Accueil / Enseignements / Trois cours PSL Week Mars 2023 / CURRENT DEBATES IN URBAN PLANNING


Cours donné par Mona Fawaz, professeure d’urbanisme à l’American University of Beirut, professeure invitée du département Géographie et Territoires en mars et avril 2023

Course Description

This seminar is designed as an introduction to a number of current debates in the field of urban planning. Its main purpose is to help students question the process of “intervening” on cities and their regions by exploring critically the position of city planners vis-à-vis other actors, the goals that motivate these interventions, the assumptions that justify them, and the tools used to implement them. It does so from a position anchored in the Global South where the profession of city planning was historically introduced with colonialism, maintained through development planning, and eventually challenged and re-envisioned in multiple ways and approaches. Aside from covering the dark history of planning and its questionable present, the course is keen on exploring the possibility of activating the progressive potentials of planning, a profession heavily invested in the notions of “common good” and “public interest” at a time when these ideals are severely compromised globally.

The course raises questions such as : How, where, and by who are planning interventions currently being practiced and implemented ? How have these practices evolved over the past decades ? What are the main challenges faced by urban planners and policymakers today and how does planning theory respond to these challenges ? How are the goals of planning practice being reviewed ? What are the trade-offs that planners have to make ? Who wins ? Who loses ? What types of skills do today’s urban planners need ? The course does not seek to provide answers to these questions. It instead addresses them by elaborating on the necessary theoretical and analytical frameworks needed for students to develop their own thinking and positions with respect to the variety of ongoing planning practices.


Class readings and discussions are combined with a real-life case study.

This course is structured around four main entry points to the theorization of the planning process. These are :Retour ligne manuel
1. Defining the Subject : Planning Practice and Theory across East and WestRetour ligne manuel
2. Classical questions in Planning Theory : Then and NowRetour ligne manuel
3. Planning Tools and Strategies : Selected Approaches and Case Study AnalysisRetour ligne manuel
4. Important Planning Ideas : What principles have inspired planners ?


Learning Outcomes

The course has two main outcomes :

  1. Familiarity with historical and contemporary theoretical debates and practices in planning : Students enrolled in the seminar will become familiar with some of the main debates in planning theory and how these debates reflect on planning practices.
  2. Ability to formulate one’s position vis-à-vis the planning profession : By the end of the class, students should be able to develop a sensitivity vis-à-vis the ethical concerns and values that motivate the fields of urban planning and design. They will have to articulate a clear stand about their own position if they were to work as planners.


Course Requirements & Assessment

The class typically meets over eight sessions, each of four hours with a 30-minutes break. Six of these sessions will be lecture/discussion material, in seminar format. The remaining sessions are work sessions and student presentations. Students are required to attend the class online, with their cameras on. In addition, students will have to submit assignments. All detail are below. 

  1. 1. Class Attendance and Participation : Studentsare expected to attend all class sessions and come prepared, having read the assigned material and ready to discuss it. Each student is to submit via e-mail at least 2 written questions ahead of 2 of the theoretical class sessions. These questions can be clarifications, reactions and comparisons, etc. They will be used in class as one of the ways to trigger conversations. All students are encouraged to share their reflections and opinions in class. You will be evaluated on the thoughtfulness quality of your reflection, irrespective of its political positionality.


  1. 2. Biography

In this assignment, you are to develop a 3-5 minutes oral presentation I which you elaborate your personal position coming to the study of the city, reflecting on your personal trajectory, how/where will you go next when you graduate from this master’s program, and how does studying the city change your worldview ? You are encouraged to produce a single visual (i.e., slide), in the form of a graph, an photograph, image, infographic, text, or anything that can help the class understand your position. You can inform your position through (i) your own biographical experience, (ii) knowledge developed in previous courses, and (iii) the possibilities offered by the future context of your practice.

Class presentations on Day 1, Monday March. 6th, 2023


  1. 3. A Reflective & Analytical Position Paper

Based on the first week’s readings and discussions, each student is expected to submit a written paper in which s/he articulates her/his position vis-à-vis the discussed class material. Each paper needs to be roughly 800-1000 words, typed in 1.5 space, and submitted in text format. You can choose between one of two options below.

  • Option 1 : The Local/Universal Divide in Planning

What, in your opinion, is a “locally” relevant issue and/or constraint that needs to be accounted for when theorizing planning from the context you are most familiar with ? In other words, what is an important consideration to be accounted for if one is planning to pedestrianize a neighborhood, introduce public transport, or improve a public space… or any other planning/design urban intervention in the context you know best ? The consideration could influence planning positively or negatively, but it has to be specific to the context in which it unravels. 

Select one issue only and argue in your own words how you think this factor influences the process of planning in the context you know (a specific city and/or country). Make sure you use examples.

  • Option 2 : Reflective/Analytic Paper

Select one reading of your choice from any of the four Planning Theory sessions and use it to elucidate a real-life planning case study of your choice. The case study can be taken from your own context/experiences, from readings in popular press, or from an academic text. You need to use the reading to elucidate an aspect of the case study that was otherwise not covered/explained in the text.

(Due date : Sunday, March 12th, 2023 via email)


  1. 4. Case Study : Analyze a Real Case Study as a Planner and make Recommendations

Based on a full-fledge documentation of a case study that will be handed out, you are to conduct in groups of 3-4 students an analysis and develop recommendations for the Municipality of Beirut regarding a real life situation in the city. Your will make your case in class, based on full knowledge of Lebanese planning regulations and the project constraints.

Case hand-out and first class discussion : Wed. Jan. 20th, 2021.

Due date and class presentations : Friday, March 10th, 2023, in class 


LES COURS AURONT LIEU SUR LE CAMPUS JOURDAN DE L’ENS, en salle Marcel Roncayolo (R2-05) sauf le mardi 7 au matin (salle R3-46) et vendredi 10 mars (R3-46)

The course will meet according to the below schedule :


Monday 6

Tuesday 7

Wed. 8

Thursday 9

Friday 10


What is planning ?

Planning, A Colonial Project ?


The Changing Role of Planners

Dark Side of Planning


Student Biographies

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