicitly, the ties (i.e., the connections, the "glue", the bonds) that hold communities together: is it propinquity (getting along with neighbors in a dense urban setting), or shared values, or a shared interest in the economic growth of the city, or religious faith, or strong state authority, etc.? Is community 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. The "problem" of a city: 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. Justifications for planning: Supporters of public sector planning have employed various arguments -- ideological, empirical, game theoretic, economic, political, etc. -- to justify the need or benefits of planning intervention. Through a close examination of selected course readings, identify and contrast several distinct justifications for planning. Which justifications do you find most or least convincing, and why?

4. Moses & Jacobs: Planners have often used the Robert Moses/Jane Jacobs dichotomy to juxtapose the dangers of over concentrated power and ambition with the benefits of decentralized, preservation-minded activism and everyday urbanism. And yet in the past few years Robert Moses has been experiencing something of a rehabilitation, with renewed respect for his impact on New York City's urban development. In addition, some authors have begun to reassess Jane Jacobs' legacy and relevance as well. In your essay, outline both the earlier and the contemporary themes of the Moses/Jacobs debate. (For example, where is power held in each of the two schemas?) If we are indeed witnessing a revisionist history of Jacobs and Moses, does this shift suggest a larger re-evaluation of the role of power, large projects and top-down authority in urban development?


Essay Three (due Nov 25) new due date

1. Planning and race/ethnicity: The planning profession faces a 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 the course readings (and optionally, from other sources), how can we explain this relative lack of African-Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans and other underrepresented racial/ethnic groups in the profession of planning? Explore the implications of what it means for planners to not always 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.")

2. How do planners talk about gender and sexuality? Planners happily debate the merits of sustainability, suburbs, resilience, comprehensiveness, garden cities, Robert Moses vs. Jane Jacobs, even modernism. But discussions about gender roles and sexual politics can be rare and/or awkward. Examine the ways in which issues of gender and sexuality have been incorporated (or neglected) in planning thought. To what extent are issues of gender and sex integrated into the standard canon of planning theory, treated as a stand-alone topic, or ignored altogether?

3. Linking Planning Styles and Justifications: This section of the course has focused on two distinct questions: Should we plan? and How should we plan? Examine the connection between these two questions. Specifically, select three planning styles (among the standard list of comprehensive; incremental; advocacy; strategic; equity; communicative-action). Referring to class readings, what assumptions/conclusions does each style make about the justifications for -- and limits to -- planning?

4. Are the New "Suburbs" not even Suburbs?   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. 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. These developments sometimes imitate American (or British) models of suburbia (including name branding and architectural styles), but they also morph and subvert the standard western suburban model (in scale, density, street patterns, ownership and financing, use of public space, relationship to the central city, etc.). These places are either expanding our definition of "suburb" or creating wholly new settlement patterns that are neither "urban" nor "suburban" and arguably require a new lexicon. In your essay, 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. If appropriate, discuss the veracity of various new suburban typologies articulated in the readings. To focus your essay, you might select one country or region as an example (either in the US or elsewhere).


Analysis and Critique of a Planning or Zoning Board Meeting (Nov 6)

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.)