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Department of Urban Studies and Planning

Heads of the department

Frederick Johnstone Adams 1947-1957
John Tasker Howard 1957-1970
Lloyd Rodwin 1970-1974
Langley C. Keyes 1974-1978
Lawrence E. Susskind 1978-1982
Gary A. Hack 1982-1986
Tunney F. Lee 1986-1990
Donald Allen Schon 1990-1992
Philip L. Clay 1990-1992, Associate Head;1992-1994, Head
Bishwapriya Sanyal 1994-2002
Lawrence J. Vale 2002-2009
Amy Glasmeier 2009-2012
Eran Ben-Joseph 2013-2020
P. Christopher Zegras 2020-

The Department of Urban Studies and Planning began as a division within the School of Architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Course IV-B (Course IV is Architecture), City Planning, was first offered in September 1933 and led to the degree of bachelor in architecture. The object of the new course was to “encourage in the architectural student a breadth of outlook which will enable him to see city planning problems in a broad perspective,” and to equip him so that he is “qualified to cooperate intelligently with engineers, landscape architects, lawyers, economists, and sociologists in the planning or replanning of urban areas.”

The five-year course was taught from the architect’s perspective and required the student to complete the first three years of the architectural curriculum or an acceptable equivalent. After a summer course in surveying, the student engaged in two years of study that was more specifically related to city planning. The core of the planning program involved two required classes each semester: a lecture course on the technical and cultural elements involved in city planning; and a design class to permit problem solving in the drafting room. The lecture course brought in well known experts in the field. The examination of relevant engineering problems and the design of highways and earthworks were dealt with in courses taught by the Department of Civil Engineering. The course also had a strong emphasis on socio-economic aspects of city planning, and in 1934 classes on these topics were added to the fourth- and fifth-year curriculum. Frederick Johnstone Adams was solely responsible for city planning subjects in 1933 and for establishing its multidisciplinary character.

In 1935 the Executive Committee of the Institute’s Corporation approved a master’s program called the Master in City Planning (MCP) and courses in city planning design, and research and administration were approved by the faculty. Harvard University closed its School of City Planning the following year, and MIT became the only institution offering a master’s degree in city planning in the United States at that time. In 1937 Adams directed a special two-week summer program of in-service training for planners.

In 1941 the Department of Architecture offered Course IV-C, City Planning Practice. The practice course offered two options, one based on undergraduate preparation in architecture and the other on preparation in civil engineering. Option 1 led to the master in city planning degree together with the bachelor of architecture in city planning. Option 2 led to the degree of master in city planning, together with the degree of bachelor of science in civil engineering.

The course was identical to Course IV-B for the first four years. In the fifth year and the summer of the sixth year the students spent three periods at a different office of either the Boston City Planning Board, the Massachusetts State Planning Board, the Division of Metropolitan Planning, or the New England Regional Planning Commission.

Enrollment in city planning courses and in the School of Architecture as a whole declined greatly during World War II. The profession, including academic and practicing architects and planners, undertook a self-appraisal of the education, training, and practice of architecture to redefine the objectives of the profession. An initial response on the part of the MIT School of Architecture was to alter the architecture curriculum to include a general background of planning, the fundamentals of construction and materials, and the economics of the building industry. In 1942 the practice course was suspended.

Course IV-B was renamed City and Regional Planning and reduced to a four-year program with a new curriculum that was no longer parallel to the program in architecture but included planning courses in the first year and an office practice course in the summer of the third year. The following year the School of Architecture became the School of Architecture and Planning to reflect the growing importance of the subject to the profession of architecture.

In February of 1947 Course IV-B became the Department of City and Regional Planning (DCRP) in the School of Architecture, and Adams became the first department head. Enrollment in the program more than doubled the prewar figures; graduate students outnumbered undergraduates and the demand for planners exceeded the number of students graduating. Because the field was a relatively new one, the members of the new department struggled to obtain enough adequately trained personnel to meet the demand and to maintain high standards of instruction. The department continued to accept as its primary responsibility the training of technically qualified practitioners in the field of city and regional planning and housing rehabilitation.

In 1954 the DCRP undergraduate program was eliminated and the department became a graduate school, offering only the two-year M.C.P. degree. Planning courses at the undergraduate level were offered as electives. The M.C.P. program focused on the study of the large-scale physical environment and its interaction with society.

By 1955 many of the planning positions obtained by the graduates of the program required policy decisions of both an economic and an administrative nature. Students looking for relevant training sought interdepartmental degrees at the doctoral level. This growing phenomenon, coupled with an interest on the parts of educational and operating institutions in planners with more advanced training, led the DCRP to consider offering a doctoral program within the department. A committee composed of well-known practicing planners and architects convened under the chairmanship of Edwin S. Burdell. The Burdell Committee recommended the establishment at MIT of a multidisciplinary center for research on urban and regional problems.

In 1958 the M.C.P. program changed its core curriculum to stress the planning and design aspects of the city as a whole and to decrease emphasis on the design of small elements such as subdivisions. Also in 1958 the department first offered a Ph.D. program in city and regional planning and the Center for Urban and Regional Studies, as recommended by the Burdell Committee in 1956, was established under the directorship of Lloyd Rodwin. A parallel center was established at Harvard and the two were intended to be integrated and interdisciplinary in their research approaches. The focus of the center’s research was the physical environment of cities and regions, the forces that shape them, and the interrelations between urbanization and society. The key areas of interest included the form and the structure of the city, transportation, technology, controls, the planning process, the urban landscape, and the physical planning problems of developing countries. The center greatly enhanced the research potential for students and faculty of the DCRP.

