View Full Version : Question for urban planners
10-30-2009, 08:53 PM
are there any urban planners on this site? If so, I have a question.
10-30-2009, 09:13 PM
I am at The New School for urban studies, so maybe I can answer it!
10-30-2009, 11:16 PM
Well, I am pursuing a planning degree right now, and it is somewhat different than what I thought it would be. It is a joint degree with another degree, so I am only taking my first two courses right now. One, I like, is land use control and zoning. Very interesting. precisely what got me interested in this stuff. The other, however, seems to be a crock. Its called planning history and theory. But really, its just a theory course. Its all about policy approaches, which I'm sure have their place, but they seem way too overly academic to me and not focused on what actually drew me to the degree. I think academia is fine, if that's what you want to do, but I have a college degree. I am interested not in the abstracts of policy analysis and different people's views on rational planning and this and that. I don't care about different models that have been proposed. I want to get down to the stuff I like, planning the physical layout of things. Is this class an anomaly? In other words, I'm hoping someone can confirm my suspicions that this may just be the one required policy theory class, with the rest of the classes to be more practical in their approach. Again, its not that I think this stuff is useless, its just not what I thought I was getting into by pursuing a planning degree. Its almost like I am in a MPP (master of public policy) course, which is NOT something that interests me. So, I guess the question is, are the classes more on the land use planning side of things or the sit back and think abstractly about academic theories of planning side of things?
Im interested in concrete topics, not ambiguous difficult to understand academia. I really think academia is a waste of time as it seems to have diminishing marginal returns after a while (unless of course someone likes it for its inherent appeal to them, which is not the case with me).
I have to write a paper on the pitfalls of the rational planning model, and I have no idea where to begin. I have searched literature, etc., and haven't gotten far. Anyone else have any ideas on what I might write about for a planning theory course? It has to be about (yawn) policy implementation or a framework in which to make planning decisions, and it has to be both a broad survey and a thesis oriented paper.
Any suggestions appreciated much.
10-31-2009, 12:21 PM
I did my minor in Urban Studies and I have a lot of friends that went through the Urban Planning masters at Hunter College (where I go). What I got from their stories was that it was 50/50, theory and real world applications. I know at the end they did a big project where they had to present some ideas to a community board and work with various groups.
Though Urban Studies was more focused on the theory the classes were taught by young urban planners which was really nice since it gave me some people to talk to that I could actually relate to.
What I guess I'm saying is you gotta take both and learn that it isn't always going to be just what you want. Sure creating land use plans are fun but you have to understand why the rules are the way they are before I can figure out how to change them.
10-31-2009, 12:43 PM
Yeah, I agree with Van 100%. Patrick, how can you know what your idea of perfect planning is if you haven't learned about the planning theories that led to planning successes and failures in the past? I realize that these abstract classes might not be your cup of tea, but at the risk of sounding like an asshole, that's kinda just how the world works. You have to get through the stuff you don't like so you can do the stuff you do like.
Where are you in school? Your planning degree is graduate I assume if you're taking a planning theory class. What kind of degree does your program offer? Some planning programs offer an MA, in which case they are more academic, and others offer a professional degree, like an MCP, Masters in City Planning. Sadly not many applicants understand this.
If you are in an MA program you may have to sniff out the more rigorous classes (sorry i'm biased).... If land use is your area of interest (which is what I do), TAKE A LAW COURSE IN LAND USE REGULATION. very few urban planning departments require a law course. it is very informative and empowering, and i have no idea why all programs don't require it. otherwise, look for classes involving projects rather than papers ... is there a class in site planning? real estate? if you're in land use you should take real estate, you'll like it and gaining that knowlege is obviously important. if there is a class on the relationship between transportation planning and land use, or just introductory transportation planning, that is also very important for someone in land use. some theory classes can be good ... for example a regional economics course is useful in understanding the bigger picture. Finally, get an internship in a local planning department for the summer, you will learn more than a class could teach you, and it may get you a job. Make sure they actually take you to community meetings and help prepare for them.
For either type of program (MA or professional) to be accredited by the ACSP (Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning), they need to offer a planning theory class. And the way a planning theory class is taught really depends on the instructor. I've seen some in which it is focuses on case studies with complimentary readings in theory, and others that are pure theory, ie they teach you about rational, advocacy, or radical models without grounding it in any case studies, which i think is pointless, and the students inevitably despise it, you couldn't pay them to like it.
as for your paper, that too depends on what your professor wants. go see your professor, or TA, bounce an idea off of them, ask them exactly what they think of it and what you should do with that. they don't want to read a bad paper, trust me, they will tell you what direction to go in. what exactly is the assignment?
