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date: 06 August 2021

Planning as Scholarship: Origins and Prospects

Abstract and Keywords

This article discusses the origins and prospects of urban planning as a scholarship. Urban planning is a relatively young academic discipline and, despite its storied genes, lacks an extensive, established canon on which to rest its laurels. It also has a conflicted status in the academy with its dual nature as both craft and intellectual field. The article proposes that planning research habitually embodies at least four indicative, over-lapping orientations, including built and natural environments, interdependent problems, implementation and practice, and change. It also discusses the contents of this volume, which is about purpose, role, process, and practice of urban planning, as well as the phenomena with which contemporary planning has been most concerned.

Keywords: urban planning, scholarship, craft, intellectual field, built environment, natural environments, interdependent problems

  • … guessing directions, they sketch
  • transitory lines rigid as wooden borders
  • on a wall in the white vanishing air

—Margaret Atwood, “The City Planners,” 1990

Planning Scholarship

urban planning is a relatively young academic discipline and, despite its storied genes, lacks an extensive, established canon on which to rest its laurels. Its youth affords it the flexibility to take on varied guises: an upstart social science; a boundary-spanning source of professional knowledge; and a fraternity of generalists, problem-solvers, and idealists, many being migrants from other, more traditional disciplines.

Yet the absence of a singular disciplinary tradition often obscures commonalities between scholars within the field. Because of its multiple identities, the field (p. 4) often breaks down along distinct problem-oriented lines: studying housing or transportation can be more important to one's identity as a scholar than the disciplinary parameters of the planning profession (e.g., Glazer, 1974). That said, we propose that planning research habitually embodies at least four indicative, overlapping orientations:

  • Built and natural environments. Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. famously defined city planning in 1913 as the “intelligent control or guidance … of the physical form of the city, in its entirety.” In this still compelling view, planning is fundamentally a normative effort defined by its focus on the hows, whys, and ways of place-making. While many fields aim to better understand poverty, traffic, governance, or environmental resource conflicts, planning is distinctive in its focus on how the complexity of urban place and space informs and affects these phenomena. Even today, when space can be more virtual than tangible, it arguably remains the first planning focus and lens.

  • Complex, interdependent problems. As its core task, planning addresses the complex, messy, and often unsolvable “wicked” problems of urbanism, growth and decline, and the social conflicts that confound places, individuals, and organizations. These challenges are multidimensional, interrelated, and often deeply problematic. Above all, much like the cities and places they seek to both explain and repair, they are neither simply described nor understood.

  • Implementation and practice. In contrast to many other disciplines for which the problems of cities and their hinterlands are an object of study, the principle purpose of planning is to do something about them. The questions that urban planners ask and the perspectives that they bring to these issues are, if not entirely unique, distinctively solutions-oriented. An overarching concern for practice, implementation, and affirmative change distinguishes planning from the other social sciences and enriches the intellectual content of research conducted under its auspices.

  • Change. Like the hypothetical planner in the lines quoted above, practicing planners try to “guess directions,” anticipate the future, and create physical plans, processes, and institutions that can induce, respond to, and manage change. Unlike the ironic stance taken by Attwood in the poem, they are united by a confidence that efforts to anticipate and prepare for change should be taken as part of the collective or shared purpose of improving cities. Some construct detailed models and imagine alternative scenarios in order to predict the future consequences of present actions. Others gather data and build theories to more accurately represent real-time transformations in neighborhoods and regions.

Cohesion around these orientations has allowed planning research to grow from a subset of urban-oriented topics within many different but traditional disciplines to the distinctive use of those disciplines to confront the challenges of modern cities, (p. 5) rich and poor. However, the advantages of scholarship about the field of spatial planning are often underappreciated. In the chapters that follow, the authors highlight the unique strengths of urban planning research. The Handbook organizes this state-of-the-art research by its leaders and emerging young scholars to sample the breadth of insight among diverse disciplinary outlooks. It broaches established topics of planning scholarship in a manner that emphasizes both cross-cutting themes and fresh approaches. We avoid rehashing existing knowledge, accepted wisdom, and constraining orthodoxies.

While offering a source of information, commentary, and expertise relevant to practitioners, this volume is not intended to offer best practices or translate innovative academic thinking for them. The American Planning Association's Planning and Urban Design Standards (American Planning Association 2006), as well as the ICMA's two “Green Books,” The Practice of Local Government Planning (Hoch, Dalton, and So 2000) and Local Planning: Contemporary Principles and Practice (Hack et al. 2009), are excellent references for planning commissioners, planners, and professionals in related fields such as environmental and land-use law, architecture, and government. These handbooks describe the mainstream practices of planning and city management.

