The Case for a K-12 Planning Education 

By Isabel Soberal

What would it look like to incorporate principles of urban planning into the K-12 curriculum in U.S schools—could it be the answer to apathy planners are looking for? Dr. Thomas Campanella’s 2011 article, entitled “Jane Jacobs and the Death and Life of American Planning,” reflects on the canonization of Jane Jacobs by grassroots activists, not necessarily for the overall betterment of the planning profession. Blasphemous, some may say, especially in the circle of emerging planners. Jane Jacobs, our fearless grassroots hero, as anything less than saintly? Is nothing sacred? Campanella also acknowledges that many students of the profession lose their enthusiasm once they begin to practice. This got me thinking, and as I read on, I was struck by this idea: by way of remedies, he notes the importance that today’s planners be “versed in key theories of landscape and urban design. But more than design skills are needed if planning is to become… the charter discipline and conscience of the placemaking professions in coming decades” (Campanella 2011). Such an overhaul cannot be borne by adding a few prerequisite studio credits to a given master’s in the city and regional planning curriculum. I think the consideration for a planning-inclusive curriculum for K-12 ought to come before we even begin to fathom a graduate education. We need education in the fields of planning integrated into the K-12 curriculum of our schools.

An interesting 2019 report shows that intervention at the elementary school level could be helpful in this mission. “Planning for Kids: Educating and Engaging Elementary School Students in Urban Planning and Urban Design,” published by University of California, Los Angeles student Alvin-Christian Nuval, synthesizes the experiences of the Rosewood STEM Magnet of Urban Planning and Urban Design program, located in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). “Rosewood provides a unique environment for children ages 5 to 10 to learn more about the processes that occur to shape their built environment… Rosewood provides students opportunities to build on their past knowledge and immerse themselves in urban planning themes as they pass through each grade level”(Nuval 2019). Wouldn’t it be interesting to see this on a larger scale, and more importantly, to note the changes which follow its integration?

 Is it not ludicrous that we planners are constantly in search of more effective means of community engagement, yet we don’t tend to engage with the next generation of planners in that search? Children must learn about their environment—to encourage a generation of more informed planners and combat the issue of apathy amongst residents in the planning process. Perhaps town halls will have more appeal if people know more about their context! Every day, I learn of another way in which my chosen profession has irrevocably changed the proverbial and literal landscape of communities. How do emerging planners reckon with this fact, with the knowledge that our plight of imperfect foresight guarantees uncertain (albeit well-intended) outcomes? Herein lies the rub of higher education: the more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know much. I’m not saying that this anguish can be avoided, but by introducing concepts of physical placemaking and community building earlier in the lives of the next generation of planners—well, perhaps we stand a chance.


Thomas Campanella, “Jane Jacobs and the Death and Life of American Planning,” Places Journal, April 2011.

Alvin-Christian Nuval. “Planning for Kids: Educating and Engaging Elementary School Students in Urban Planning and Urban Design” (June 2019).

Isabel is a graduate student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH) pursuing a master’s degree in City and Regional Planning with a specialization in land use and environmental planning. She is interested in researching the use of art in public spaces and hopes to pursue this interest further. In her free time, she usually reads at a café.

Edited by Ryan Ford

Featured Image: The Case for Architecture Classes in Schools. Photo Credit: Mary Hui.