As a new academic year is getting underway at universities across the country, it seemed like a good time to reflect on how we can encourage more people to study planning, and become involved in a career we feel passionately about. Having spent some of his summer break doing just that, our former intern Ross has some interesting insights on why people might not currently be choosing planning for their degree, and how he introduced them to the discipline. Equally importantly, Ross highlights what he got out of that experience, which is a great reminder of why it’s sometimes good to step out of our comfort zone!
“What’s that?” This is a question I commonly get asked when I tell people I study urban planning.
As highlighted in the blog, Talkin’ ‘Bout My Generation, a lack of awareness of planning as a discipline is a serious issue in terms of recruiting the planners of the future. So, when I was lucky enough to be tasked with taking the Introduction to Urban Planning Module for the University of Dundee Summer School, I was very excited to be able to introduce people to something which I care about. At the same time, I have to admit to being nervous about the prospect of giving lectures, having had no previous experience of doing so!
The Summer School is an alternative route to being accepted into the University, providing students with an opportunity to gain the credits they need to meet the criteria of a conditional offer of a place and, each year, the job of taking the urban planning Summer School class is given to a student. As well as hopefully getting people interested in planning, it was a great opportunity for me to improve my public speaking skills and gain experience in teaching.
The class I taught consisted of students from a variety of age groups, backgrounds, and nationalities. No one within the class was though coming to the University to do urban planning, with students having instead enrolled in courses such as architecture and geography. Therefore, to me, this was the perfect opportunity to open these students up to the possibility of studying planning, or at least to make them aware of what it is, and the many possibilities and opportunities it brings. I aimed to make the experience for the students as enjoyable and informative as possible, with the hope that I would be able to get them to at least start thinking like planners (for example when analysing and considering potential improvements to a place, not to just think of the place as a purely physical space but also to consider the impacts these improvements will have on those who live in and use the space), which they would then be able to evidence in their graded presentations.
I took the class for a two-week period, giving 6 lectures centred around the Place Standard Tool (which is used to structure conversations around how places work) and which would inform the students’ thinking for their final assessed assignment. Over the 6 lectures, I covered the following topics:
– Introduction – a broad introduction to urban planning and what the students may learn at Dundee University.
– Scottish Planning Policy and Local Development Plans – introducing students to the way the planning system works in Scotland, including planning policy documents such as the National Planning Framework, Scottish Planning Policy, and Local Development Plans, as well as the planning application process.
– A History of Planning and Development in Dundee – taking the students through the history of development in Dundee, from the city’s beginnings, to how it has evolved into what it is today, and how it may look in the future.
– People, Place, and Space – looking at sense of place, and the application of the Place Standard Tool, including taking students on a tour of the University campus and getting them to analyse the many different senses of places experienced, allowing them to use the Place Standard Tool to convey how different places made them feel and how they could be improved.
– Contemporary Planning Trends – firstly, learning broadly about urban design, looking at examples from Dundee, Copenhagen, and Mexico City, then introducing the students to recent planning trends, including 20-minute neighbourhoods, walkable cities, parklets, tactical urbanism, and urban planning and design during COVID-19.
– The Past and Future of Planning – this included the rise and fall of high-rise buildings (using examples such as the Grenfell disaster) and, looking to the future, concepts such as intergenerational housing and cohousing, with the neighbourhoods of Marmalade Lane in Cambridge and Vauban in Freiburg used to show places which are utilising one or many contemporary planning concepts.
Delivering lectures on these topics gave a good overview of what urban planning is, what it affects, and the many ways it can be utilised. I also hoped that it would get the students thinking like planners in answering questions and solving problems by applying the information they had learned. So, it was great to see how successfully what I had taught them was applied in their final presentations, on which they had to talk about the place they are from, how it is as a place in its current state (using the Place Standard Tool), and how it could be improved. Many of the solutions suggested for these places utilised urban planning techniques and trends, including pedestrianisation, improved green spaces and public art installations, as well as many more ideas. Like all good planners should, students also considered the economic, social, and environmental impacts of their solutions, as well as making sure they were relevant to their specific places, be it a city, town, or street.
Having seen the enthusiasm these students new to the subject had for learning about urban planning, I believe that at least some would have already chosen to take it as an optional module, or even as part of their degree, if they had known about it as a discipline before attending the Summer School. To my delight, many of students I spoke to on the final day of my lectures said how enjoyable they had found this introduction to urban planning and that they would keep planning in mind for their studies at the University of Dundee. This was epitomised when one student proclaimed in front of the class (and my own lecturer, which was a bonus!), “When I picked this module, I thought it would be my least favourite, but it turned out to be my favourite”. As a young, first-time lecturer, this was great to hear. It really made me feel that I had accomplished what I had set out to achieve and showed me the incredibly rewarding side of teaching. Personally, this was a great experience, which gave me a fascinating insight into the world of lecturing, as well as allowing me to gain confidence in public speaking and to help bring more people into a career path which I am passionate about.
So, although there is a shortage now, based on the positive responses I got to my Summer School lectures, I believe that there is an abundance of urban planners out there, they just don’t know it yet! And the good news is that planning does seem to be becoming increasingly popular, with a large increase in the number of people doing the course at Dundee University this year. But, although this trend is a positive sign, awareness of the topic could still be much better, including through introducing it at school. The problem then isn’t that people aren’t interested in planning, it’s just that they don’t know what it is.
Thanks for reading!
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Pippa and Maggie