By contrast, this handbook offers planning academics and scholars in such allied fields as architecture, geography, economics, and public administration detailed literature reviews, conceptual musings and theoretical frameworks. The following thirty-eight chapters demonstrate the breadth, substance, and significance of the multiple spatial, historical, economic, physical, and social policy contexts in which cities have developed. Each chapter represents an original contribution tailor-made for the volume. They report the latest research on these topics in a manner that is accessible to an academic audience from the social sciences, policy sciences, and design and legal professions. No comparable compendium of contemporary urban planning research currently exists.

The remainder of this chapter further considers this volume's significance, intellectual structure, organizational scheme, and content.

The Evolution of Planning

People flock to cities in pursuit of prosperity even as they contend with severe resource shortages, segregation, and polarized labor markets. While few would claim that the problems plaguing contemporary cities are greater in number or magnitude than in the past, more individuals are certainly affected by those problems today owing to contemporary urbanization patterns. In 2010, 3.5 billion or 51 percent of the world's population lived in urban areas, compared to 29 percent sixty years ago (United Nations 2010).

(p. 6) Attention to urban problems accompanies this geographic shift. The modern nation state in the nineteenth century thrived on unprecedented urbanization and the expansion of a market economy. The administration of growing and moving populations inspired new tools for social order and control, foremost among these bureaucratic reforms tied to an impersonal, secular, and calculating rationality (Simmel 1950; Weber 1978; Flyvbjerg 1998; Mitchell 2002). The powers of engineering that made warfare, trade and travel predictable and swift inspired the imaginations of reformers. The promise of health, security, and welfare, once the prerogative for elites, could be provided to the urban masses through enlightened and efficient municipal planning and management (see Corburn this volume for a discussion of the roots of urban planning in sanitary and health reforms). Notes Webber (1969) “The solutions to the problems plaguing the industrial city could be solved through the rational application of moral reform.” New crises—wars, natural disasters, epidemics, poverty—only posed anew and with greater urgency “the question of how ‘reason’ might gain ascendancy over the insentient forces that seemed increasingly to dominate the institutions of Western society” (Friedmann and Hudson 1974, 6).

The progressive movement nurtured planning institutions that tapped and expanded the roles of professionals as administrators and consulting experts subjecting political corruption and economic exploitation to the norms of purposeful collective decisions responsive to a public interest. The focus of these reformers, for the most part, was spatial; the field of urban planning grew out of the urban land “nexus,” and taming disorderly urban growth and its attendant social and environmental problems became the focus of this young profession. Scholars have offered detailed historical accounts of how urban space emerged as a legitimate sphere of governance (Boyer 1983; Fishman 1977; 2000; Hall 2002; see also Ben-Joseph this volume). They track and critique how professions such as landscape architecture, engineering, economics, and sociology shaped the emerging field of city planning, especially as an institutional reform located between the administrative and political functions of government. Western imperialism exported many of the tenets of modern spatial planning to colonies around the world where they were grafted on to and appropriated through indigenous traditions of city building (King 1976).

Plans became the legal and moral artifacts that represented the principles, goals, and expert advice of their authors and sponsors. Plans were initially comprehensive in scope, focused on the city as a synthetic object of concern, a system “whose parts would lose meaning if separated from the whole” (Beauregard 1990, 211). After the 1920s, the synthetic focus on the physical city gradually lost out to more diffuse and bureaucratic policy approaches to the subject, such as technical standards and land use regulations. Planners became specialists operating within their own functionally segregated areas of expertise, cut off both from grand visions and from the moral sentiment that motivated them. Later advances in computing technologies allowed for further rationalization of planning approaches (Michael 1965; see also Landis and Esnard, this volume).

The growing professional distance and faith in methods led mainstream planning to ignore or misinterpret the racial conflict and economic polarization (p. 7) occurring in urban regions. In the 1960s, attempts to reshape the profession to be an advocate for those most harmed by the concentrations of public and private power—namely low-income residents, immigrants, people of color—surfaced as a challenge to the ongoing bureaucratization process.

In the United States, urban planning developed more independent professional coherence and integrity during the latter half of the twentieth century. This was a fertile period of planning scholarship, capturing the great tensions between competing paradigms of urban governance and reacting to professional planning's greatest accomplishments and failures. The postwar era saw the wholesale clearance of working-class neighborhoods, the coordination feats involved in laying thousands of miles of highways, the ambitious plans to end urban poverty, and grassroots efforts to build community. And during this turbulent period, the visibility of planners and the demands on the scholarly field of urban planning grew. Specialized educational offerings for this young profession expanded in the 1950s, and the first PhD program was developed during this time (Perloff 1957; Teitz 1984).

