BSc Planning and Real Estate

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Urban Theory, Planning Ethics

Course unit fact file
Unit code PLAN30081
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This course unit provides an introduction to some of the most important debates in contemporary urban theory, planning theory, and practice. It does not, and could not, attempt to cover all of planning theory and urban theory. Rather, it looks at the intersection of the two. The particular ‘take’ of this course unit involves exploring evolving issues in these two sets of literature around ‘the good city’ and ‘the good planner’. The exploration of planning theory offers a number of benefits to those engaged in planning activity.  It provides the opportunity to re-evaluate the fundamental basis of planning activity and enables us to consider the role that planning should play in democratic society. 


To explore the relationship between planning theory, urban theory and planning practice.

To question the main functions of planning intervention.

To explore the development of different (often competing) modes of planning thought.

To consider the impact of ethics and values upon planning thought and practice.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course unit students will have developed:

1. Critical awareness of the broader social and environmental context to planning activity.

2. An appreciation of the dominant themes in planning theory and urban theory.

3. Awareness of the nature of the theory-practice gap.

4. Understanding of the impact of differing social and political agendas upon the direction of urban planning.

5. An appropriate framework for reflective practice



Week 1


Why plan? Planning theory and the justifications for planning

Week 2

Modernism and postmodernism: the making and unmaking of modern urban planning

Week 3

Collaborative planning, agonistic planning, and the attempt to re-make the role of urban planners

Week 4

Neoliberalism and neoliberal planning

Week 5

Planning and postpolitics

Week 6

Reading week

Week 7

Sustainability, just cities, and planning

Week 8

The good planner: an introduction to professional ethics and values

Week 9

Postcolonial urban theory

Mobile urbanism: travelling theory, travelling policy

Week 10

New model cities: New Urbanism and suburban utopias

Week 11

Ethics for professionals in the built environment

Week 12

Planning through projects


Seminar 1: Planning and the State: why plan?

Seminar 2: The communicative turn and the dark side of planning

Seminar 3: Neoliberalism and urban governance restructuring

Seminar 4: Critical urban theory

Essay workshops: week 8 and week 11

Teaching and learning methods

The lectures are structured into two thematic sections. The first part of the course unit considers the justification for planning intervention in society and provides an overview of early approaches to planning. In the second part of the course unit, an overview of various theories that have been influential in planning and urban policy debates are introduced. 

Transferable skills and personal qualities

At first glance this course unit may seem not to offer much by way of employability skills, but actually it is core to how professional bodies such as the RTPI expect graduates to be trained. Specifically, there are two core features of this course unit that are critical: Becoming a reflective practitioner – this is a crucial requirement for any professional in the built environment. Within planning in particular, there is a high value placed on the reflective practitioner. The context for this is that we need to be critically aware of the history of our professions, including past failures, if we are to learn from them. Equally we need good critical awareness of practice today in order to situate our work as being more than just ‘following orders’. Being an ethical practitioner – those involved in improving the built environment have a series of personal and professional obligations which it is important to be aware of. This course unit helps to make these explicit and to encourage critical reflection. This is not just about avoiding corruption – it is about taking responsibility for our own action. It is never an adequate position for any professional to simply deny responsibility for our actions because we were ‘following orders’. Thinking now about how we might deal with difficult choices and ethical dilemmas can help us when we meet them in our working lives. It is for these reasons that planning theory and professional values are core requirements for any student undertaking an RTPI recognised course. 

Assessment methods

Method of assessment and assessment details Assessment is by coursework only. There will be two pieces of coursework. The first is a 1,000 words essay (worth 35% of the overall marks available) and the second is a 1,500 words essay (worth 65% of the overall marks).

Feedback methods

Written feedback on both assignments within 15 working days, excluding hols


Recommended reading

Core readings:

Haughton, G. and White, I. (2019) Why Plan?: Theory for Practitioners. London: Lund Humphries. Fainstein, S.S. and DeFilippis, J. (eds.) (2015) Readings in Planning Theory (4th edition). Chichester: Wiley. (Earlier editions are fine, but very different – the current edition says it has 70% new chapters in it)

Fainstein, S.S. and Campbell S. (eds.) (2011) Readings in Urban Theory (3rd edition). Oxford: WileyBlackwell.


Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 22
Practical classes & workshops 2
Seminars 4
Independent study hours
Independent study 170

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Yueming Zhang Unit coordinator

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