UP540 Planning Theory (home)
Fall 2014
Prof. Campbell

last updated: September 8, 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 21 5 pages 20%
Short Essay Three Nov 18 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 Oct 21)

[questions to be posted in in early October]


Essay Three (due Nov 18)

[questions to be posted in late October]


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.)