The profession has ventured well beyond its traditional boundaries since those origins, integrating such diverse subfields as geospatial analysis and community organizing. Since the profession began its accreditation process, over eighty universities in the North America have adopted graduate urban planning degrees programs.

The field of urban planning has experienced something of a rebirth in the last decade; urban planning programs are experiencing a record number of applicants and are graduating an unprecedented number of professionals. The profession is expected to grow at an above average rate of 19 percent between 2008 and 2018 (Bureau of Labor Statistics 2010). This popularity could be due in part to a growing awareness of the hazards of unplanned growth, concerns about natural environments and economic injustice, and belief that planning can smooth transitions as society becomes more urbanized (Michael 1965). The status of academic planning also reflects the ascendance of the policy sciences and the value of applied knowledge in the face of continued urban development challenges. The field's pragmatism has allowed planning scholars entrée to the worlds of policymaking at all scales of government. Though never unimportant, systematic study of the ways in which cities and their administrations work, and fail to work, has gained renewed intellectual currency in a world where the promises of prosperity often fall short.

The Conflicted Status of Planning in The Academy

Owing to its youth and practical relevance, planning holds an awkward place within the academy, one that deserves further exploration and explication through (p. 8) an undertaking such as this one. Planning is one of those “schools of the minor professions” (Glazer 1974) marked by the conflicts that emerge in the absence of the legitimacy of a major profession, a singular grounding in specific technique, and fixed and unambiguous ends (Teitz 1984).

Its dual nature as both craft (how to plan) and intellectual field (why and for whom to plan) can be viewed as a liability. Planning aspires to be both legible and useful to those outside the academy and valued by the analytical standards of the academy. As such, academic planning finds itself trapped between competing instrumentalities of knowledge. It is often dismissed as overly concerned with the application of existing knowledge for external constituencies and normative to the sake of being biased (Scott and Roweis 1977). Other, more established academic disciplines claim to focus instead on the development of new knowledge for its own sake.

Such generalizations are unfair and have invited a torrent of analytic hair splitting about the nature of applied knowledge. The permeable walls between academe and the profession have many supporters. On one hand, constant engagement with practitioners allows planning scholars to theorize practice with an appreciation for its nuances, politics, and pathologies (Schön 1983). As Tore Sager notes in this volume “Planning is an institutionalized social technology for systematizing knowledge pertinent for a particular kind of collective action and for marshalling the power required for its implementation” (PAGE 26). On the other hand, planners’ generalist knowledge and problem-focused orientation are often sought out by practitioners who as fellow problem solvers know no allegiance to a single academic discipline. Planners develop knowledge that informs the practical judgments of a wide range of decision makers.

Planners have also had to contend with intellectual and professional assaults on the profession's basic premises: that planned processes and outcomes are superior to unplanned ones and that planning can, in fact, reflect some kind of public interest (for a review of the latter, see Campbell and Marshall 2002). Critiques of planning have a longstanding and diverse ideological pedigree. As archetypical producers of technocratic knowledge, those in central planning have been accused by scholars ranging from Frederich von Hayek (1944, 1994) to Peter Gordon (see, for example, Gordon and Richardson 2001) of misrepresenting individual preferences (e.g., for living in sprawling suburbs), falsely claiming to reflect consensus on the nature of public interests, and distorting the operation of markets. These critiques are not just voiced in the halls of academe but also, more loudly, in city council meetings, policy debates, and development conflicts around the world. Libertarian activists, such as the Institute for Justice and the Wise Use movement in the United States, have made similar arguments against the abuse of government's power to sap individual freedoms and undermine rights to private property.

Other critiques of planning—coming from left-leaning scholars such as Michel Foucault (1979) and James Scott (1998)—have challenged the abstracting logics of state planning. They argue that the interpretations of space and human behavior that derive from abstractions such as maps and statistics (i.e., the tools of the planning trade) devalue local knowledge, homogenize idiosyncrasies, and inevitably lead to failed policies. Unlike the neo-Hayekians, it is not state intervention that is anathema (p. 9) to their views; rather, the “rational” practices and tactics of governance—ones that could be used in the private, public, or third sectors—that are the root of the problem. When efforts to change human settlement patterns attempt to be comprehensive or do not accept the cognitive limits of their “societal guidance” efforts (Etzioni 1967), the futility of such efforts is exposed. Only recognition of the tacit knowledge and material experiences of nonexperts—acknowledged somewhat by the turn toward communicative action and participatory planning—could undo some of the damage wrought by planning's grandiose attempts to improve the human condition.

