Excerpted from

Hiring for SCARP’s position in Urban Design and Physical Planning:

Recommendations by Tony Dorcey

25th January 2007

Before departing for my research leave in December I reviewed the application files for the four short-listed candidates for the UDPP position. I have brought with me copies of their letters/statements of application and CVs. In preparing these comments I have re-read those materials and I have looked at some of their work that is available on the web or electronically through the UBC Library.

The four short-listed applicants offer substantially different and varied mixes of talents in terms of their areas of expertise, experience and interests and so in making choices amongst them it will be very important to be clear about the hiring priorities. This led me to reflect more carefully on what are the School’s general and specific goals in hiring for this position at this time. Below I summarize these considerations for you in the belief that they are perhaps the most useful contribution that I can make to a well-informed decision. I conclude with my qualified recommendations on hiring based on the information available to me.

Questions to Consider in Making Choices?

There are key, broader questions about the future development of SCARP that need to be considered in establishing the general context for the UDPP hire. These are all questions relating to the School’s strategic plan that I would expect to be under discussion in the retreat that is currently being planned for next month [February 2007]. At this stage in the development of the School and given the challenges of the evolving context in which it must thrive, clarity about its goals and actions for pursuing them are more than ever important.

The most recent statement of the School’s strategic thinking was a year ago in the document SCARP Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (January 2006). This was a revision of a continually evolving statement that has been guiding the School in recent years. The retreat should certainly consider whether or not it is time to fundamentally re-write the Vision, Mission, Goals and hence Programs and Strategies of SCARP. However, my own SWOT analysis leads me to conclude that fundamental revision is neither desirable nor necessary at this time. Rather the focus should be on continuing evolution of the ideas in the statement with two primary objectives in mind: (i) Re-commitment to the key components of the Vision, Mission etc.; and (ii) Revision of the components, in particular the Programs and Strategies, in light of the present SWOT assessment of faculty, students, staff and the School’s stakeholders.

From this viewpoint I would recommend attention focus on strategies in two areas.  First, how to flourish in the context of the significant external changes unfolding for SCARP both on and off campus. These include a new President; creation of the College and appointment of its first Principal; restructuring of faculties and departments on campus; university budget cutting; emergence of competing planning programs within B.C. and across Canada; and growing demands for continuing professional development from practitioners. Personally I would build the School’s strategy around a strong and clear articulation of SCARP’s achievements, comparative advantage and potential as a professional planning school focused on sustainability.

The second priority area for strategizing, is how to sustain the strength of SCARP’s core faculty in the context of the turbulent and uncertain times in prospect.  The context and challenges for retaining and recruiting faculty are going to be very different in the coming years from what they have been. Peter reached 65 last year, Yossi does this year, and one SCARP faculty member reaches 65 in each of the next two years and then a gap of three years before again having one person reach 65 in each of the following four years. This implies that approximately two-thirds of SCARP’s faculty would reach 65 in the coming decade!   While it is expected that the current policy of compulsory retirement at 65 will be eliminated it is unclear what policies will replace it.  At the very least the School’s strategizing with regard to succession planning is going to become more complex and likely uncertain as it depends on the choices individual faculty make about retirement and the vagaries of the University budget for either funding their continuance or seeking replacements.  Further complicating matters is the expectation that competition for talented faculty members is going to greatly increase with the relatively high levels of retirement expected across North America. This will undoubtedly lead to attempts to lure SCARP’s strong faculty members to other universities. Based on all my past experience I believe the best way to meet these extraordinary challenges of retention and renewal is a strategy founded on a School that is demonstrably and recognized as strong and vital. For me this reinforces the critical importance of the first component strategy. I would build a strategy for retention and renewal that is integral to the continuing advancement of a professional planning school focused on sustainability.

These are general recommendations but they none-the-less say a lot when given more specific form and content from two other key sources of more detailed information that have been generated through our discussions over the last couple of years – (i) the overview statement and the guideline documents for the seven areas of concentration (AOCs) for the masters program (on the SCARP website).

In shaping SCARP’s hiring strategy in more specific terms I would encourage us to maintain the existing diversity of substantive expertise and experience among the continuing faculty but not to diversify any more. I believe the core faculty capacity can best be enhanced by greater efforts to integrate the teaching and research so as to better capitalize on the current diversity by drawing on it more effectively so as to excel as a professional planning school focused on sustainability planning as elaborated in the Vision, Mission etc.. The last PAB Accreditation Review Report (on the web site) encouraged us to consider this question as a crucial issue in shaping the future success of the School.   This choice is reinforced for me by the tight budget outlook for the University that is likely to continue through the next few years.

What are the Implications for Hiring for the UDPP Position?

Within this context there are several specific questions that I believe should further guide the choice.  The details in the second, third and fourth paragraphs of the advertisement nicely provide much of what is needed but I would add to them in some important regards based on the appreciation of the critical role of this position in the School’s program that I developed during Elizabeth Macdonald’s and then Michael Larice’s terms. Each of them, along with the other practitioners they brought into the program, taught me a great deal about urban design and physical planning. They fostered a keen appreciation of the resurgence of this specialization and the immense potential of UDPP to contribute to SCARP’s distinctive sustainability planning focus.

Partnership with practitioners and local-regional focus?

The close partnerships that Elizabeth and Michael built with practitioners in the City of Vancouver and other municipal planning departments in the region not only greatly enriched the program for students but also revitalized the School’s relationship with practitioners in general. It is absolutely critical that the next appointee be strongly committed to further developing these relationships with practitioners and be someone with whom they would seek to collaborate. Further, for such initiatives to flourish the individual should have a keen interest in building their research and professional practice around local and regional UDPP topics and issues, including bringing international experience to bare on this. 

Integration of professional practice and research?

From all of my experience, including serving on several promotion committees for full professor, the design specialization thrives on and in many ways requires the integration of academic research with professional practice.  Given the particular requirements for the School’s position that are focused on UDPP in sustainability planning, I believe a commitment to an integrated program of research and professional practice with a substantial component of each is critically important.

Participatory and community based approaches to sustainability planning?

It is my impression that there are some significant differences of views among specialists in urban design and physical planning about the role and merits of participatory and community based processes in their practice. Likewise there are those who are not concerned with urban design and physical planning as it might contribute to sustainability planning when elaborated in the breadth and specifics of the School’s perspective on this in social, economic and environmental terms.  To my mind this implies that the person hired should have demonstrated their commitment to the advancement of urban design and physical planning through participatory and community based processes for economic, environmental and social sustainability.

Indirect and/or direct design?

Elizabeth and Michael slowly developed my understanding of the differences between direct and indirect design and their differing implications for the UDPP program of SCARP. Given the School’s focus on urban design and physical planning within sustainability planning and the fact that no more than five or six students can be admitted to this AOC each year with the faculty and space resources available, I believe the primary emphasis needs to be on teaching indirect design.  A teaching program emphasizing indirect design as a part of the School’s sustainability planning program will not be satisfying to those faculty applicants whose heart lies in developing a teaching program with substantial direct design content.  It is critically important to select an applicant who is enthused and committed to this less common focus if the individual is not to become frustrated or burnout trying to do too much. While SCARP’s resources are greatly enhanced by the contributions of practitioners and there are courses in other UBC programs that can enrich the SCARP offerings, neither of these should be relied upon in designing the core UDPP program to be offered, particularly in a context of tight budgets. It needs to be recognized that once someone is hired for the UDPP position, the School will have much less financial flexibility to hire adjuncts; the rich diversity of resources that can be funded this year is unusual.