10-31-2009, 04:32 PM
Thank you all for your input. Given the limited nature of internet communication I think I may have misled some of you into thinking I didn't understand the need for theory classes. That, in fact, is not the case. I get it. To meaningfully contribute to a field one must understand whose shoulders they are standing on. However, I think a630 understood me a bit more. I dislike the theory classes even if I understand their importance. And its not just that I can't stand doing something I don't particularly like, but even when I TRY I cannot seem to understand what on earth the theory class is talking about. I make no claim to be a genius, but nor do I consider myself stupid. It just seems like the theory classes are OVERLY academic and abstract. I've never seen anything like it (although anthropology in undergrad came close). It seems like such a waste of time. The substance of what most people are really saying in their research could probable be condensed into half the amount of pages they actually took to express their ideas. To me, it seems like some academic somewhere trying to meet his or her writing and research page number quota for the year. So, in sum, I agree with those who said theory is important...I get it. But, the way it is taught (whether here, or elsewhere) seems to be so dry and needlessly complex, my point being that regardless of whether the underlying content is important (admittedly it is) the class still sucks. I don't like it. I was wondering whether a majority of the profession is like this, or even UP Curricula in general, or whether this is a statistical outlier. It sounds like, from the last comment, it may be an anomaly. good.
To answer your last questions, I go to the Muskie School of Public Service (unaccredited) and I am pursuing a MCP degree. I asked why the school was unaccredited and was told that two factors need to be met for accreditation: 1 the number of grads (we have more than enough) and two the number of faculty (we have less than the requisite amount, given budget constraints. However, those that we do have seem to be well regarded in the professional world.
I am also a third year law student and I intend to focus my work on environmental/land use/propert/real estate/business/economic development issues. The planning degree is just to give me a feather in my hat. Also, as it turns out, planners are often times compensated better than beginning attorneys. Perhaps I should have just applied to planning programs andskipped right over the law degree.
anyhow, I would talk to my professor but I think he is too busy. I have tried contacting hi,m toask what in the world he would like use to do and have gotten really little feedback. My first paper was on collaborative planning and Judith Innes's critique of alan altshuler's attack on collaborative planning in the 1960s. I included personal communication with altshuler (at HSD) in my paper, and was told the paper pretty much sucked. It wasn't graded so I don't know how to quantify my prof's comments. But now I am due to write another prospectus on ANY theory in planning, and I don't know what to do. I am pl[anning on writing about the shortcomings of the rational planning model, and how they might possibly be ameliorated, but I have a few issues with this: first, wtf is the rational panning model (I have a vague idea, but can't seem to track down a definitive description that everyone agrees on) and 2) what literature should I begin with reading? We spent barely 30 minutes on this topic in class. it seems like every article we read is mentioning it, while none actually discuss it. It is very perplexing to someone new to the area. I am not new to urban studies, but I am new to the theories underlying urban policy makers (something that doesn't interest me at all, also). I get highways are bad when they go through ethnic neighborhoods and prevent buses from reaching suburban recreational areas. duh. but why do I have to have an understanding of some overly complex decision making framework that is never correctly implemented anyway? By the time anyone figures out what half of these policy analysts are arguoing for or against in any sort of a meaningful way, the very problems their policies were meant to deal with will have changed. Sorry for the rant and thanks for any comments.
10-31-2009, 05:06 PM
The substance of what most people are really saying in their research could probable be condensed into half the amount of pages they actually took to express their ideas.
To me, it seems like some academic somewhere trying to meet his or her writing and research page number quota for the year.
You answered your own question.
It sounds to me like you are just taking a hard class that isn't well taught enough to engage your mind. Welcome to college.
10-31-2009, 05:18 PM
? I don't think you got my question. My question pertained to what percentage of the curriculum is like this class, if anyone knows. one poster came pretty close to answering my question.
read john friedmann "Planning in the Public Domain" - I think that's where "rational planning" was coined. Is that not assigned?
I think rational planning was actually best explained by richard babcock, even though he didn't use the term rational planning, when he said in The Zoning Game (a great great great book) that planners traditionally assumed that ?above every town there exists a Platonic ideal zoning map, waiting to be dropped into place. This map shows for each piece of property the use or uses which will give to the sum of all property the greatest total value.? Likewise there would be an ideal street map that would serve this distribution of uses, and a public utility map, and a services map etc etc. Rational planning is scientific, or wants to be. the hypothetical 'rational' planner believes he can employ empirical tests of planning actions, tests of "efficiency" ... maybe using the kaldor-hicks model or the pareto superior models, which are often discussed in economic and legal theory. Also look at Komesar "Housing, Zoning and the Public Interest." It's all very "rational" ... with a clear, most efficient, solution.
