Urban Planning Theory and Praxis: Comparative-Historical Origins and Applications

This course takes as its point of departure the historical and national origins of planning as a discipline, assesses its evolution over time and across developmental contexts, and situates our understanding of what has come to constitute “planning theory” in a deeper understanding of the political, economic, and social specificities and constraints on planning action. In understanding what might be referred to as planning praxis, we not only examine those social structures and economic as well as political power relations that enable or constrain preference for certain policies and processes of decision-making. We also examine the history of ideas about cities, debates over how the built environment should be designed and/or governed, and address longstanding conflicts over who should have the legitimacy or authority to undertake such decisions. The time span that we examine during this course begins in the late-19th and early 20th century and ends in the contemporary era.  

Upon completion of this course, students will understand the main theoretical and praxis traditions that underpin contemporary approaches to urban planning, especially in the US and Europe, but also in global-comparative perspective. They will be able to relate contemporary theoretical and praxis traditions to earlier rounds of debate and political struggle regarding urbanization as well as the attempt to plan, manage and modify its socio-spatial expressions and ecological consequences. In the process, they will understand the historical connections between the disciplines of architecture, urban design, landscape architecture, and urban planning.

Additionally, students will be well equipped to assess the underlying normative, conceptual and political assumptions that mediate major contemporary approaches to urban planning and policy, globally and locally. This will entail becoming acquainted with social science approaches to the study of cities and urbanization and relating those approaches to the study of planning and design strategies across contexts and scales. Finally, students will be in a position to assess planning discourses—for instance, regarding social and spatial justice, equity, diversity, and sustainability—and will be able to relate them to ongoing social struggles to imagine and create alternative urban worlds. In the most general sense, this course will help students build critical capacities for understanding and contributing to efforts to shape and reshape urban life through the planning, design, and policy disciplines.