Planning Tomorrow's Urban World

By Bremer, Darlene | International Educator, July/August 2008 | Go to article overview
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Planning Tomorrow's Urban World


Bremer, Darlene, International Educator


Urban planning is an international profession and practice, with many countries having a long history of community planning. In recognition of the profession's growing global impact, urban planning graduate education programs in the United States are internationalizing their curricula to enable future urban planners to work effectively anywhere in the world.

ASHLEE MCLAUGHLIN could have chosen any urban planning master's program in the United States. But she didn't. Instead, she chose to enroll in a specialized international urban planning program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC).

"Working in El Salvador as a Peace Corps volunteer and in Mexico has helped me gain a deeper understanding of the different ways communities and populations settle and organize according to their geography, governments, and culture," she notes. The time McLaughlin spent overseas with friends, acquaintances, and interviewees, she says, added a depth to her research that she could not have obtained or understood as well through only statistics or other quantitative data.

Her international experiences in the UIUC master's program has enabled McLaughlin to live in different communities, has broadened her view of human behavior, and strengthened her ability to understand different planning theories and practices more effectively and creatively in various contexts.

Ashlee McLaughlin is not alone. An increasing number of students are enrolling in the growing number of urban planning graduate programs with international components as the profession adapts to the global economy.

Trends in Intel-nationalization

Master's degree programs in urban planning require students to choose a specialty, such as growth management, transportation, environmental issues, economic developing, or housing. "We find that international specializations are the fastest growing, with American students expressing growing interest in studying and working overseas and an increasing number of foreign students coming to the U.S. to study," observes Petra Doan, associate professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at Florida State University (FSU), Tallahassee. Economic and social globalization, Internet communication, and instant media are major contributors to the increased understanding that what happens overseas truly affects the United States in terms of labor, commodity, and financial flows. "There is a growing number of people throughout the U.S. interested now in how the rest of the world works and in learning about how other cultures perform urban planning and how those lessons could even be applied in the U.S.," Doan adds.

According to Vicente Del Rio, professor in the City and Regional Planning Department of the College of Architecture and Environmental Design at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, concerns such as global warming, environmental impacts, alternative energy, natural resources, tourism development, and economic globalization are moving most planning programs toward a more global focus in two basic ways. First, he observes, by opening more opportunities to international students and exchange programs. "secondly, by offering more international education opportunities for students to work in the field of international development and to travel abroad," Del Rio adds.

Another trend in the internationalization of urban planning programs is an increased focus on engaging new technology, such as geographic information systems (GIS), which allows planners to digitally map areas. "Planners need such technology to be innovative in discerning patterns in crime, changes in land use, and other variables to analyze statistical models of the physical environment and adapt plans to the needs of the community," says Annette M. Kim, assistant professor in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge.

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