Urban Design for Planners

This seminar course introduces planners and others interested in urban development to the history, principles, and processes of urban design and its indelible impact on people, places, and cities.

The course explores the role of urban design in creating beautiful, just, and resilient places. It considers the actors involved and the intersections and interplay with architecture, landscape architecture, public policy, real estate development, urban planning, and other disciplines. It examines the influence of culture and history, economics, and politics, and the benefits of advocacy and public engagement to advance ambitious civic visions and projects with social impact.

Over the course of the semester, students will gain an understanding of the history and evolution of urban design and the modes and methods of practice through readings and presentations, conversations with practitioners, and interactive class discussions and workshops. They will acquire knowledge, learn about and access resources and tools, and develop and practice skills to navigate and participate in urban design processes and projects.

Students will develop and refine skills of observation, exploration, and inquiry via semester-long research, evaluation, and documentation of a Boston development site. Weekly prompts and workshops will help students integrate, apply, and communicate ideas and lessons learned from readings and discussions. Students will share and discuss progress with the class via informal presentations and pin-ups.

The primary audience for this class is urban planners but it is open to anyone interested in learning about design and the urban environment. Urban design is, by nature, experiential and visual. Prior experience with design, planning, and visual representation is not required, however a keen curiosity and desire to observe, explore, and learn is expected.


  • Understand and describe the role of design in the urban environment and its critical connections to equity, access, health, and the environment.
  • Appreciate and discuss the history, evolution, and diversity of urban design practices and processes and their impacts on people, communities, and cities.
  • Identify and describe the actors involved in urban design (people, organizations, sectors), their roles and influence, and the intersections and interplay between them.
  • Develop and utilize an inventory of urban design resources and tools to support practice and engage and communicate with communities, clients, and other practitioners.
  • Refine and apply observation, analysis, communication, and critical thinking skills and strategies to evaluate and respond to urban design and development proposals.