PLAN 69: Article
75 Years Of Planning Better Futures

A (Very) Brief Timeline of the Department

Since its inception in 1933, the Department of Urban Studies and Planning has maintained a bedrock commitment to positive social change. Its approach to education and practice is rooted in a belief that urban and regional institutions can improve the quality of life; that government leadership is needed to ensure greater social and economic equality; that technological innovation can be a major force for change; and that the built environment can serve as a source of meaning in our daily lives. Below, a quick look at some of the highlights in the department's development (and a list of the department heads):

A City Planning division is established in the Department of Architecture to encourage 'a breadth of outlook' in architecture students and to equip them to 'cooperate intelligently with engineers, landscape architects, lawyers, economists and sociologists in the planning or replanning of urban areas'. Frederick Adams is solely responsible for the teaching or staffing of all city planning subjects.

The Master in City Planning degree is introduced. When Harvard closes its School of City Planning the following year, MIT becomes the only US institution offering a master's in city planning.

The City Planning Program is renamed the City and Regional Planning program. No longer parallel to the program in architecture, the new curriculum includes planning courses in the first year and an office practice course in the summer of the third year.

The School of Architecture becomes the School of Architecture and Planning to reflect the growing importance of the subject.

The program becomes the Department of City and Regional Planning and Adams is appointed the first department head. Enrollment in the program more than doubles the prewar figures; graduate students outnumber undergraduates and the demand for planners exceeds the number of students graduating.

The undergraduate program is dropped and the department becomes a graduate school, offering only the two-year MCP degree focused on the study of the large-scale physical environment and its interaction with society. Undergraduate planning courses are offered as electives.

A new Center for Urban and Regional Studies is established, directed by Lloyd Rodwin. The focus of the center's research is the physical environment of cities and regions, the forces that shape them and the interrelations between urbanization and society.

The department first offers a PhD program in city and regional planning.

MIT and Harvard establish the Joint Center for Urban Studies, with Rodwin as co-director; this leads to publication of many seminal books and to the design and development of a new city in Venezuela, Ciudad Guayana.

A new methods course offers training in the application of computing to urban planning problems.

The Special Program in Urban and Regional Studies (SPURS) is established with funding by the Ford Foundation. The program offers a fellowship for one year of intensive study to international students, with preference given to persons from developing countries. The fellowship is aimed at mature candidates who will shape policy in developing nations and enhance their capacity to cope with potential development problems.

The name of the department is changed to the Department of Urban Studies and Planning, reflecting a shift in focus from the structure of communities to a broader concern with issues of urban and regional development such as the needs of minorities, environmental problems and social issues.

Lloyd Rodwin is appointed department head. Capitalizing on a climate of national urgency about solving urban problems, he transforms the department into 'a bustling academic supermarket' in which one can acquire expertise in urban studies and social science as well as professional practice.' A new SB in urban studies is offered, along with the option of a five-year SB/MCP degree, and courses are offered in educational planning, health planning, welfare policy, social program development and evaluation, poverty law and strategies for institutional change.

The Whitney Young Program is established with a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to help minority leaders cope with the social and economic development of their communities. A precursor to the Community Fellows Program, its principal aim is to enable local leaders to spend the equivalent of an academic year at MIT, working with faculty on projects of special importance to them and to their communities. Melvin King, former director of the New Urban League of Greater Boston, takes on responsibility for liaison with the local minority communities.

The curriculum is reorganized into three program groups – Community and Regional Development; Environmental Design; and Public Policy Analysis.

The Center for Real Estate Development is founded to administer the new Master of Science in Real Estate Development program and to sponsor research on issues relevant to the real estate and investment fields.

Organized largely by the department, MIT launches the first in a series of major conferences to examine the future of Boston; each conference is focused on a unique urban challenge, from the real estate boom of the 1980s to reclamation of the land above the Big Dig in 2002 to an assessment of the challenges facing the city in the 21st Century.

The department is organized into five research clusters - Land Development and Design; Environmental Policy and Planning; Poverty and Development (in the Third World); Employment and Community and Regional Development; and Planning and Decision Support Systems (with emphasis on Geographic Information Systems).

MIT's Teacher Education Program is moved into the department, directed by Eric Klopfer, to take advantage of synergies with the department' s work with communities and community organizations; the Community Fellows Program is renamed the MIT Center for Reflective Community Practice.

Projections is launched, MIT's peer-reviewed journal of planning, devoting each issue to a specific area of interest to planning scholars and professionals; the first issue focuses on remaking crisis cities.

David Geltner becomes director of the Center for Real Estate.

The SENSEable City Laboratory is established in cooperation with the Media Lab, to study the impact of new technologies on cities; it is headed by Carlo Ratti Associate Professor of the Practice of Urban Technologies. Meanwhile, the MCP program introduces a practicum requirement, offering students an array of client-based and community-focused subjects in settings that range from Springfield and Lawrence MA to Mexico, India and Mozambique.

Graduate students and faculty take the lead in establishing the China Planning Network, designed to foster critical dialogue between researchers and Chinese officials about ways to improve the direction of development patterns in China.

On August 29, Hurricane Katrina hits the Gulf Coast of the US; afterward, the resulting challenges facing New Orleans and the Gulf Region engage the substance of nearly every subject in the curriculum. Meanwhile the School of Architecture + Planning and DUSP sign an agreement with Tsinghua University to establish the Urbanization Laboratory, which will develop and conduct research on city planning and design for rapidly growing cities in China and other developing countries worldwide.

A grant through the US Department of Housing and Urban Development stabilizes a years-long involvement by the department with the city of Lawrence MA, creating a Community Outreach Partnership Center focused on affordable housing, community asset-building and youth pathways to education and careers.

The Center for Reflective Community Practice is renamed the Community Innovators Lab (CoLab).

A national study of graduate programs in urban planning ranks MIT's Department of Urban Studies and Planning the best in the nation. Out of 94 departments assessed in North America, MIT's department is also ranked #1 for international development, #1 for housing, social and community development, #1 for economic development, #1 for technology, #2 for real estate and #3 for environmental planning, for land use planning, for transportation planning and for urban design. In other words, the department as a whole and every program in it is ranked among the top three in the country.

Heads of the Department

Frederick Johnstone Adams, 1947-1957
John Tasker Howard, 1957-1970
Lloyd Rodwin, 1970-1974
Langley Keyes, 1974-1978
Lawrence Susskind, 1978-1982
Gary Hack, 1982-1986
Tunney Lee, 1986-1990
Donald Schon, 1990-1992
Phillip Clay, 1990-1992 (associate department head); 1992-1994 (head)
Bishwapriya Sanyal, 1994-2002
Lawrence Vale, 2002-present

Posted February 2008