looking for a transformative urban planning program
March 30, 2007 7:39 AM   Subscribe

i'm looking for a master's Urban Planning program that incorporates significant amounts of radical urban sustainability, healthy communities/liveable streets, 'alternative' energy use, sustainable design, public/alternative transportation, and other transformative ideas. info/advice/experiences? thanks.
posted by entropone to Education (11 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I think that Yale School of Forestry has an urban specialization. It could be what you 're looking for.
posted by sneakin at 7:44 AM on March 30, 2007

Well, I'm not sure how completely "radical" any Urban Planning master's degree programs get, at least in the United States. There may be splits within departments at the same school. For example I'm planning to attend the MIT program in the fall, and it's my understanding that while the Housing, Community, and Economic Development program group has is more left-leaning (although, still hardly radical) there are more conservative elements in the International Development group (more people working for places like World Bank and WTO). So, this is all to say that I don't think there is any program that is all radical.

I do know that there is a "Radical Planners" student group at the University of Illinois--Chicago program. Professor Jane Smith there has sponsored student research into more radical ideals like the Critical Mass bikers movement so she may be worth speaking to. But good luck with that -- I had an appointment with her when I went to visit UIC this past January and she totally stood me up with no apology, ever.

At any rate, if you don't already know about it another good place to post this question would be on the Cyburbia Forums. Cyburbia is an online planning community with planning students and practicing planners from all over the world. They even have a "Student Lounge" on their forums where it would be appropriate to ask this query. The combined knowledge and experience on Cyburbia is astonishing. But be forewarned: Not everyone is even lefty, let-alone radical.
posted by jk252b at 7:54 AM on March 30, 2007

NYU's Wagner School of Public Service definitely seems to fit your description. It's a young, very motivated program full of just the sort of people I think you'd want to stew transformative ideas with. Their website, while slick, seems pretty empty - you might want to talk to someone there on the phone. I've got to say, there's no better resource than New York and the NYU community - Wagner is a cool place.

I've also at least got to give a shout-out to Tufts University's Urban & Environmental Policy & Planning program. As a Tufts student, I've only had positive experiences with UEP, but that doesn't necessarily make them the best fit for you.
posted by coolhappysteve at 7:57 AM on March 30, 2007

Response by poster: thanks for the comments thus far.

re: radical stuff and leftism - rather than being interested in something that is leftist along that spectrum, i'm more interested in something that is grounded in a prioritization of transformation. radical in that sense - less so the politic.
posted by entropone at 8:03 AM on March 30, 2007

Portland State University's Nohad A. Toulan school of Urban Studies and Planning would be right up your alley. Portland is one of the most forward-thinking of cities in the nation, and PSU (being an urban, downtown campus that's woven into the fabric of the city) is playing a huge part in that.

I can certify that PSU is a great school, even though it's only known regionally -- lack of a good football team, natch. It's actually the largest, by student population, school in Oregon. I've had a few friends go through the Masters of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) program, many of them are helping shape the future of some large California cities now.

Disclaimer: I'm an alumni of PSU's School of Business Administration.
posted by SpecialK at 8:31 AM on March 30, 2007

I could be completely wrong about this, because I don't know what I'm talking about, but that's never stopped me before....

I wouldn't be surprised if it were difficult to find truly radical Urban Planning masters' programs, because it's a pre-professional degree. Part of what they need to do is ensure that you have the skills necessary to get a job as an urban planner upon graduation, so you can pay off your debt and put food on the table. And because there aren't a lot of jobs for radical urban planners in the U.S., they probably have to stay at least somewhat grounded in what's practical. I bet the really radical ideas about urban planning are coming out of PhD programs, because those people can go into academia, where it's ok to come up with ideas that aren't actually going to be implemented in the near future.