While offering important insights into the multi-partisan resistance to planning, both critiques tend to overstate the power that contemporary planners possess. Indeed a strong anti-expert sentiment has kept public-sector technicians relegated to advice giving—at least in the North American context. Fears about planners ruling the world may be less realistic than the more radical critique of planning, which accuses planners not of having too much power but of sitting on the sidelines while capitalism extends its reach (somewhat confirmed by the political case analyses of Altshuler 1966). The squalid, unhealthy, unsustainable, and expensive conditions of cities are less a by-product of planning's wrong-headed interventions, these critics point out, than of its short-term political impotence and its long-term inability to address the contradictions and dislocations of capital accumulation (Scott and Roweis 1977).

Academic planners are aware of these shortcomings, and some of the field's loudest critics have themselves found homes within the discipline. This is testament to the field's willingness to embrace diverse views and its interest in confronting controversy. Critique and disagreement contribute to intellectual ferment within the field, a ferment that we attempt to represent and engage in the following compilation. Indeed, the Handbook is intended not just to bring together in one volume an inclusive statement of the varied frameworks and substantive foci within the field of urban planning but to focus on the debates surrounding them.

The Handbook Organization

The Handbook is organized into three sections. These sections concern the three fundamental lines of inquiry most apparent in urban planning scholarship today: the role and purpose of planning, its practice and content, and its impact.

Part II. Why Plan?

The Handbook begins with a discussion of the discipline's motivations and goals. Planning in a mixed-market economy is most often justified by the presence of (p. 10) market failures. Competing land uses abutting each other (negative externalities), retail market opportunities foregone by businesses because of racial stereotyping (information asymmetries), and overconsumption of natural resources (public goods) are all accepted motivations for planning interventions by even by the staunchest free marketer. However, the market-failure perspective provides only one, very functional explanation for the evolution of planning. Other more historical or institutional accounts of the field's genesis and rationale are considered here.

Planners make judgments in the context of great uncertainties and competing interests, and they are motivated by a variety of values and beliefs. These values often conflict within the same plan. Can one plan be aesthetically pleasing, fiscally productive, and environmentally sustainable? Certain principles nonetheless constitute a repertoire that frequently guides plans, and their definition and operationalization are discussed in this section.

Part III. How and What Do We Plan?

This section addresses grounded and normative questions of practice, as well as the field's clashing philosophical roots in both Enlightenment-era rationalism and American pragmatism. Issues of expertise, technique, and communication have engaged planning theory for the last century. This section also focuses on the different activities that constitute contemporary planning.

Research is presented in two forms. One form concerns methods, which in planning are distinctive in their problem- and solution-orientation as well as their variety and mix. The second form surveys a number of traditional and emerging issues that are both intellectually challenging and popularly visible, such as economic development, housing, smart growth and climate-change planning, with an emphasis on research gaps and new results. These topics raise similar intellectual challenges that span different subfields of planning: that is, risk, uncertainty, limited knowledge, value differences, inequality, power, and accountability.

IV. Who Plans, How Well, and How Can We Tell?

This third section addresses the issues of agency and outcomes. Who ultimately holds power over the shape of places? Whereas the city planning function traditionally has been located in local government, actual control over city building may reside more with private developers who possess both the overriding self-interest and the financial capital to initiate change. Recently there has been more attention paid to those ways in which individuals transform places, not by virtue of their role in any state apparatus but acting through civil society or on their own through creative and informal forms of appropriation.

(p. 11) The products of planning include not just the documents we call plans, the blueprints that guide physical development in a neighborhood or region, but also the physical and political infrastructure that creates opportunities for agglomeration and exchange—the essence, according to Sennett (1992), of urbanity. Authors in this section discuss different ways of evaluating the outcomes of planning and the value of plans. Planners distinguish themselves from economists and policy analysts by devoting their attention not just to the creation of public benefits but also to the allocation of those benefits. The chapters in this section address the state–market–civil society relations and the politics of planning that determine winners and losers.

Handbook Themes: Contemporary Intellectual Currents

Whereas the organizational structure of the Handbook is dictated by the fundamental questions of why, how, what, and who, the content follows the intellectual contours of the field by way of less conventional paths and categories, summarized below.

