distinctiveSCARP: Turning 8 Fundamental Ideas Into Action


As the School celebrates its 60th Anniversary there is much discussion of its past, present and future. Extraordinary events unfolding all around us, both on and off campus, are creating great and unanticipated uncertainties. Different people see in them varied opportunities and threats and one's threat is often another's opportunity. It is in this context that SCARP is once again reflecting on its future options. There is much that needs to be considered but of fundamental importance is an appreciation of SCARP's living constitution and unique contributions to UBC and beyond.

The Founding Vision

Peter Oberlander, the founding Director of SCARP, had a vision for the School that is as relevant today in its distinctive component ideas as it was sixty years ago. The 8 key words that summarize these ideas for me have taken on different meanings, forms and emphases over the intervening years. But together they endure as SCARP's living constitution to this day and continue to have great potential for guiding the School in turning ideas into action.

I leave for another day, the elaboration of just how Peter used these words and the ways in which diverse others have discussed them in the voluminous literature. Maybe this can be one of my retirement projects; one that will be greatly assisted by the biography of Peter that SCARP alumnus, Ken Cameron, is writing. In the meantime, Peter's article for the Nanjing World Urban Forum in 2008, published just before he died, nicely reflects the clarion call that guided his vision for SCARP from its founding and during his own extraordinary career - Turning Ideas Into Action (Urban World Nov. 2008. pp.9-12)

Today's Vision and Mission

It is noteworthy that each of the 8 words is associated with SCARP's fundamental identity. All except one of these words (interdisciplinary) appears at least once in the School's name and vision and mission statements that have identified and guided SCARP for many years:

In 1951 SCARP was established as the first unit within the newly created Faculty of Graduate Studies (FOGS) because of its novel mandate to foster interdisciplinarity. The School flourished within FOGS for more than half a century and is today located in the College for Interdisciplinary Studies (CFIS), that has an even more explicit mandate to foster interdisciplinary learning and specifically includes the word in its title.

SCARP's Name and Vision and Mission statements have served us well in shaping successive strategic plans. To my knowledge, nobody has ever raised questions about the appropriateness of the School's Name. In preparing for the most recent accreditation reviews by the US Planning Accreditation Board (PAB) and Canadian Institute of Planners (CIP) in 2009-'10, discussions among faculty, students, alumni and planning practitioners encouraged the School to maintain its Vision and Mission while strengthening and sharpening its research, teaching and community service to these ends.

Assessment of the PAB and CIP Review Committees

Supporting the views of the School and its stakeholders, the 2010 PAB Review Committee summarized its most encouraging conclusions as follows:

The School of Community and Regional Planning (SCARP) master’s degree program prepares its graduates to practice community and regional planning with a focus on sustainability and democratization. This vision shapes the program’s mission, goals, and objectives. It also influences its curriculum, both in terms of required courses and in the dimensions of planning that must be taken by all students.

The program is extremely solid with a strong cohort of students, a faculty with internationally renowned experts in their fields, and a practitioner community that supports the program through adjunct teaching, internships, employment of graduates, and financial support. We were impressed with the level of knowledge and support for the program as expressed by all levels of the university administration, including the President. We find this program poised to grow and improve in quality in the future. To do so, we see several key issues that it can and should address. These include key transitions in its faculty, a need to improve the cohesion and consistency in its curriculum, and the opportunities associated with fundraising for new facilities. (PAB Report 2010 p.7).

Shortly afterwards the CIP Review Committee independently reached similar encouraging conclusions:

6.1 The School of Planning offers two Masters Degrees in Planning – a Master of Arts (Planning) and a Master of Science (Planning). Both degrees offer a program that has been carefully developed to accommodate the students in each area and provide a challenging learning environment. The course content for both areas is well balanced and offers a good range of choice while ensuring that the fundamental knowledge and skills required for professional planners are taught. The course content also requires a high level of independent and collective group work which reflects the requirements of the planner in the working world.

6.2 The Master of Arts (Planning) and Master of Science (Planning) Program courses are taught by a very highly qualified faculty. The range of expertise in a wide range of planning areas and the number of experienced faculty is impressive. SCARP also has a group of practicing professional planners, the majority of whom are full members of CIP and PIBC, who offer a wide range of elective courses and are brought in as lecturers. Many of the current faculty are in joint appointments with other Schools and Departments. This provides for excellent opportunities for research and teaching opportunities but can be difficult in relation to workload for the faculty in the cross-appointments and their availability to students. On balance, the Site Visit Committee noted that joint appointments of SCARP faculty offered students access to in-depth learning in fields associated with planning, which strengthens their knowledge and skills as planners.

6.3 There were some concerns expressed regarding the significant number of tenured faculty members who will be retiring in the next few years. Many expressed the need for SCARP to ensure this transition period is addressed. Based on discussions with the Director and many faculty members the Site Visit Committee are confident the transition is being well planned.

6.4 SCARP is both internationally and nationally recognized as having a strong research focus. There are numerous research projects currently underway by many faculty members including research associated with the Centre of Human Settlements. (CIP Report 2010 p. 8-9)

Doctoral Program

The School's PhD Program, which saw its first graduates in 1971, is also flourishing with numbers of students increasing over the last decade and SCARP's program earning international recognition from doctoral students competing from around the world for invitations to participate in its bi-annual week-long Jamboree.

Strategic Planning for Tomorrow

The School is thus widely recognized as being strong and having the potential to become even stronger but nevertheless needs to clarify its identity as the University seeks to reorganize itself to capitalize on new opportunities and meet new challenges. Among the key questions to be addressed in ongoing strategic planning by SCARP are:

These are just some of the critical questions needing to be addressed. Responding to them requires clarity about the School's living constitution and its distinctive contribution on campus and beyond. What is the basic narrative that should be articulated consistently on all occasions and in all media? How can text, graphics, video and the SCARP web site be used to communicate this clearly and effectively?