This piece of research from Tom Sanchez and Nader Afzalan is insightful for both what it includes and what is does not include. Tom and Nader examined the reported areas of expertise among hundreds of academic urban planners and graphed the resulting prevalence various areas of expertise, as well as the commonalities in areas of expertise. This is what they found:
Take a close look at the chart.
We have a huge number of people focused on urban design, infrastructure, natural resources, etc. All well and good.
We have very, very few academic planners who profess any knowledge of or academic interest in economics. Regional economics is one of the smallest circles on this map, indicating that relatively few academics listed any interest in that topic.
And what few things does that paltry circle eclipse?
Among others, Real Estate (the economics behind all that design stuff), and
Citizen participation (the work of actually working with the communities where all that design stuff happens).
No wonder planners get accused of being design dictators, fantasy-makers, people who design places that are supposed to have all these social and economic benefits … That.Never.Happen.
Apparently it’s because we’re teaching them that way.
If you are involved in training urban and community planners at the academic level, I think this indicates a serious challenge. This would appear to indicate that you are not teaching your students to interact with the actual, real world. Which may be why urban planning has not lived up to its potential to make the broad swath of community existence more successful, more intelligent, more healthy.
We claim to be broad and inclusive and wider-ranging and thoughtful, but this chart would seem to indicate otherwise. And our inability, especially to understand and effectively interact with the core factors that underlie how communities work — people and economics — bodes ill for the future relevance and impact of the profession. People and economics are not, cannot be someone elses’s job while you do cool maps and pretty designs.