We intersperse work by the field's established and junior scholars, and consciously choose not to reify the conventional boundaries that divide planning into functions or sectors such as transportation, historic preservation, growth management, and land use. We are not dismissing the canon; after all, the work gathered here still expresses concern for the same old problems of space, complexity and coordination, the knowledge-practice relationship, and comprehensiveness. But in this volume the authors propose some innovative frameworks for understanding old problems as well as introduce readers to new topics and approaches within the field.

These approaches reflect changed thinking and the influential intellectual trajectories within the applied social sciences at the beginning of the twenty-first century. For example, several of the chapters break down the dualisms that separate states from markets, focusing instead on civil society, third-sector organizations, and informal planning practices. Several of the chapters adopt communicative and constructivist epistemologies, demonstrating, for example, how expert knowledge must be made and established rather than assumed by virtue of its superior technical acumen. Several chapters challenge accepted assumptions about urban relationships and dynamics by looking at the empirical record, typically one that blends complex spatial modeling with unique data sources.

In particular we see some convergence between the chapters on a few general points: planning is contingent on place and culture, planning is increasingly hybrid, planning expertise is socially constructed, and even the most sensible appearing solutions call for validation.

(p. 12) Planning Is a Locally, Culturally, and Temporally Contingent Practice

Because academic planning is often explicitly self-conscious and normative (i.e., what planning ought to be, what it should aspire to do, how it can do its job better), it treats the practice of planning as decision making and guidance that somehow floats above the rest of society. The field's roots in architecture and engineering encouraged the notion that there can be one-size-fits-all standards and algorithms that are universally valid. But despite its idealist roots, urban planning is not a “transcendental activity, which contains certain principles that are appropriate for all time” (Cooke 1983, 10). Much of the new planning scholarship directly addresses the contingencies of place, time, and identity.

Chapters by Annette Kim and co-authors Yonn Dierwechter and Andy Thornley locate the planning function within the specific institutional networks of complex societies. These authors are not focused on what planning should be or what it should do. Planning, they argue, can best be viewed as a set of institutions and practices that are constrained by power relations between states, markets, and civil society, and these relations are highly variable across time and space. Their chapters lead to critical questions for any planning scholar: What does planning actually accomplish in different places? Why is it important in some historical eras and places and less so in others? What are the connections between planning and the other critical societal and political functions of the state?

Planning acquires its distinct characteristics based on forces that lay both inside and outside its realm of control. John Friedmann describes some of the contextual variables that alter the nature of planning in different settings: unitary versus federal states; strong central states versus strong regional states; liberal democracies versus authoritarian states; active participation in civic affairs by an organized civil society versus a civil society that is largely disengaged; preponderance of regulatory versus developmental planning; a legal system based on common law versus statutory law. Authors of several of the chapters would likely add to this list the degree to which communities are relatively diverse or homogenous, given that identity affects citizenship and political enfranchisement and, therefore, planning processes and outcomes.

Planning processes are also dependent on local conditions, including the health of property markets, the degree of trust between actors or the sources of funding. Margaret Dewar and Matthew Weber's chapter points out how little the field has to say about planning in areas that are not growing but instead are experiencing severe population and economic decline, disinvestment, and abandonment. They seek to fill in this absence by presenting frameworks, as opposed to specific tools, for addressing urban shrinkage. Even the field's defining normative principles—as Elizabeth MacDonald shows in her chapter on beauty or when Peter Marcuse discusses the meaning of justice—are defined and pursued in historically and culturally specific ways. John Carruthers's chapter on the public (p. 13) financing of urban growth is highly specific, making general patterns and thus practices difficult to justify.

If we approach the function, processes, and goals of planning contextually, then the artifacts planners produce should command the same kind of orientation. Brent Ryan proposes that planners treat plans like works of art that can be deconstructed through historically informed readings, pointing out how they represent ideas about design, public space, and city-suburban relations in vogue at the time. Contemporary land-use controls and building codes can also be read in this manner although, in his chapter on the topic, Eran Ben-Joseph is more concerned with whether the disconnect between these historically specific regulatory regimes contained in these codes and planning goals such as efficiency and sustainability can ever be breached. Emily Talen wants to argue that sustainable planning is a straightforward consequence of contemporary principles of sustainability, but getting from one to the other often proves elusive. Lisa Schweitzer and Linsey Marr give the critical example of air quality policy, and the clear disadvantages of advice based on imperfect knowledge. J. R. DeShazo and Juan Matute expand this example by showing how regulation for climate change depends on local planning goals and structures, and yet remains experimental because of that local dependence.

