Category Archives: The Urban Planning Profession

Thomas Campanella and the Death and Life of Urban Planning

I have been reading Reconsidering Jane Jacobs, edited by Max Page and Timothy Mennel and recommend the book as a companion and follow up to the classic Jane Jacobs works.

The final chapter of the book is written by Thomas Campanella, a professor of urban planning and design at University of North Carolina.  He notes how it is ironic that an assault on the profession has become a standard text.  He also notes that urban planners no longer think big and no longer work on making cities more livable and vibrant.  Instead he feels that the profession is mired in red tape and governmental regulation as well as being slowed by an oversensitivity to grassroots organizations that are largely self interested.

The chapter is compelling and worth reading.  I agree in general with many of the assessments, but I see things slightly differently.  Campanella ascribes the cause of the inoculation of the profession to a move away from physical planning because of the failure of urban renewal.  I instead see the decreased efficacy as a result of the profession’s move towards advocacy planning and specialization, which was famously encouraged by Paul Davidoff.  I will address a short history of planning specialization (and privatization) in a paper that I will give at the SACRPH Conference on Planning History in Baltimore in November, I will discuss the paper more in the future.

Campanella and I would agree that the horizontal nature of the profession makes it less effective.  Campanella calls for a return to physical planning as a way to increase the importance of the field.  Others have also called for urban planning to find a core value or skill to focus on.  Is it physical planning or is it something else, maybe sustainability or climate resilience?  Whatever that guiding principle is, the profession should have a frank conversation about its goals.  Maybe this essay is a good place to start.