History and Theory of Urban Interventions

This class provides a high-intensity introduction the history and theory of urban planning practice under modern capitalism.  Building upon an interdisciplinary literature drawn from planning theory and history as well as urban social science (geography, sociology, political science, history), we explore the emergence, development and continual transformation of urban planning in relation to changing configurations of capitalist urbanization, modern state power and sociopolitical struggle.  We also explore (a) the changing sites and targets of planning intervention, from the neighborhood, city and regional scales to those of the metropolis, national economy and beyond, and (b) the evolution of political and institutional struggles regarding its instruments, goals and constituencies.  The course is organized in three main parts.


  • Part One surveys several key intellectual perspectives on the nature of planning in modern capitalist social formations.  Key questions include:  What is planning, and how and why does it emerge?  How are planning practices and visions linked to broader structures of economic and political life, including formations of social power?  How are the sites and targets of planning constructed, and how do they change across time and space?  Do planners serve private interests or the public good?


  • Part Two explores some of the key episodes, movements and pioneering figures in the history of modern urban planning since the first industrial revolution of the 19th century.  Although we focus in some detail on the ideas, visions and practices of well-known urban, regional and territorial planners, we embed their activities within the historically and geographically specific constraints, opportunities and struggles associated with each of the major phases of modern capitalist urbanization and associated formations of national state power.  In thus proceeding, we explore the conflictual interaction of capitalist firms, property developers (rentiers), political institutions and social movements at various spatial scales, and the consequences of that interaction for the institutional, legal, spatial and ideological terrains of "planning" and for the broader geographies of urban development.


  • Part Three offers a broad overview of some key lines of debate in contemporary planning theory.  What is the appropriate role of planning in a period of heightened fiscal austerity and global financial crisis, in which dominant ideologies promote a reduced role of state institutions in reorganizing the social fabric and the built environment?  We consider several approaches that attempt to illuminate the changing nature of contemporary urbanism and the possible role of planning in reshaping cities, regions, territories and the planet as a whole.


Previously offered as 5101.

This course will meet in Piper Auditorium for its first class meeting on 9/4.