These local features not only shape the nature of the planning function but also influence other actors whose behaviors are circumscribed and influenced by planning. For example, Igal Charney emphasizes the importance of place—particularly the distinct regulatory environments, development cultures, and constellations of actors—that alter the power of the real estate profession across geographies.

Despite their attentiveness to the idiosyncrasies of place and time, the chapters in the Handbook still draw heavily from a contemporary North American planning tradition, one in which cities have developed quickly, local authorities regulate land use, and property rights are strong. This bias is intended to suggest neither a global planning monoculture nor the convergence of individual traditions along an Anglo-American model (through, for example, imperialism or the dissemination of “best practices” through international planning consultancies). As Friedmann acknowledges in his chapter, institutional change has proceeded at such different rates and according to such different logics as to make a one-world planning culture a utopian or dystopian idea. At the same time, however, one cannot deny the increasingly similar development trajectories between places that for centuries managed to retain a local distinctiveness. In their chapter comparing urban redevelopment patterns in the United States and Western Europe, Norman Fainstein and Susan Fainstein isolate a set of recent political and economic dynamics that serve to integrate local conditions with global transformations.

Still, many authors in this volume use cases from non-Western countries to contrast or challenge the notion of American exceptionalism. Individual contributors such Ananya Roy, Victoria Beard, Vinit Mukhija, and Faranak Miraftab consider their topics in places where planning research questions are particularly acute, such as the fast-growing countries of China, Brazil, Indonesia, South Africa, (p. 14) and India. Several authors examine them in the transitional economies of Europe and Asia where state-market relations were radically restructured after the fall of communism. Others explore boundaries between functions and responsibilities in different cases as well as their historical evolution.

The Boundaries between States, Markets, and Third-Sector Organizations Have Broken Down

Debates about the whether states or markets do a better job of allocating resources and regulating the built environment seem musty in the twenty-first century. Hybrid forms of governance—contracting out, self-regulation, partnerships—cast a new light on planning. Once bound inexorably to the apparatus of local government, planning activities and functions can now be found in other sites and organizations, many of which are in the so-called third sector, or what some refer to as “civil society.” Karen Chapple, for example, shows how the subfield of community economic development has not only become increasingly separate from planning but also, to a much greater extent, its implementation occurs outside of government agencies through a variety of nonprofit, labor, and business organizations. Elizabeth Currid-Halkett treats “the arts” as a planning sector increasingly driving regional economies rather than the other way around. These shifts in professional structure are both opportunistic and strategic on the part of practicing planners and are a response to the defunding of the local state.

As Carmen Sirianni and Jennifer Girouard explain in their chapter on the civics of planning, planning becomes an issue of coordination across a variety of stakeholders and associations, each of whom struggles for control and decision-making power. Creating frameworks for effective governance depends on designing civic engagement into planning processes that meet certain normative standards (inclusiveness, accountability, balance of power). Such norms permit, the authors note, “expanded scope for civic actors to make decisions, engage in coproduction and multiple forms of collaboration, but within a framework where they are accountable to other partners, and especially to relevant government authorities, elected by the larger polity or serving as administrators of statutes passed by democratic legislatures” (This volume, 682). They must also meet instrumental standards such as relative effectiveness and the efficient use of time and resources.

Other contributors question the degree to which civil society can include those poor households and individuals unable to make claims as fully enfranchised citizens. Ananya Roy points out that citizen participation is difficult in settings of urban informality, an alternative urban order where low-income individuals exist in tenuous spaces of ambiguous legal standing. “Formalized” state planning, economic production, and citizen involvement are rare, and so structured interactions between discrete sectors (e.g., states collaborating with markets) are less plausible. Instead, poor households develop forms of everyday practice and self-provisioning (p. 15) outside the organized labor force, formal economy, and state that allow them to survive in underresourced cities. Informality, she argues, should imply neither stigma nor absence of governmentality as much as a different way of organizing space and negotiating citizenship. Vinit Mukhija gives examples of successful improvements of slums, not via traditional top-down planning strategies but by residents themselves.

Faranak Miraftab and J. Phillip Thompson also describe the relationship between citizenship and formal state structures as central to planning. In her chapter, Miraftab expresses doubts about the extent to which formal political avenues and state-sanctioned rights and entitlements matter to achieving improvements in the lives of marginalized households. The only options in the cases of undocumented workers in small Midwestern towns or slum dwellers in the townships of South Africa that she studied were to fashion new forms of citizenship that afforded them inclusion in public institutions and in public spaces. Similarly, Thompson points out the materialist roots of racial discrimination and acknowledges the wide divide between what is promised through formal channels and what is actually provided—particularly in those communities that have suffered historically from discrimination and political marginalization. “Insurgent” citizenship and communal politics, which includes everything from anti-eviction campaigns to door-to-door organizing, often achieves more programmatic outcomes for such communities than professional planners and formal political channels are able to provide.

