Planning Education for All Seasons:

Integration and Diversity in Theory and Practice


Tony Dorcey, Sandra Bicego, John Friedmann, Leonie Sandercock, Maged Senbel and Sarah Slack*.



As part of its 50th Anniversary celebrations the UBC School of Community and Regional Planning, in collaboration with the Association of Canadian University Planning Programs, brought together 45 practitioners, students and educators including representatives of 14 planning programs to discuss future directions for Canadian planning education. It was concluded that the curriculum for planning education needs to become more integrated and diversify to meet the opportunities and challenges in prospect. Three strategies are key: (i) expand Canadian planning research to provide materials for the education of Canadian planners; (ii) develop programs to support life-long learning in planning; and (iii) develop and network specialized planning education programs across the country to maximize opportunities with limited resources.


To launch the year-long celebration of its 50th Anniversary the UBC School of Community and Regional Planning (SCARP) organized a workshop on new directions in planning education on the day before the 2002 CIP Conference. The event was jointly sponsored by the Association of Canadian University Planning Programs (ACUPP) and held in UBC's new downtown campus at Robson Square. This article highlights major conclusions from the discussions and is published in Plan Canada 42.3 (2002).

In preparation for the workshop practitioners, educators and students were invited to respond to four questions which were distributed by email across the country:

  1. What challenges for planning education in Canada do you see arising from current/prospective changes in (a) world conditions and (b) conditions at home?
  2. What planning roles do you see becoming more salient over the next decade?
  3. What will be the critical skills required of planners over the next decade?
  4. What approaches to planning education do you see becoming more important over the next decade?

Responses were received from 19 people (7 practitioners, 10 educators, 2 students).They ranged from short sentences through a couple of pages for each question as well as appended papers. This input was summarized under each of the questions and circulated to registrants in advance (Input Summary).

45 people registered for the workshop and among them were representatives of 14 planning programs in Canada. While participants were equally divided among practitioners, students and educators in terms of their self-identified primary activity, a significant indication of today's emerging realities was that many pointed out how they are involved in at least two and sometimes three of the activities (e.g. a practitioner who is teaching part-time as an Adjunct Professor and also taking courses for continuing professional development).

At the workshop the facilitators presented a brief overview of their perspective on the input as a basis for addressing each of the four questions, taken in turn and using three breakout groups each of which contained a mix of practitioners, educators and students. A concluding session focused on summarizing the results and identifying next steps (Agenda, facilitators introductory comments to sessions 1, 2 and 3 , and flip chart notes from each breakout discussion table 1, 2 and 3.)

During the workshop the emphasis was on identifying participants views and facilitating discussion of them. Differences in views were evident and variously reflected the differing contexts for planning education and practice across the country and the varying perspectives of students, practitioners and educators. If we had endeavoured to reach consensus these differences would undoubtedly have been revealed more sharply. However, it is notable that there were extensive commonalities among the ideas that emerged from the discussions among the three separate breakout groups. The highlights below draw on both the advance input and the discussions at the workshop and focus particularly on the commonalities as perceived by the facilitators and the lead author in particular.


A Time for Planning and Planners

Some of the most often repeated issues that were seen to be challenging planners now and in the coming decade were: globalization, migration, population growth, poverty, food, security, consumerism, technological change, diversity, infrastructure, climate change, resource depletion, environmental degradation, congestion, urban growth, rural decline, aging populations, polarization, disenfranchisement, privatization, fiscal restraint, and de-regulation. Many were encouraged by the extent to which these issues are being discussed daily in the media but often there was concern about willingness of governments, citizens and business to consider real change. There was general recognition that these issues are surrounded by major uncertainties from the global to the local level and that planning education and research in Canada needs to give much more attention to them. There was a strong feeling that there has never been a more appropriate time for planning and planners even though this may not be as widely recognized in the wider population as we might like. Participants urged that we "have courage", "be prepared to take risks", and "be strategic and pragmatic" while "supporting our students belief that they can save the world".


Integrating and Diversifying Planning Education

From this perspective it was felt that planning education needs to become both more integrated and diverse, while building on the general guidelines that have been established by CIP and the U.S. Planning Accreditation Board and recognizing that graduates are embarking on diverse "planning" careers not only with governments and business but also civil society organizations. One group modeled the nature of the desired changes by showing overlapping circles, representing subject areas, which increase in number, diameter and overlap through time (Figure 1). This implied that the foundation degree at the bachelors or masters level should continue to produce generalists with a specialization but that the core curriculum needs to expand and the specializations diversify. Further, the education of planners needs to be reframed in a context of lifelong learning through multiple development opportunities and the continuing expansion of core competency acquired through serial specialization and reflection on the job (the same group used diagrams of ladders, webs and matrices to illustrate these ideas).

There were a number of ways in which the circle model was used to illustrate the various types of integration and diversification of knowledge and skills that were seen as meriting greater priority, notably:


Learning For All Seasons

Innovations in the approaches to planning education were seen to be essential to address these curriculum needs, in particular:


Next Steps

While the record of each Canadian planning education program is different, each is able to indicate various ways in which they have been moving over the last decade in the direction of the changes identified. Nevertheless the basic conclusion from the workshop is that the rate of change needs to be accelerated and that three issues are fundamentally important to success:

Participants in the workshop felt that it is important to continue and expand the dialogue initiated at this one-day event, as well as act on some of the key ideas:

A major goal of SCARP's 50th Anniversary events planned for the coming year is to advance our ideas on future directions for planning education and research. Please follow the discussion ( and send any comments on the conclusions from this initial workshop to Tony Dorcey (


Tony Dorcey, Leonie Sandercock and John Friedmann are faculty members and Sandra Bicego, Sarah Slack and Maged Senbel are graduate students in the School of Community and Regional Planning, University of British Columbia.



Figure 1