Planning History: The Basics

Planning history is often taught in the first semester of planning programs. However, many students find that their interest increases with time and that with more knowledge they have more questions. Below I list some basic books and journals for finding out about planning history. In an upcoming entry I will discuss important plans, places, and programs that the historically literate urban planner should at least recognize. Two books typically set in planning history introductory courses in the United States are an easy place to start:

3 minute read

April 10, 2010, 7:47 AM PDT

By Ann Forsyth


Planning history is often taught in the first semester of planning programs. However, many students find that their interest increases with time and that with more knowledge they have more questions. Below I list some basic books and journals for finding out about planning history. In an upcoming entry I will discuss important plans, places, and programs that the historically literate urban planner should at least recognize.

Two books typically set in planning history introductory courses in the United States are an easy place to start:

  • Hall, Peter, 2002, Cities of Tomorrow (Blackwell). Some students find it hard to follow because it is organized thematically not chronologically but it has international coverage and Hall writes well.
  • Legates, Richard and Frederick Stout, 2007, City Reader, 4th Edition (Routledge). This book has brief excerpts from a range of works and is an easy way to start reading authors like Engels, Olmsted, and Dubois.

There are many of collections or essays, monographs about specific topics, reviews of specific themes, and classic works. Just a few of the collections of chapters or list of books include:

  • Sies, Mary, and Christopher Silver eds, 1996, Planning the Twentieth-Century American City (Johns Hopkins University Press).
  •  Freestone, Robert, Ed, 2000, Urban Planning in a Changing World (Routledge).
  • The Planetizen list of the Top 20 Books in Planning has a number of classics including Jacobs (Jane), Lynch (both Image of the City and Good City Form), McHarg, Mumford, Olmsted, Gans, Whyte, and so on: http://www.planetizen.com/books/20    

Journals that cover planning history are typically available in university library subscriptions and those without this benefit can obtain them via interlibrary loan.

  • Journal of Planning History, the Journal of the Society for American City and Regional Planning History, has a wide range of articles, looking at just the past few volumes some of this range is apparent:
    • City planning and infrastructure (2010, Volume 9, Issue 1)
    • Whither the region? Periods and periodicity in planning history (2009, 8, 4)
    • The neighborhood ideal: Local planning practices in progressive-era women's clubs (2009, 8,2)
    • Urban growth of a city under siege: Turkarm, Palestine over the past century (2009, 8, 1)
    • City planning and the U.S. census: 1910 to 1960 (2008, 7, 4)
    • Strategic self-Orientalism: Urban planning policies and the shaping of New York City's Chinatown, 1950-2005 (2008, 7, 3)
    • Back to the future: Doxiadis's plans for Baghdad (2008, 7, 1)
    • .and so on.
  • Planning Perspectives, the journal of the International Planning History Society, has an even wider range of geographies, e.g.
    • Toward garden city wonderlands: New town planning in 1950s Taiwan (2010, Volume 25, Issue 2)
    • From "slum clearance" to "revitalization: planning, expertise, and moral regulation in Toronto's Recent Park (2010, 25, 1)
    • Urban change and conflict in the traditional character of an African city: The example of Benin City, Nigeria (2000, 24, 4)
    • Urban planning as a tool of power and social control in colonia Africa (2009, 24, 3)
    • The changing appreciation of Patrick Geddes: A case study in planning history (2009, 24, 3)
    • Creating order with nature: Transatlantic transfer of ideas in park system planning in twentieth-century Washington D.C, Chicago, Berlin, and Rome (2009, 24, 2)
    • Mass housing and urbanization: On the road to modernization in Santiago, Chile, 1930-60 (2008, 23, 3)

My next blog will deal with important plans, places, and programs-just in time for (northern hemisphere) summer reading and field trips. This is my March entry, a little late.


Ann Forsyth

Trained in planning and architecture, Ann Forsyth is a professor of urban planning at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. From 2007-2012 she was a professor of city and regional planning at Cornell. She taught previously at at the University of Minnesota, directing the Metropolitan Design Center (2002-2007), Harvard (1999-2002), and the University of Massachusetts (1993-1999) where she was co-director of a small community design center, the Urban Places Project. She has held short-term positions at Columbia, Macquarie, and Sydney Universities.

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