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US Planning Isolationism

Recently, the new Journal of the American Planning Association editor Randall Crane circulated a message to US planning academics in which he asked for new submissions:

"A reminder that JAPA is interested in your best work in any aspect of planning scholarship -- quantitative or qualitative, foreign or domestic -- that informs practice.  We would particularly like to broaden subject content over the next few years." 

Temple Uni urban studies prof Ben Kohl replied: "For years I have wished that JAPA would show some interest in the lessons that ‘foreign’ planners and planning experience might have to offer.

Bruce Stiftel | December 10, 2010, 8am PST
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Recently, the new Journal of the American Planning Association editor Randall Crane circulated a message to US planning academics in which he asked for new submissions:

"A reminder that JAPA is interested in your best work in any aspect of planning scholarship -- quantitative or qualitative, foreign or domestic -- that informs practice.  We would particularly like to broaden subject content over the next few years." 

Temple Uni urban studies prof Ben Kohl replied: "For years I have wished that JAPA would show some interest in the lessons that ‘foreign' planners and planning experience might have to offer. A decade ago I was discouraged from submitting an article because the editor didn't seem to think US planners would be interested in experiences of a ‘foreign' participatory planning program implemented on a national level. In the spirit of hoping for a new opening I would suggest that we might consider the language we use. Labeling what happens in the 95% of the world that is not ‘domestic' as ‘foreign' indicates to some a limited willingness to seriously consider the experiences from an undistinguished mass of the ‘other.' Yet the ‘foreign' encompasses (1) Danish policies to create sustainable cities, (2) sustainable industrial urban planning in China, (3) a Columbian mayor implementing land use and transportation policies in Bogota, (4) the development of a carbon-neutral urban enclave in Masdar, Abu Dhabi, (5) the decolonization of national planning policy in Bolivia, (6 to n) and best practices from a hundred other places."

After this a discussion involving many faculty members followed, about which an overseas colleague (who wishes to remain anonymous) commented:

"I have watched this whole exchange with utter amazement. From statements like ..non-US people tend to ....write descriptive papers etc,  to ....maybe 'they' write more on physical planning and design... to the incredibly narrow ideas of what constitutes good scholarship. I have waited for howls of protest from Europe, at least, but I think only one person pointed out politely that there were entire intellectual areas in planning and urbanism in French and Italian that the English-speaking world didn't even know about. [ ]. Seeing this from the outside I would be tempted to write off US planning academics as arrogant, bigoted and parochial, totally out of touch with what is going on in the rest of the world. That of course would be totally wrong as I also know there are people [ ] who see the world very differently and make a great effort to build the collective capacity of this tiny profession we find ourselves in."

There are indeed troubling signs about the manner and extent to which US planning academics and US planners more broadly engage our colleagues elsewhere in the world.   For instance:

 --The outgoing president of the Association of European Schools of Planning (AESOP), Wilem Salet is completing a study of planning journal reputation among European planning educators.  He has found only one US-edited journal (JPER) among the ten top journals in terms of importance to the sample's work. (http://www.aesop-planning.com/; click News; 2010 Planning Journals Survey).

 --A similar study of the views of US planning academics just published in the Journal of Planning Education and Research by Harvey Goldstein and Gunther Maier (v.30, 2010, p66-75), shows similarly geograpahically segregated results: only two non US-edited journals appear among the top ten journals as ranked by US planning scholars.

--A 2007 study I prepared with Chandrima Mukhopadhyay examined the extent of international authorship in 25 planning journals for the period 2001-5.  The five journals with the lowest international participation of authors were all edited in the US (J. Planning Literature, J Planning History, Places, JAPA, JPER).  [B Stiftel, C. Mukhopadyay. Thoughts on Anglo-American hegemony in planning scholarship: do we read each other's work?  Town Planning Review. 78(5, 2007): 545-72.  DOI: 10.3828/tpr.78.5.2.

--The recently formed Global Planners Network is a promising development, but tellingly its five member organizations, including APA, are the professional planning bodies from the four largest English-speaking countries of the world, plus representation from less developed regions and other language groups limited to participation of the (British) Commonwealth Association of Planners.

With widespread political resistance to planned change in our country, with many forward looking planning programs and experiments in widespread settings, with global interconnectedness driving economic and environmental outcomes, and with rapid growth in the quantity and quality of higher education in many countries, the days when US planners could ignore practice and scholarship communities elsewhere in the world and still do our work well are over.   We have to find better ways to learn from and work together with our planning colleagues who speak other languages and who work in other countries.  

 

 

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