Planners Construct Expert Knowledge in Different Ways

In this volume, authors engage the issue of expertise in myriad ways. For example, Brenda Parker observes that the official historical narratives of the planning discipline obscure the ways in which ordinary citizens—namely women—contributed to its institutionalization. By ignoring women (and individuals of color who made similar kinds of underappreciated contributions), these narratives downplay the role that local knowledge and “street science” play in both the formation of the field and its contemporary functioning.

To engage effectively in urban planning, citizens need the authorization and scope to utilize local knowledge associated with “good processes.” Some authors, such as Jason Corburn, stress that expertise needs to become a resource shared by both planner and the subject of plans. Ann-Margaret Esnard describes investments in data visualization systems that are sophisticated yet usable by the public so that knowledge can be co-produced. John Forester advocates for planning processes that are expert enabled rather than expert led or expert dominated. Shaping future action in a world of interdependent stakeholders depends less on choosing the right alternative up front than in creating spaces where consensus and the political will to implement can be generated. Elisabeth Hamin and Li Na note that planners act more like mediators in emotionally charged preservation battles where (p. 16) landscapes are connected to memory and there is a highly individualized sense of place. Doing so effectively requires not methods or tools for validating historic truths but, rather, the ability to create venues for story-telling and oral history. Similarly Karen Umemoto's chapter on the principle of diversity emphasizes that multicultural communities are constantly negotiating planning goals, principles, and strategies to find shared meanings.

Tore Sager explains that Condorcet's jury theorem shows that plural planning, even if composed of imperfectly informed lay participants, is likely to choose the better alternatives than will expert-devised solutions. Lew Hopkins also examines the research into collective action, collaborative problem solving, and preference aggregation, and he finds evidence that good processes tend to produce better plans. Good processes, for example, increase the likelihood that plans will be used and, therefore, influence decisions and future actions.

Others acknowledge the importance of citizen input and political participation, particularly when it comes to identifying goals. Planning methods tell us little about the comparative advantages of alternative distributions of resources ex ante, and so citizens often deal with this issue politically and through debate.

However, some authors also stress the importance of deepening planners’ expertise through more sophisticated and scientific methods to identify the best means of managing expectations and increasingly complex environments. They, either explicitly or implicitly, are reluctant to give up the notion of comprehensive planning that has shaped the field to date. Tackling the issue of shelter, for example, Lisa Bates discusses methods of housing planning that involve simulations of market trends and modeling the effects of planning interventions to better characterize distinct market segments and address future needs. John Landis assesses many of the primary tools of expertise—planning models—as well as their evolution and success. Tom Campanella and David Godschalk argue that many of the planning models examined by Landis need to be refined to accommodate the occasional disaster, no matter how rare, and to adjust to a steady state or decline in land consumption.

The use of planning expertise is no more straightforward than public participation. Charlie Hoch demonstrates that plan making requires individuals to reconcile radically different domains of knowledge—namely, design artistry and scientific competence. Whereas design has the potential to guides future development toward beauty, scientific analysis offers predictability and control through the precise application of methodical analysis and evaluation. Hoch argues that planners use practical reasoning and judgment to digest scientific evidence that can inform and tame imaginative designs about future alternatives.

The views represented in this volume reflect different opinions on the proper balance of local, scientific, aesthetic, and practical judgment that do not always converge perfectly with one another. Despite some evidence, as Hopkins notes, that opportunities for human judgment and political ownership tend to complement the use of analytical methods, the tensions between participation and expertise, and between different kinds of expert judgment, still electrifies the field.

(p. 17) “Superior” Outcomes Associated with Planning Need to be Empirically Validated Rather than Suggested

Much of the canon of planning theory can be described as normative assertions about the benefits of planning (e.g., in reducing uncertainty through collective action) and the improvements to democratic institutions that would aid those most disenfranchised. Plans should result in positive outcomes by communicating useful and usable information to intended audiences so as to influence decisions and change the behavior of those aware of it.

However critics have punctured the optimism associated with planning—pointing to failures ranging from urban renewal in the United States to neocolonial forms of social engineering in the Global South. That planning can be associated with improvement in the lives of the poor and vulnerable cannot be assumed.

