Planning, how dismal thou art 2: A reflection on 22 months of study

So a year ago I opined the state of planning education as I have experienced it thus far. I summed it up by saying, “It only matters who won, or achieved their desired political outcome. And science and reason have little to do with it”. I reread my dismal drivel and have now decided that my opinion still stands even against another 12 months of study.

So what is getting in my craw? Politics. I am pushing 40 and have had my share of life experiences and am fully aware of the politics that exist everywhere. I knew that planning was a political exercise by nature. That having come from Public Health and worked among academics I witnessed plenty of politicking. I have also worked in film (you might know this as movies) and believe me there is plenty of politics there too. This reflection is more about the education side of planning rather than planning as practiced, as my view of and exposure to practitioners is limited.

Navigating the political fiefdoms in my school. Not a fun exercise either. Nor is the submission to reading intellectually shallow readings of social theory and philosophy as rehashed by planners and taught by non-planners, and yet, the preachings are so rarely actually practiced! The program is very much in the school of the rational planner, top down, the attitude of “trust me, I am the expert-the authority”. What happened to “transactive”? And student opinions are met with “tokenism”. And few professors are “advocates” for the students. There are some, but the few who advocate for students are not power hungry, and are by nature willing to share power, but others are not, and so those most likely to advocate for students are politically the weakest, and those who have their own agenda are politically strongest, and so it is BAU. But I thank the professors who try.

VNT recently had a summit. During our break out session our “moderator” was more interested in reinforcing and steering the discussion to what VNT wants to do, rather than hear some interesting points that were made (they were not controversial or counter, just not what the moderator wanted to hear I guess), and that I had not heard of, and yet those new points were downplayed in favor of the norm, or to be quasi-Kuhnian about it, our moderator was practicing ‘normal planning’. Then later this event was followed by a real time voting survey where the questions were leading, loaded, double-barreled and about every other “do not do this in your survey design from your how to design a survey 101 course”.

To new planning students I strongly recommend finding workshops in your area, check your COG, MPO, APA, and AMPO sites regularly. You will get a better sense of what is going on in planning and meet practitioners and hear them debate issues. I wish I had started going earlier, and they are usually very cheap to attend. Places to check are your local COG, MPO, or RTC and of course the APA or your state chapter. To find them try: and .

At the end of the day, what works, or what gets actually done, is what is politically feasible, not what is just or best. But that does not necessarily mean BAU either. It can be for change and for the better, but you have to be creative. I’d also suggest keeping in mind that there are no absolute facts. That scientific evidence by nature is never finished or certain. And so you are operating more on the belief side rather than truth side of absolute or objective knowledge. But maybe I’ve been reading too much Feyerabend and Wittgenstein lately.

Well, I hope this ramble helps any proto-planners out there.

My recommended reading list in no particular order:

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