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Planning practice 👔 Schools, planning programs, and technical skills


After several years working as a planner for a large city I decided to go back to school to get another degree. The required classes consist mostly of statistical methods, survey methods, and learning technical knowledge, with very little history, theory, or physical planning classes. What happened to the creative side of planning? Is this just where I worked, or do most planners find themselves working more creatively than technically? Why don't schools teach planners how to come up with new and creative ideas that will make cities better instead of simply teaching the best way to do a cost benefit analysis? I do understand the need for this technical knowledge but shouldn't creativity also be emphasized?


Ready to Learn
Hail to the Victors, Hail to the University of Michigan!

Well, today is my lucky day!

I feel pretty fortunate then with my decision to attend the University of Michigan and enroll in their masters or urban planning program. I've been inundated with claims that my decision will not give me practical skills since the program does emphasize, among other things, theory, history, and creativity. I have been pretty fortunate to have professors who have given me the latitude to think in uncommon, creative ways.

Becki, perhaps your school does focus on the technical aspects of planning. Not all schools are like that, though. Just curious- how many schools did you apply to and how extensive was your research on planning programs before you applied? When I applied, I had a good sense of which schools were policy-based, and which ones offered a wide-range of concentrations. When I visited campuses, I paid attention to what the program was showcasing to me and looking to see if there was a bias. The schools that made it clear they were policy gurus did not get my attention. At the U of M, however, they made it clear there were plenty of opportunities to explore various aspects of planning, i.e. charrettes, community outreach, etc. Now that I'm entering my second year in the program, I know what I want to focus on and have a clear path to graduation eight months from now.


A shadow of my former self
Staff member
it depends...

Planning schools are as diverse as the students that populate them. My experience tends to tell me that the eastern schools are slightly more technical, midwestern schools more theory based, and western schools relatively balanced (by better transportation programs).

You have to visit the schools and look at their curriculum carefully to determine where the scales are tipped so to speak.


That would require the professors to invest some time formulating classes with a theme on advancing the idea of creative urban thought. In my mind this would entail time in research looking for examples from U.S cities, then creating a reading list of avarnt guarde uran design and policy books. It would be great if professors taught on the edge of any kind of touchy feely field such as urban planning but it requires a lot of their time in preparation. When I was getting my masters in public admin i got the feeling the course design was as current as the last time the professors structured their course--which could be for a tenured professor, 20 years ago.