What’s next for urban planners?

As discussed in two recent blogposts, Fringe Planning and Community, the planning profession is at a distinct crossroads. Our short history of little more than 150 years has resulted in only a couple of major paradigm shifts: the grand City Beautiful designs, Modernism’s clean-slate, and oft-reactionary Participatory movement.

Mired in politicization and NIMBYism, sustainability and resiliency planning could hardly be considered the contemporary movement in planning. We have a bad habit of waiting for the frog to boil before we jump to action. And even then, the standard bearers are rarely ever planners; rather they are architects, scientists, engineers, or artists.

Mary Miss broadway new york city

We have been striving for this new epoch for years. Perhaps unable to convince others of our worth, through in-fighting, or the reliance on 50-year old community-knows-best rigor, we have not been able to make this transition.

As planners, we should be able to think in scenarios, so here is one for you: if we choose inaction and the status-quo, we will, in the best scenario, become archaic and obsolete. In the worst scenario, we may face professional oblivion.

Well today, I am happy to report the beginning of something special. Perhaps it is the third, and quite overdue, epoch of planning: that of the Leader…

marron institute at new york university

This week, New York University announced the opening of their new multidisciplinary educational program, the Marron Institute on Cities and the Urban Environment. NYU calls this an

“…unprecedented University-wide lens – bringing together the social sciences, natural sciences, humanities, and professional schools to sponsor significant interdisciplinary research, develop new curricular initiatives, provide a vibrant academic community…”

This new institute, soon moving to Downtown Brooklyn, will join together the Center for Urban Science and Progress, the Institute for Public Knowledge, and the Urbanization Project.

I think this is a bold move, one which attempts to look beyond inter-faculty and inter-academic quibbles, the siloing of information and talent, and most importantly aims to achieve the next step: the evolution of the planning profession into something more.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology also sees the value in collaboration and has launched the new Center for Advanced Urbanism, which will attempt

“…to integrate separate disciplinary agendas in architecture, landscape, ecology, transportation engineering, politics and political philosophy, technology, and real estate through a most eloquent design culture…”

MIT center for advanced urbanism

Leader-based planning certainly doesn’t mean paternal or top-down, yet our role needs to be provocative, inspirational, and forward-thinking. The leader cares about the whole team, yet it is our duty to make sure we reach our objectives. We are not the specialists, but we know enough about all subjects to guide and ask the appropriate questions, to push our team further than they imagined possible.

Scotland 2030

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