Promote Global Dimensions of Planning Education at Portland State University

By Yiping Fang (, Assistant Professor, Portland State University

In 2012, the Planning Accreditation Board added “Global Dimensions of Planning” (GDOP) to the list of required knowledge, skills and values for PAB-accredited urban planning programs. Portland State University’s (PSU) Masters of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) program was among the first schools reviewed under these new standards. The site visit team noted that the GDOP knowledge area was not being adequately covered in the existing MURP core curriculum. PSU, as an urban-serving university, has historically focused more on regional engagement than on global issues and engagement, and the MURP program has historically had a relatively low share (approximately 5-10%) of international students. Both of these help to explain why international and comparative perspectives have been less prominent in the program.  

Since then, the MURP Executive Committee has explored options for addressing this deficiency. In 2015-16, the committee looked at how other PAB-accredited programs were addressing GDOP, and explored alternative approaches, including creating a GDOP course in the core curriculum, and incorporating GDOP themes into existing core courses. We received a grant from PSU's Internationalization Council, and have created a task force on “Internationalizing the MURP curriculum” with eight faculty members teaching MURP core courses.   

The task force has begun by reviewing the existing syllabi of all the MURP core courses and a graduate research assistant has been hired to assist faculty members in exploring ways to revise these courses to include more GDOP components.  I would like to share with everyone a few notes on the task force's progress on this issue so far. 

First, we determined that the dearth of international planning topics in the MURP core courses has allowed student interest in the global dimensions of planning to wither.  Elective courses with a more international focus have not been popular and there have been complaints from students about the relatively narrow focus of these courses.  

We interpret the "global dimensions of planning" as covering two interconnected but distinct aspects: 

  • Understanding the effects of global processes on local outcomes, and
  • Appreciating planning practices outside the US and planning at the global scale. 

To make clearer to students and faculty how tightly connected the global is to the local, we invited Professor Faranak Miraftab, from the University of Illinois-Urbana, to give a lecture on her new book, Global Heartland: Displaced Labor, Transnational Lives, and Local Placemaking.  Professor Miraftab's work makes a great illustration of how in our globalized world, local planning decisions have significant global implications, and vice-versa.  Clips of her lecture in Portland can be viewed here (Part 1Part 2Part 3).  The lecture was well attended, and we hope that, as Professor Miraftab put it, "Never again will a student tell me that their work is on local development planning and no need to take classes in the international global stream." 

Second, the task force agreed to focus on supporting faculty members to incorporate more global dimensions and international perspectives into their existing MURP core courses.  This is a challenge, because most of our faculty do not have experience with international research.  So one idea the task force has discussed is the possibility of drawing on the large pool of existing case-studies, as resources which could potentially be brought into our MURP classes, to address the GDOP deficiency.  The International Planning Case Studies (IPCS) project offers many great examples of such case-studies.  In early February, we contacted two of the scholars who had initiated the IPCS project, Professor Lesli Hoey from the University of Michigan and Professor Andrew Rumbach from the University of Colorado at Denver.  On February 23rd, when Professor Miraftab was in Portland, we organized a workshop in which she joined the eight MURP core course faculty members and professors Hoey and Rumbach (by Skype), to discuss this idea.  We had a great conversation about the challenges our planning schools are facing around the GDOP issue, and about teaching with case-studies. 

Third, during the February 23 workshop, we also discussed the role international planning should play in a general planning education.  Internationalization is not simply a matter of adding a case-study or two to a course, or offering some information about how planning is practiced in other countries.  Rather, an exposure to the international aspects of planning can help students better understand the dynamics of planning when social, economic, cultural and political contexts change -- as they do all the time and in increasingly significant ways, even in our local contexts.  By getting our students to look outside of their known contexts and their comfort zones, we are helping them to develop more critical and relational ways of thinking and equipping them to ask broader questions about who wins and who loses in a world in which the local and the global are now inextricably entwined.  

In this blog we give a brief report on what the GDOP task force has achieved so far, and hope it will generate further discussion on how the GDOP knowledge area can be incorporated into the planning curriculum of schools like ours, which may lack the resources of international-focused faculty members or plenty of course offerings which cover global dimensions of planning.  Our project to bolster the GDOP area in the MURP core curriculum will end this Fall, and all courses involved in this curriculum revision should be ready for teaching by Fall 2017.  However these efforts to internationalize the MURP curriculum will not stop there.  We will continue to explore opportunities for faculty members to jointly offer study-abroad programs, so that more international research opportunities can be created. 

We hope to hear from all of you with comments and suggestions, and look forward to hearing about how this GDOP knowledge area is being discussed and incorporated in your universities.