The role of theory in spatial planning is important, and the theory courses offered by the Chair of Spatial Planning and Strategy underscore this. There are a number of courses on offer, and each is structured in its own specific way, the better to cater to the different academic levels of the students. The aim of all of these courses is, however, the same: to help students come to their own understandings of some of the key concepts informing the discipline of spatial planning, particularly with regard to issues around urbanization. They do this at various levels of scale (from the global through the regional down to the local), and are set up to encourage students to define (and redefine) these concepts for themselves.
This helps them make use what they have learned through this critical reflection to establish parameters for their own work, which they do as part of the wider curriculum in which the theory courses sit. “Theories of Urbanization, Regionalization, and Networks” (AR9310) is run by Gregory Bracken and Wil Zonneveld as part of the European Post-masters in Urbanism. It takes the form of a seminar and has proved attractive to PhD candidates as well as external professionals who have done much to raise the level of discussion around the course’s set texts.
There is also the ‘Theories of Urban Planning and Design’ course (AR3U022), which is Quarter 3 and run by Stephen Read and Gregory Bracken. This consists of lectures and group work. The Chair is also involved in the ‘History and Theory of Urbanism’ course (AR1U121), which takes place in Quarter 1 and is run by Birgit Hau-sleitner and Cor Wagenaar, assisted by Taneha Bacchin, Gregory Brack-en, and Maarten-Jan Hoekstra. This also consists of lectures and group work. The aim of all these courses is twofold:
1) in the short term, to enable students to use theory to inform decisions they take in their final thesis, and also to evaluate these; and
2) in the longer term the courses prepare them for life in professional practice (and, in some cases, the academy), where the ability to think critically and reflect on important issues is of key importance, not only for the students themselves, but also to the disciplines in which they will work, because ultimately this critical reflection is what moves disciplines forward.
Theory’s role in Spatial Planning and Strategy has gone from strength to strength under Vincent Nadin, who allows his team members set up courses in their own way. This has paid off handsomely for the EMU theory course because it is attracting more and more PhD candidates each year. But what underscores theory’s role in the Chair of Spatial Planning and Strategy is its practical application. Theory on its own is interesting, but unless it can be put to practical use it is of less relevance in what it, after all, an eminently practical discipline.