UP540 Planning Theory (home)
Fall 2016
Prof. Campbell

last updated: October 31, 2016

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.



date due

suggested page length

percent of grade

Short Essay One

Sep 30

5 pages (double-spaced)


Short Essay Two

Oct 28

5 pages (double-spaced)


Short Essay Three: Memo

Nov 22

3 pages (single-spaced)


Critique of a Planning Board Meeting

Dec 1

4 - 5 pages (double-spaced)


In-class Exam -- (see study guide)

Dec 13



Note: these due dates might slightly change as I finalize the syllabus. We will set aside 10-15 minutes during class (usually one week before the deadline) to discuss each upcoming essay.

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 Friday, Sept. 30: 1:00 pm)

NOTE: please turn in two copies of your paper: one to Julie Steiff, and one to Matan Singer. You can turn in your two copies either during class on Thursday (Sep 29) or, at the latest, before 1:00 pm on Friday, Sep 30 in their respective mailboxes.

Answer ONE of the questions below. Page length: 5 pages (not counting the bibliography).

  1. To fix or to start anew? Ebenezer Howard proposed a fundamental alternative to the industrial cities of the 1890s. By contrast, Daniel Burnham's vision of the "City Beautiful" instead focused on the reform and improvement of existing cities. How do these two models 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?

  2. 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?

  3. 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 both the power and constraints of urban planning?

  4. 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. But can an English idea from 1898 still be relevant in an era of automobiles, highways, megacities, globalization, suburban sprawl, national and international networks of food commodities, etc.? In your essay, discuss the benefits and problems of relying on Howard's garden city vision as both a key foundational 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?


Essay Two (due Friday, Oct 28: 1:00 pm)

Answer ONE of the questions below. Page length: 5 pages (not counting the bibliography). Please see the instructions for format and style at the top of this page. As with Essay #1, please turn in two printed copies: one to Matan Singer and one to Julie Steiff. (You do NOT need to upload to Canvas.)

  1. Public Space. The claim: privatization and/or securement (through restricted access, physical barriers, etc.) are threatening traditional public spaces. The loss of common public spaces leads directly to the decline of a shared public interest, and thus to the decline of civil society and the loss of spaces where a diverse population can interact and learn to live together. 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. The small streets of Greenwich Village and the Megaproject/Tower Blocks: The contemporary celebration of Jane Jacobs and the vilification of Robert Moses and Le Corbusier might suggest that planners have rejected large-scale planning (and large-scale projects) and instead have embraced small-scale strategies and fine-grained, diversified, human-scaled neighborhoods. Yet if one toured New York, Seoul, Shanghai, Mumbai and many other world cities, one would see an abundant propagation of new high-rises, tower blocks, mega-projects, often on super-blocks. Have Moses' and Le Corbusier's visions of the city won after all? Examine the role of scale and diversity in Jacobs' writings and evaluate the continued relevance of her arguments for fine-grained, pedestrian-oriented, small-block assemblages (of old and new buildings) in today's large cities.

  3. 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.   If we are indeed witnessing a revision of the Jacobs and Moses narratives, what might explain this shift? Be sure to clearly summarize the past and present interpretations of the Jacobs/Moses debate.

  4. Race, Ethnicity and Planning: 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. (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 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 "diversity," "equity" and "inclusion.")

  5. Gender, Sexuality and Planning Theory: How do planners talk about gender and sexuality? Planners happily debate the merits of sustainability, suburbs, resilience, comprehensiveness, garden cities, new urbanism, Robert Moses vs. Jane Jacobs, even modernism. But discussions about gender roles and sexual politics can be rare and/or awkward. Some skeptics might marginalize gender and sexuality as private matters or otherwise outside planning's core concerns. There is a complex array of possible gender/sexuality issues of potential relevance for planning (the status of women in the profession, sexual harassment and violence in public spaces, single-sex vs. co-ed spaces, the divergent use of public transit by men vs. women, income inequality, LGBTQ hate crimes, controversies over burka bans in public spaces, etc.). Examine the ways in which issues of gender and sexuality have been integrated into the standard canon of planning theory, or instead misunderstood or neglected altogether.

Essay Three: Memo (due Tuesday, Nov. 22, in class)

Note: You wrote Essays #1 and #2 for a more traditional scholarly audience. The format for Essay #3 is different. You are to write in memo-format, explaining and translating selected planning theory ideas. (Prof. Steiff will discuss writing strategies for diverse planning audiences in class on Thursday, Nov. 3).
As with the previous assignments, please turn in two printed copies: one to Matan Singer and one to Julie Steiff. (You do NOT need to upload to Canvas.) Thank you.