A critique of this would start by saying the general material welfare should not necessarily be a planners priority, if it can even be defined. Complicating its definition are rival capital/material interests, ie the small property owner versus the large property owner. You have use value vs. exchange value, individual welfare, community welfare, regional welfare etc, which all may conflict. This critique brings you closer to what Webber and Rittel (read that?) called "wicked problems" - the idea that planning problems are wicked problems, they always involve zero sum games. It's the nihilism of the advocate planner, who believes the best a planner can do is to advocate for one party or another, but never really hope to find a best solution, because one doesn't exist.
I think an important thing to keep in mind is that for the most part planning theory is only a way of understanding planning history, most importantly how planning evolved from a pseudo-scientific "rational" process in the first half of the 20th century into a process based more on outreach, advocacy, and local political action in the second half. Unfortunately a lot of classes don't really contextualize it that way. Keep in mind that planning theory doesn't fully explain how any planner in particular acts, or inform anybody's actions, and it's not theory that can be tested, like scientific theory. Nobody says "I theorize that you are a rational planner, and so I conclude that your actions will be as follows." As it is it's mostly a hodge-podge of ideas borrowed from other disciplines across the social sciences, that form a retrospective intellectual history of planning. you may say "robert moses believed in the possibility of one best solution for nearly everybody, a science of planning, and jane jacobs brought this into question by arguing the existence of values in her community that could not necessarily be served by moses' ideas. These two reflect common attitudes in planning practice, for the purpose of this over-wrought academic paper i may call moses and people like him rational planners, and jane and people like her advocate planners." ok? and talk to your professor; if he's too busy to meet with you about an assignment he sucks and it's not your fault if you write a bad paper because this isn't easy stuff or fun stuff to do for a great majority of people.
11-01-2009, 08:01 PM
Thank you so much for your comments, I think that last post is probably as helpful as anything we have had in class all year long. I don't think I realized how in depth this class was going to be, so I have to make up for lost time now by really trying to delve into this stuff--which I thought, mistakenly as it turns out, was all going to be straightforward. We have covered a bunch of the material you cited, but by covered I mean the following: it was assigned, and rather than a lecture, we sat around and listened to people's opinions and ideas in the classroom for 2.5 hours once each week. The class is discussion oriented rather than lecture oriented, which I think tremendously adds to its perplexity. It is useful if you know some background, but I am totally new to this sort of "theory." In addition, the class meets only once a week, at night, and my main focus M-F is on the classes for my other degree (which matter less to me, but which have a tendency of being more demanding). Anyway, I just wanted to say thanks, because I spent a long time today thinking about some of these issues, and now seem to understand the "retrospective" way in which theory is used to illustrate history. Makes sense, I just wish it would have been presented that way to us as students back in September. I thought I was merely taking a broad historical survey class. The way you put it makes things a lot clearer and I mean it when I say thank you for that, it is legitimately appreciated. Good luck with the rest of your degree. I hope it all goes well! sounds like you have a grasp on this stuff more than a lot of folks. Thanks again.
You're welcome Patrick! ... in my master's program I was fortunate enough to have a class that contextualized readings in three historical case studies ... we talked about rational vs. advocacy in a study of housing redevelopment in the 1960s south end, got more into radical planning when talking about a proposed airport in mexico city in (i think?) the 1980s, and then wrapped it all up with a study of port redevelopment in rotterdam. the pure theory class should never be taught unless at the phd level ... far too many master's theory classes out there are just awful.
anyway when i teach the subject again i hope to do it in the context of historical planning actions - combine theory readings with some more "on the ground" readings. and will not have only discussion sessions! that is rough and i feel your pain. i hope you find out a way to somehow satisfy this professor, it's just too bad he/she hasn't found a way to better explain the subject to students, because it can be interesting when done correctly.
11-01-2009, 09:24 PM
Yeah when I hear it explained from you, oddly enough, it sounds somewhat interesting, despite the fact that its over the internet. Class is a different story. I think for most of my peers it is assumed that they spend all week reading this stuff and the class is merely a time when they can vent their opinions--whereas for me, I am time constrained in terms of what I can afford to spend on the material, and was hoping for a bit more context in class. But really, more so than I had imagined possible, you have cleared this class/confusion up for me. Pheeww!!
and P.S. I think I may have misunderstood you. when you say you are "at" the new school do you mean as a student or a professor?
