In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Urban Planning and Geography

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Resources
  • Planning Theories
  • Planning Histories
  • Planning and Plan Making
  • Spatial Planning, Land Use, Growth Management, and Urban Shrinkage
  • Urban Development and Politics
  • Transportation
  • Housing
  • Economic Development
  • Community and International Development
  • Informality
  • Urban Design and Public Space
  • Historic Preservation and Cultural Heritage Planning
  • Sustainability and Resilience

Geography Urban Planning and Geography
Renia Ehrenfeucht
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 August 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0080


Urban planning refers both to collective actions that shape and improve human settlements and to a profession or professions that developed to guide urban growth and improve the conditions of industrial cities. The profession stemmed from architecture and landscape architecture, municipal engineering, public health, and social reform efforts, and it developed a distinct identity in the 20th century. Twentieth-century planning also increasingly drew on social scientific knowledge and practices, and by the century’s end urban planning research drew from and substantially contributed to geography, urban sociology, urban anthropology, and the broader urban and regional studies literatures. Planning overlaps with geography when it examines the spaces of everyday life, spatial relationships among its different dimensions, and the processes that create them. Urban planning research and practice also engages with public action and policy. How to address market failures, look out for collective interests, and work toward greater equity and better conditions for disadvantaged residents are core tenets of planning practice. Although planners are quick to note planning failures, they have been slower to develop critical analyses of how planning is implicated in the intersectional production of colonial power and gendered, racialized settlements than activists and researchers in geography and affiliated disciplines, and they have been less observant of planning’s role in concentrating rather than redistributing wealth. Planning has interrelated specializations, including housing, transportation, community development, economic development and environmental planning, among others. These continue to be core concerns, but the scope of urban planning has expanded to incorporate issues ranging from the transition to renewable energy sources, restoring fragmented ecological systems, mitigating climate change, and increased environmental vulnerability to cultural heritage preservation and living together in situations of hyperdiversity. Increasingly, planning scholars and practitioners have also recognized the importance of widespread informal urbanization. How to act effectively in a globalized world and in an era with little trust in state institutions is a current challenge facing planners. Because urban and regional planning simultaneously addresses problems of urbanization and dense settlement patterns and envisions better—more just, sustainable, prosperous, beautiful—futures through public intervention and collective community action, it often has a normative, advocacy tone with obvious affinities for particular outcomes.

General Overviews

Planning stems from divergent traditions. The classic Friedmann 1987 delineates four strands of planning’s intellectual roots. Hall 2002 offers an intellectual history of planning practice and ideology throughout the 20th century. As many western countries saw pressure for public retrenchment, Klosterman 1985 argued that planning could be defended based on the social functions it provides, from promoting collective interests and addressing externalities to looking out for less influential societal members. Planning practice and public sector action continues to be both used and challenged, and Fischler 2012 outlines major approaches to and tensions within planning origins, planning practice, planners as professionals, and planning pedagogy, arguing that the contradictions both enrich planning and make it challenging. Responding to the destruction wrought by megaproject development in the name of planning, Jacobs 1961 is an anti-planning treatise that influenced generations of planning practitioners who shifted focus to people-oriented spaces. Although public action appears necessary in complex societies, in a detailed look at statist thinking Scott 1998 demonstrates how states see and argues that limited state-centric thinking accompanied by weak civil society has led to repeated failures in large-scale planning projects. Understanding planning failures is insufficient, and Yiftachel 1998 argues that planning scholarship inadequately addresses how planning practice furthers regressive agendas (see also UN Habitat 2009, cited under Sustainability and Resilience).

  • Fischler, Raphaël. “Fifty Theses on Urban Planning and Urban Planners.” Journal of Planning and Education Research 32.1 (2012): 107–114.

    DOI: 10.1177/0739456X11420441

    At its core, planning has numerous contradictions and tensions. This commentary outlines nine theses about the origins of planning, ten about planning practice, ten about good planning and plans, fifteen about planners, and five about planning education and research.

  • Friedmann, John. Planning in the Public Domain: From Knowledge to Action. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1987.

    A classic text that lays out the intellectual roots and social underpinnings of planning, by a prolific planning scholar. Delineates four dominant perspectives influencing planning theories: social reform, policy analysis, social learning, and social mobilization. One of Friedmann’s many books about planning theory and practice.

  • Hall, Peter. Cities of Tomorrow: An Intellectual History of Urban Planning and Design in the Twentieth Century. 3d ed. Oxford: Blackwell, 2002.

    Another classic by another prolific scholar. A comparative view of planning efforts from early-19th-century reformist efforts to formalized plans and planned cities. The third edition includes trends through 2000. First published 1988.

  • Jacobs, Jane. The Death and Life of Great American Cities. New York: Random House, 2011.

    An influential treatise against modernist urban planning. Argues that complexity and diversity are critical functions of cities. Influenced decades of planners who seek to develop vibrant people-oriented urban areas and who examine why cities continue to be sites of creativity and innovation. Critiqued for ignoring how power operates. First published in 1961.

  • Klosterman, Richard. “Arguments for and against Planning.” Town Planning Review 56.1 (1985): 5–20.

    During the rise of the neoliberal return to market solutions, public sector planning increasingly came under attack. This article justifies planning when it promotes collective interests, addresses externalities, provides information for decision making, and considers the distributional effects of a given action or protecting the interests of those with less clout.

  • Scott, James C. Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition have Failed. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998.

    A rich explanation of statecraft and the limitations of statist simplification and legibility. Provides cases, including Le Corbusier’s modernist urban design in Europe, Soviet collectivism, and compulsory villagization in Tanzania, as well as agriculture and forestry.

  • Yiftachel, Oren. “Planning and Social Control: Exploring the Dark Side.” Journal of Planning Literature 12.4 (1998): 395–406.

    DOI: 10.1177/088541229801200401

    An influential article that argues that planning’s work toward goals such as oppression, economic inefficiency, or ethnic marginalization has been inadequately recognized, and offers a conceptual framework that addresses four dimensions—territorial, procedural, socioeconomic, and cultural—across which planning control has advanced regressive goals.

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