Follow the conventional memo format:





Select ONE of the memo scenarios below:

1. A memo to a new mayor
Freshly out of planning grad school, you get a job in a planning department of a medium-sized US city. The city residents also recently elected a new mayor, Chris Lee. The mayor is a former small business owner who is open to new ideas but unexperienced with urban planning, community development, architecture, etc. The city faces a number of urban challenges: tensions between new development and historic preservation; increased auto traffic and demand for more parking; calls for better public transit, bike lanes and pedestrian safety; gentrification and displacement; old historic houses being torn down and replaced by massively scaled new homes; demands for better parks but resistance to higher local taxes; threatened budget cuts to municipal government departments (including city planning); etc.
You want to provide the mayor with solid, accessible arguments for planning that will help the mayor understand and support the city planning department staff and their efforts. You are initially tempted to just send the mayor copies of all the relevant readings from your graduate planing theory class. But you then realize that the mayor would likely not read (or appreciate) the formal, conceptual arguments from the scholarly articles. So you decide to write a memo to Mayor Lee that concisely discusses the arguments and justifications for local planning and also explains the types of opposition to local planning (so that the mayor can both understand this opposition and also defend the planning department's work). Write a balanced, fair memo that accurately explains both sides of the debates over planning's legitimacy and justifications. Avoid writing a lop-sided memo that is both inaccurate and easily dismissed as biased.

2. A memo to a non-profit: Cities are for People (a neighborhood-based organization)
You attend an evening meeting of a non-profit organization in your city. The volunteer leaders and members of Cities are for People care about neighborhood preservation, open space, sidewalk safety, traffic calming, fixing public parks and plazas, and other ways to improve the local quality of life. They want to influence the local planning process to pursue these goals. They are a thoughtful and well-intentioned group, but you are disappointed by how woefully ignorant they are about planning, and you worry this lack of knowledge will mean their efforts will be ignored or dismissed. Specifically, they don't seem to understand the range of planning styles and approaches, and this lack of knowledge hinders the group's effectiveness. (Some members think that the only form of planning is traditional comprehensive land use planning; others conflate strategic planning with planning in general; still others don't know anything about planning at all.) Remembering the taxonomy of planning styles from your planning theory class, you decide to write a memo to the organization that outlines the range of approaches and how each might be useful for their efforts. You want to write a concise memo, so you realize that you can't go into great details about all of the styles (comprehensive, incremental, advocacy, strategic, equity, communicative action, market-based, etc.). But you want the community organization leaders be at least aware of these terms, their meanings, and the contexts where they are effective.

3. A memo to the planning staff of the City of Gardentown:
You are traveling with friends by car across the country to visit San Francisco. While having lunch at a roadside cafe somewhere along Interstate 80 between Chicago and Salt Lake City, you strike up a conversation with people at the adjacent table. What a coincidence! They happen to be city planners in the nearby City of Gardentown. Inspired by your recent visit to a planning board meeting for the UP540 planning theory assignment, you are curious to see how planning commission meetings function in the middle of the country. "What good luck!" they say, "our monthly planning commission meeting takes place later today! You should come!" You accept their invitation.
The Gardentown Planning Commission, planning department staff and other participants at the meeting are all friendly and welcoming, and the meeting runs smoothly. The meeting agenda includes straightforward items such as reviewing several development proposals, rezoning requests, and a report from the Main Street Revitalization Committee. But you are struck by the language, process and format of the meeting. There is no awareness of citizen participation, diversity or public engagement. It is as if you were taken back in time to a planning meeting from the 1960s. After the meeting, your new planning friends (whom you met at the roadside cafe earlier that day) ask you: "So, what do you think?" You are polite and generous in your praise, but then you gingerly ask: "Have you all ever heard of equity planning, or advocacy planning, or communicative action, or planning as discursive practice, or perhaps Jürgen Habermas?" "No," they replied. "It's been a very long time since we read any planning theory. Do you have time to sit down and tell us about these new ideas and practices?" "Sorry, have to get back on the road," you reply, "but I'll send you something!"
An hour later, heading west on I-80, you think about how best to inform the Gardentown planners about recent developments in planning theory. As your friends drive, you do an internet search about the city you just visited and discover that the community has a much more diverse and interesting recent history than the discussion and the (white, mostly male and middle class) demographics of the planning commission meeting would suggest. It was once a sleepy small town surrounded by farms. But in recent years the city has grown rapidly, with many immigrants from Latin America, Southeast Asia and North Africa working in the new meat packing plants on the edge of town. The city has a shortage of affordable housing, especially rental units. Social services, public transit and the local schools have been slow to adapt to this enlarged and more diverse community. There is a small but growing cluster of food stores and other retail run for and by the immigrant communities -- a lively part of the local economy that is not part of the old culture of Gardentown's Chamber of Commerce. There is a strong divide between the long-term residents (who run the city government) and the new residents, and the planning commission doesn't seem to acknowledge or address this divide and the ways that the community is changing. You want to give the planners some guidance about the recent trends in planning theory. You know you can't just send them class readings, so you decide to write a memo titled: "What's new in planning theory that can help planners working in diverse communities in transition?" Choose one or several recent approaches (either communicative, advocacy, and/or equity) and discuss how they could produce better planning in the town.


Analysis and Critique of a Planning or Zoning Board Meeting (Dec 1)

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. Keep the descriptive part of the assignment to a minimum; your focus should be on analysis and critique (see below).

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.)