11-02-2009, 01:18 AM
^ me? I'm an undergrad student at the New School. Urban Studies is a concentration in the larger liberal arts program they have.
11-02-2009, 05:32 AM
Sorry i confused the different posters. I get it now. Thanks.
11-02-2009, 10:29 PM
^ me? I'm an undergrad student at the New School. Urban Studies is a concentration in the larger liberal arts program they have.
I was going to apply to Parsons for architecture, but it hasn't worked out with everything else I'm doing. Bummer, too, I really liked the New School set-up. Cooper Union is still an option, though.
11-05-2009, 07:38 PM
Jane Jacobs taught herself.
I don't mean to take this thread off-topic but since we're talking graduate schools, does anyone know anything about Boston University's programs? They offer a master's degree in city planning and urban affairs but it's through their Metropolitan College - is this considered "2nd rate"?
I'm thinking I need to gain more knowledge of urban affairs / planning / design. More from an 'academic' point of view than practical, but which I mean (I think) theories vs. reality - it's not as if I'm going to go work at City Hall as part of its transportation department or something.
The BU program is not accredited, and I don't know much about it. The accredited programs in MA are at Harvard, MIT, Tufts and UMass Amherst.
MIT's is the strongest; it is regarded as one of the best programs in the county, along with UC Berkeley and UNC Chapel Hill.
Generally these programs look for people who want their future to be in planning - of course not just in the public sector, but somewhere in land use planning/ community development/ economic development/ housing policy/ transportation policy/ real estate.
11-06-2009, 04:01 AM
The BU program is not accredited
Actually, it is (http://www.bu.edu/met/about_boston_university_metropolitan_college/accreditation.html).
11-06-2009, 07:34 AM
For what it is worth, I've taken a few classes in the BU MET Urban Affairs program.
For the most part it is a mixed bag. It struck me as more of a way to network with people already working in the field. Most of the classes were taught by people who work or have worked in the field. I've had classes with two town managers (one active, one retired), a retired developer (still working as a consultant), the son of a former mayor of Boston (who was also the uncle of a local developer), and a 'community relations' manager for a large development project by a large university. All people with well qualified CVs but varying teaching abilities. I also had few real, full time professors teaching courses as well. Oddly enough, the best course I had was taught by a grad student working on his thesis.
Yeah, if you can get into the Havard/MIT level stuff, you'll do better, but you probably already knew that.
11-06-2009, 11:30 AM
Actually, it is (http://www.bu.edu/met/about_boston_university_metropolitan_college/accreditation.html).
There seems to be some accreditation level confusion here. The college is accredited as an academic institution, but the Planning program is not accredited by the nationally recognized planning accreditation board. Again, the school may be academically accredited as a college, but the program is not accredited as a degree program in planning. You can still get jobs from such a school, but some people place a premium on accreditation, especially in larger urban areas where there is more competition. To be accredited you need to meet certain statistical guidelines like number and types of courses offered, number of faculty, and number of grads. My school is similarly unaccredited due to a lacking number of faculty.
11-06-2009, 11:34 AM
Well, I'm confused. Each program needs to be individually accredited independent of the school? How do you find out if the program itself is accredited?
Edit. My bad, you are correct. Huh.
# Is the Metropolitan College MCP Program listed as a non-accredited program with the Association of Collegiate Schools in Planning (ACSP)?
Yes, the MCP program is listed as a non-accredited member of the ACSP as of spring 2008.
# Does the MCP's non-accreditation status have an impact on a student's education?
No. The accreditation process and designation does not stop the faculty and University from providing state-of-the-art course material, nor does it impact who we can recruit to teach. The most direct impact of non-accreditation on MCP students is that they are not eligible for many ACSP discounts and scholarships. Should the University become PAB-accredited, students would be eligible for ACSP student discounts.
# Does non-accreditation impact prospects for employment?
No. Metropolitan College MCP students are competitive in the city planning job market within and outside of Greater Boston. From the City of Boston to the Municipality of Tokyo, Japan, public and private sector employers have hired our students. Many city planning employment opportunities require a certified master?s degree in city planning, which Boston University grants. Many employers do not require students to be certified by the American Institute of City Planners (AICP). If interested in AICP certification, Metropolitan College city planning students are eligible to take the AICP exam.
11-06-2009, 12:19 PM
No worries. I learned something new. Unfortunately, what I learned was disappointing but I'm glad I know.
11-06-2009, 06:12 PM
From what I have heard accreditation doesn't really matter squat, not like it does in other professional schools. Some places hire planners who only have undergrad degrees as long as they have relevant work experience.
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