One thing to do is to figure out who is coming up with radical ideas about urban planning and then see where those people teach. You could even email them, explain your goals and interests, and ask if they think their programs are right for you.
posted by craichead at 9:05 AM on March 30, 2007

I'm a Master's degree student in the urban planning program at the School of Architecture and Urban Planning at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. We talk a lot about sustainable development. There is a joint Architecture/Urban Planning degree here that would probably incorporate a lot of what you want. There's a list of past projects here which hasn't been updated in awhile, but current projects are much like this. My e-mail's in my profile; feel free to contact me.
posted by desjardins at 11:20 AM on March 30, 2007

Might want to check out the University of Michigan's Urban Planning degree, paired with some courses in the School of Natural Resources. You should get a good background in what you describe above. They practice what they preach, the School of Natural Resources has composting toilets amongst other sustainable features.

For radical approaches, I recommend getting involved in activities on UM's campus, like the club appropriately titled "Transformers" (whose website does not seem to be up today) and the Solar House Project (MISO). Here is one committee on campus you could get involved with (from a quick google search.)
posted by Eringatang at 12:10 PM on March 30, 2007

Check out UC Berkeley, particularly Professor Randolph Hester and his essay "Life, Libery, and the Pursuit of Sustainable Happiness." He's focused on transformation and has a radical heart, a realistic understanding of how much inertia there is in the world, and an inquisitive approach to figuring out how to actually create change.

At UCB, I'd consider both the Department of City & Regional Planning and the Department of Landscape Architecture & Environmental Planning. DCRP professors work for "healthy communities/liveable streets" in the human-scale city approach of Alan Jacobs and the tradition of Donald Appleyard. LAEP has more professors with an explicitly environmental focus, and one of the authors of the Portland Metro green street guidebooks graduated from LAEP. And I think Professor Peter Bosselmann is designing super-sustainable new neighborhoods in China. UCB planning and urban design students are doing other cool things.

That said, as someone who went to planning school with exactly your interest, I agree with desjardins's comment: ...difficult to find truly radical Urban Planning masters' programs, because it's a pre-professional degree...they need to... ensure that you have the skills necessary to get a job as an urban planner. I'd consider planning school the place that teaches you how the system works. It'll be your job to hold onto your "radical, transformative" vision and figure out how to integrate it into the way cities and design firms do business. If it were easy, it'd be done already -- but that's why it's an exciting challenge. I'd advise you to get support in holding on to your vision -- in the Bay Area, maybe a class at the New College, (permaculture stuff) at Occidental Arts & Ecology Center, or going to the Bioneers Conference every year.
posted by salvia at 12:47 PM on March 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

+1 for checking with Cyburbia. They are THE urban planning website.
posted by Doohickie at 1:27 PM on March 30, 2007

This comment is right: "transformative" and "urban planning" don't really go together, simply because urban planning masters programs are about learning methodologies and mechanisms for working within the existing political system. Some are stronger in areas like "sustainable cities" and so on than others, but none are really "transformative," questioning the full underpinnings of our society. (A lot of planning professors do work that you might call transformatory, and many planning students share your interests, but the masters programs have much more limited aims.) There are a lot of students who come in with the interests you describe, but the problem is that there is no job market for people with that sort of education, while there is a really good job market for people with more traditional (if perhaps "leftist" or "green" or otherwise not mainstream) educations.

There are some programs in Europe that might come closer to what you want, although they are just as embedded in an imperfect system as anything here.

I would suggest that you look seriously at graduate programs in ecology/natural resources or development sociology. Because those disciplines aren't tied as closely to a professional practice as is planning, they have more room to give students a more "radical" education, and don't have to balance the systemic critique with the "here's how to make incremental improvements in an imperfect practice" that is the core of planning.

Alternately, if you are serious about urban planning, find a specific professor who is doing the sort of deep critique you want, and enroll in that school's program with the goal of studying with that professor. You will have to take a bunch of required classes, few of which will be "transformative," but you can spend lots of classes and independent studies with that professor, and leave with both the radical education you want, and an employable degree.
posted by Forktine at 1:38 PM on March 30, 2007

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