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History and Theory of Planning

Course Description

This course examines key ideas in the history and theory of planning. We start with some challenges of 21st-century urbanism to activate our conversations about the history and theory of planning. Does the historical and theoretical apparatus of planning equip us to deal with 21st-century urban formations and problems? Are the forms of contemporary urbanism categorically different from those of the past? Are the techniques and methods of planning bound to the American context, or are they also suitable for other social and political contexts?

The syllabus is organized in part as a great books course. We will read a series of classic books in the history and theory of planning by major thinkers whose ideas have had a significant impact on urban form, theory, and planning. They include: Daniel Burnham on the metropolitan idea; Le Corbusier on the modernist city; Jane Jacobs on pedestrian-centered urbanism; and Ian McHarg on environmental planning, among others.

Another set of readings and class sessions will focus on the techniques of planning on which planners have grounded their claims of professional expertise. Our goal is to understand the history, use and abuse of the planner’s toolkit. Our topics include: data surveys and the framing of planning as a social science; advocacy planning; building codes; and zoning.



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