Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 2 hours / session


The class consists of 5 units. Unit I introduces some classics from the planning literature. Units II, III and IV are based on case-studies of Boston, Mexico City and Rotterdam. Each of these units will last 4 classes. The first class will consist of a 2-hour presentation of the case; the second class will meet in sections for students to discuss the case. In the third class, groups of 5 or 6 students will present a group project to the class, based on guidelines set out by the case-study presenter. In the fourth class, the class again meets in sections to discuss the group projects. Each student will participate in one group project over the course of the term. At the end of each unit, students who did not give a group presentation will submit a 5 page memo commenting on the case in light of the initial planning action framework presented in the 1st unit. Unit V will provide a course wrap-up, focus on the future of the profession of city planning and will also include an in-class final to evaluate mastery of the required readings.


Each student's grade will be based on

  • his or her team presentation and project,
  • performance on the two required individual memos,
  • in class and on-line participation, and
  • performance in the final.


This class will take advantage of the resources provided by the class website. It is your responsibility to consult it regularly for updates in the syllabus, reading list, and assignments. All the readings for the class will be available for download from the website. Also, all materials presented in class will be posted on the site. The website also has a discussion forum capability which you are encouraged to use to continue class discussions.

At the suggestion of previous MCP students, students have randomly been assigned to study groups of 6 or 7 students. The first student in each of these groups is its coordinator. These groups are encouraged to meet on their own time (once a week for an hour, or as they see fit) to discuss assigned readings, group presentations, memo assignments and to serve as a small support group. These sections are separate and different from both class discussion sections and project groups. The study group assignment can be found at the end of this syllabus, on-line. On the same sheet, you will find a number (from 1 to 4) before each name. This refers to the section you have been assigned to for in-class discussion.

A project sign-up sheet will be circulated on the first class. Every student must sign-up for one project group. There will be 4 groups (of 5 and 6 students) preparing reports on each case study. Students who do not fill out this sheet in class will be randomly assigned to a project group. By the second class, the finalized listing of project groups will be available on the class website. Groups will be allotted 30 minutes (including 10 minutes for questions/discussion) for their presentation during the 3rd class for their unit. Project groups are responsible for working with the course TAs to make sure that their presentation is available on the course website no later than 2pm on the day of their presentation. It is highly recommended that the presentation be online prior to it being given in class. At the end of the course, the project groups are expected to submit a full write-up based on their in-class presentation.

Students not involved in a group project will be responsible for submitting individual assignments on that unit. The detailed assignment guidelines will be available on the course website. The assignment must be handed in to the Gateway TAs at the beginning of the class marking the beginning of the next unit. Late assignments will not be accepted without a reasonable justification.

Course Outline

UNIT I: The Framework: Taking Action

The introductory lectures outline a theoretical framework for thinking about planning action. Students will be introduced to some classics from the planning literature in the context of a seven-step model of planning practice.

  • A Seven-Step Model of Planning Practice
  • Key Dilemmas in Thinking About Planning Practice

UNIT II: Comprehensive Neighborhood Planning: Taking Action In Boston's South End

The case will focus on the urban renewal planning process undertaken in Boston's South End during the early l960's. That process, a comprehensive effort to revitalize the neighborhood both physically and socially was part of a city-wide effort to use the federally-funded urban renewal process as a way of "turning around" Boston- both its Downtown and its neighborhoods. The Boston Redevelopment Authority's (BRA) previous approach to neighborhood planning had been to clear the site. But planning for residential and commercial rehabilitation required the active involvement of residents and neighborhood institutions. The challenge confronting the South End planning team is how to engage residents and other "stakeholders" in a productive and supportive planning process.

  • Boston (South End)
  • Class Discussion (See Discussion Questions Online)
  • Group Presentations (See Guidelines Online)
  • Class Discussion (See Discussion Questions Online)
  • Individual Assignments due at Beginning of Class

UNIT III: Who's the Hostage Here? Planners, Peasants, and Politicians in the Sitting of the Mexico City Airport

In October 2001 Mexico's Secretary of Communications and Transport announced the Federal Government's decision to build a new state-of the-art airport on agricultural lands 30 miles northeast of Mexico City. Peasant protest -- which involved a national and international media campaign and, ultimately, hostage-taking -- pushed the President to cancel the plan and consider other sites in the metropolitan area, much to the dismay of private sector developers and others who strongly promoted the project. In this unit, we use this case study to ask questions about the possibilities and limits of citizen protest, about the challenges of planning for a metropolitan region cross-cut by three levels of government, about the dilemma of balancing local, regional and national development aims, about the relationship between planners, politicians, and the private sector, as well as about the use (and abuse) of technical versus political and social criteria in the planning process.

  • Mexico City - Airport
  • Class Discussion (See Discussion Questions Online)
  • Group Presentations (See Guidelines Online)
  • Class Discussion (See Discussion Questions Online)
  • Individual Assignments due at Beginning of Class

UNIT IV: Sustainable Development in Rotterdam- Planning or Innovation?

Efforts to achieve sustainable development in the Netherlands are characterized by several conflicts. One is the conflict between the tradition of planned development and the demands sustainability creates for ongoing adaptation, innovation, and learning. The second is the "institutional void" (Hajer) created by the mismatch between the formalized planning practices and the informal networks in which deliberation about emerging problems occurs. A third is the disruption caused by social tensions between new (especially immigrant) communities and the consensus on core social values that has underpinned social, economic, and physical planning in the Netherlands. Finally, planning and development are shaped by the pull of demands for greater integration with global and European political and economic networks and increasing expectations for among stakeholders at the local level to shape the decisions and actions that will affect their lives. In this unit we will look at what planning and innovation suggest for the design of an intervention that can begin to enhance urban sustainability and livability in tangible ways in the face of these tensions.

  • Sustainable Development in Rotterdam
  • Class Discussion (See Discussion Questions Online)
  • Group Presentations (See Guidelines Online)
  • Class Discussion (See Discussion Questions Online)
  • Individual Assignments due at Beginning of Class

UNIT V: Composing a Professional Life as a Planner

The content and style of planning education should reflect a clear view of the roles that planners play, the responsibilities they are expected to assume, and the skills (and analytic capabilities) they need to be effective. This section of the Gateway class will provide an opportunity for us to share our views on these topics. The week of panels will bring practitioners from the Department's five program areas to campus to talk with students about their practice. Our goal will be to give students a "boost" in their efforts to think ahead about how they want to use their two years at MIT.

  • Presentation of DUSP Program Groups
  • Evening Alumni Panels - see schedule on-line
  • Thinking about Planning Education
  • In-class Final
  • Class Evaluation
  • Paper and Electronic copy of Group Project.