UP540 Planning Theory (home)
Fall 2012
Prof. Campbell

last updated: November 12, 2012

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 2 5 pages 20%
Short Essay Two Oct 30 5 pages 20%
Short Essay Three Nov 21 5 pages 20%
Critique of a Planning Board Meeting Nov 29 4 - 5 pages 15%
In-class Exam -- (see study guide) Dec. 13 --- 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 2)

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. The Idea of Community: A reoccurring theme in the readings is the nature of community -- how it is shaped by scale, by the built environment, by proximity (or distance), by the rural or urban character, etc. Select at least three relevant class readings and discuss their views of "community." What assumptions do each make about the relationship between space and community, and about the role, preconditions, benefits and dynamics of community?
  2. The relevance of garden cities: Some contemporary environmentalists and community planners have apparently found a model for future cities in a century-old plan: Ebenezer Howard's 1898 proposal for Garden Cities.  Discuss which of Howard's ideas are still relevant for today's post-industrial sprawling society.   Can planners still learn anything from Garden Cities? You may find it useful to distinguish between the social, physical, political and/or economic aspects of his proposals.
  3. Cities and solutions: Bettencourt and West confidently asserted that the nature and logic of cities can be readily understood, perhaps even "solved". Others (such as Rittel and Webber), see cities as complex phenomena that elude easy explanation and solutions. Referring to several class readings, identify and compare divergent approaches to understanding the "city". Is the role of theory and urban analysis, for example, to "solve" the city? to decode it? to uncover the "hidden laws" of urbanism? to find statistical patterns? to find cause-effect relationships? to use metaphor and analogy to relate urban processes to conceptually more tractable systems (e.g., a garden, a machine,a factory, the human body, etc.)? to more pragmatically examine the consequences of urban plans and policies? to critically reveal the shortcomings of current cities? to articulate models of the ideal city? etc.

Essay Two (due Tuesday, Oct 30)

The theme is the interplay between social justice, equity, diversity and sustainability in urban and regional planning. I strongly recommend that you attend the Friday, Oct. 19 symposium on this topic (plus the Oct 18 lecture by Majora Carter from the South Bronx). 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. Social justice and sustainability -- two laudable goals for planners. Identify several important themes/ideas/arguments emerging from the symposium. Contrast these to selected class readings on social justice/diversity and sustainability. What do you think are the most compelling ideas that arise at the intersection of social justice and environmental sustainability? (For example: Ideally, these two goals go hand-in-hand. But are these two goals always complementary? Or do fundamental, at times intractable conflicts arise?)
  2. The planning profession faces a puzzling paradox: the discipline ostensibly places high priority on socio-spatial justice (i.e., on promoting racial and ethnic equality in communities and workplaces). However, the discipline has a surprisingly low percentage of planners from underrepresented minority groups (especially in the private sector). 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 (Wednesday, Nov 21; 5:00 pm)

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. Pro and Contra Planning: Arguments for and against the legitimacy of public-sector urban planning often reflect underlying assumptions and beliefs about the free market (e.g., its dynamics, its strengths and weaknesses, its frequency of failure, its stability or volatility, its impact on equity, its need for government intervention, etc.). In your essay, use course readings to identify at least three different views of the relationship between planning and the capitalist market economy. Then discuss how each of these three views, in turn, leads to an argument for and/or against public planning.
  2. Styles of 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. (For example, how well does the communicative-action model handle complex issues, diverse populations, large cities, and reconcile the role of technical expertise and the day-to-day knowledge of citizens?) Finally, how might the communicative-action model be modified to address these apparent shortcomings?
  3. Changing Definition and Implication of "suburb": The word "suburb" is defined 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." (OED, 2nd). This suggests that the identity of suburbs has been 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. 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.
  4. Linking 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?


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