To remain current with the technological achievements affecting cities as well as the environment as a whole, and in order to remain responsive to the effect of technology on both cities and the environment, the DCRP continually updated its curriculum. In 1961 a new research methods course provided training in the application of modern electronic computing to planning problems. New M.C.P. and Ph.D. curricula offered during the same period focused on the visual design of cities, regions, or large city areas, with a view towards the objectives of redevelopment projects, and larger issues involved in urban renewal. Also in 1961 the high demand for planning education by foreign students from developing countries caused the department to examine the very different training such planners would require. In 1966 Course IV-B became Course XI. By 1967 the heightened interest in urban problems and urban studies throughout MIT increased both the research and teaching capacity of this multidisciplinary field. Within the department, work developed primarily in four directions: city design; planning for developing areas; urban planning and social policy; and quantitative methods. The Special Summer Program for in-service planners continued to be offered.

Also in 1967 the department initiated the Special Program in Urban and Regional Studies (SPURS), funded by the Ford Foundation. The program offered a fellowship for one year of intensive study to international students, with preference given to persons from developing countries. The fellowship was aimed at mature candidates who would shape policy in developing nations and enhance their capacity to cope with potential development problems.

In the spring of 1968 the department inaugurated the Laboratory for Environmental Studies. The lab received financial support from the MIT Urban Systems Laboratory, the Harvard-MIT Joint Center for Urban Studies, and grants and contracts from foundations and federal agencies such as the Economic Administration and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The lab’s activities fell into four areas of concern: race and poverty; psychological perception studies; developing countries; and information systems for urban analysis.

The name of the department was changed in 1969 to the Department of Urban Studies and Planning (DUSP) to reflect a shift in focus from an emphasis on the structure of communities to a broader concern with issues of urban and regional development, such as needs of minorities, environmental problems, and social issues.

During 1970 the department secured formal approval and support for small-scale initiation of a new science baccalaureate (S.B.) in urban studies, and students and faculty developed several experimental subjects for the curriculum. With the advent of the S.B., the option of a five-year S.B.-M.C.P. degree was also offered. To meet the rising demand for training in urban services and social policy, the DUSP began to offer courses in the areas of educational planning, health planning, welfare policy, social program development and evaluation, poverty law, and strategies for institutional change.

In 1971 DUSP established the Whitney Young Program, under a Rockefeller Foundation grant, to help minority leaders cope with the social and economic development of their communities. The principal aim of the non-degree program was to enable a selected group of 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 organizations or communities. The program was directed by Frank S. Jones, Ford Professor in the Department of Civil Engineering. An interdepartmental policy committee chaired by Rodwin developed general guidelines for the program. Melvin King, former director of the New Urban League of Greater Boston, served as associate director and lecturer in the department and was responsible for liaison with the local minority communities and with the visiting committee representing key minority and other interested figures.

By 1974 shifts in the allocation of federal funding, rising competition for foundation dollars, and increased pressure from the Institute to achieve educational efficiency and cost-effectiveness began to affect the projects and research efforts of DUSP. The department had expanded continually from the late 1940s in numbers of students, faculty, and programs it offered, and the financial difficulties led the DUSP members to reevaluate the teaching and learning of urban studies. The curriculum was significantly reorganized. The Analysis of Public Systems group and the Social Policy group were merged into the Public Policy Analysis group. The department then had three program groups: Community and Regional Development; Environmental Design; and Public Policy Analysis.

By the late 1970s the department’s goals included a commitment to urban revitalization, environmental protection, and efforts to seek social justice. During this period continued cuts in outside funding coupled with rising tuition costs and declining job prospects for graduates, especially in the public sector, caused a reduction in enrollment and hampered research efforts. DUSP responded by encouraging faculty to devote more time to sponsored research and initiated new contacts with the private sector.

In 1984 the MIT faculty voted to approve a Master of Science in Real Estate Development program subject to a five-year review. The department also initiated a developing areas optional track in the M.C.P. program. In the same year the Center for Real Estate Development was founded at MIT by 64 corporate and individual members throughout the United States. The objective of the center was to sponsor research programs on issues relevant to the real estate development and investment fields, which offered significant research opportunities for the department. In 1985 the Corporation approved a petition to begin a master of science degree program in urban studies and planning.

In 1990 Dean John P. de Monchaux of the School of Architecture and Planning appointed Donald A. Schon as chairman of a committee to prepare a ten- to fifteen-year plan for the future of the department. Other members of the committee were Professors Tunney Lee, Philip Clay, Lawrence Bacow, Joseph Ferreira, Bernard Frieden, Ralph Gakenheimer, Gary Hack, Langley Keys, Lawrence Susskind, and Judith Tendler. The department was 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). The non-degree Community Fellows and SPURS programs continue to operate. The Community Fellows Program was renamed the MIT Center for Reflective Community Practice in 1999.

Prepared by the Department of Distinctive Collections, MIT Libraries
Updated May 2004, October 2010, April 2020