Kevin Krizek and David Levinson consider the apparently intuitive planning goal of accessibility, and find it sometimes unintuitive and yet still useful as a planning measure and objective, if done with care. Mirroring both the general move toward empiricism, positivism, and scientific validation in the social sciences, on one hand, and a new communicative orientation, on the other, planning research increasingly has sought to explore these seemingly unassailable statements about the value of planning. Are planning outcomes really superior to those from unplanned processes? Are residents of New Urbanist communities happier or better off? Does transportation planning reduce commute times? These questions do not ask if planning goals such as beauty or sustainability are worth pursuing—questions that can be evaluated before or after outcomes are realized. Instead, they examine if plans really will help or did help in achieving them.

Yan Song's chapter on the classic archenemy of planning—sprawl—and its prince on a white horse, smart growth, takes stock of both presumptions and finds them inadequate. Even while we have learned much about the costs and benefits of alternative urban forms, as John Carruthers surveys, there may be more still we do not know, making constructive advice to the profession a risky business indeed. Marlon Boarnet's chapter on the influence of land use on travel, perhaps the most active research literature in planning journals over the past fifteen years, argues both that substantial progress has been made in how to think about and thus study this set of issues and that we remain shorthanded by the state of that scholarship. Lew Hopkins's chapter addresses these challenges of plan evaluation from a wider vantage point. He points out that analysts interested in whether outcomes conformed to plan intent have found inconclusive results. In contrast, those who have used in-depth case studies and statistical inference have found planning to be effective in influencing actions and outcomes (i.e., the plans have “performed” in that people have used the information in them). Sometimes, however, these outcomes may be unintended and undesirable. These questions also pertain to the agents of planning; for example, are people who know how to plan really better problem solvers than those who lack such skills?

(p. 18) Empirical planning studies can be used to support or counter the cynicism about the claims of improvement and betterment that planners have historically made. Eugénie Birch's encyclopedic chapter of case studies in urban planning makes it easy to see why so much planning research has gravitated toward “best practices” that describe the “context, chronology, key actors, and crucial decision points” (this volume, 274) that authors claim are responsible for the positive outcomes observed. In some instances, the cases she describes make compelling arguments for the value of planning interventions (e.g., Moving to Opportunity) and in others, they reveal the complexity that good plans encounter when their sponsors attempt implementation. They also reveal the difficulties in doing statistically valid evaluations of planning, which requires the controlled experiments that scholars rarely encounter in public life. Nonetheless, the results of case research are often accessible and convincing to practitioners, and they wend their way into policy reforms, much as William Whyte's study of public plazas (1980) led to a rewrite of New York City's zoning ordinance.


Stripped down, planning scholarship is a manifest concern with the collective and individual problems of cities, looking forward. In that spirit, this Handbook considers a good many parts of the who, what, where, and how of urban planning. It covers both theories about planning purpose, role, process, and practice, as well as the phenomena with which contemporary planning has been most concerned.

Yet this Handbook also conceals the diversity of scholarship in the field; our first proposed outline for the volume was nearly twice as long. Even in a book of this size and scope, it is inevitable that certain critical topics get left out. For example, we would have liked to include chapters on property rights, infrastructure, planning histories, and regional governance. While the final chapters are not meant as fully representative of the creative thought within planning research, they do make for an excellent introduction to the range of issues currently under investigation by leading and emerging scholars in the field. Each of the chapters presents key debates within the author's respective field, a summary of what the scholarship reveals to date, and a long list of research questions left inadequately examined, together with strategies for further examining them.

The profession of planning faces enormous challenges across the world. Public employees, collective schemes for financing public goods, and systems of expert knowledge are all under attack. And yet, as the Handbook reveals, we are at a point of “lift-off” in the field's intellectual development. Perhaps the contested nature of the planning's context and objects of inquiry enriches the scholarship and gives it a sense of urgency. What is clear is that the complex relationship between the (p. 19) scholarship and profession of planning blurs the boundaries between theory and practice, between basic and applied research, and it provides fertile ground for the hybrid, undisciplined approaches found in this volume.


The editors gratefully acknowledge J. R. DeShazo, the Director of the Ralph & Goldy Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies at UCLA, and the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois, Chicago for financial support of this Handbook, and permission granted by the Journal of the American Planning Association to reuse substantial portions of the chapters by Boarnet, Kim, and Ryan that first appeared there. We also thank Jennifer Benoit and David Mason for help preparing individual chapter manuscripts, and Charles Hoch for comments on this chapter.


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