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Throwing Stones In Glass Houses

By Steven J. Sampson and Richard F. Strasser

A newly-elected mayor of a large American city has numerous problems he has to cope with. Neighborhoods are run down, the transportation system is a shambles, and housing is scarce. Having made a welter of campaign promises to get elected, he now has to deliver, and he needs a staff to help him. Where does he turn?

Many people in the city planning profession would tell him to hire some bright young graduates from the Department of City and Regional Planning (CRP) of Harvard's Graduate School of Design (GSD). But many others would insist he avoid that institution altogether. "They teach you economic analysis, not city planning, over there on the Charles," one of these critics might say.

The controversy over the proper approach to city planning has been raging for some time, becoming more acute as urban problems worsen. Criticism has battered the CRP, whose approach is decidedly untraditional. CRP opponents complain that the GSD, under the guidance of Maurice D. Kilbridge, dean of the GSD, is turning the planner into a technocrat, skilled in economic modelling and computer analysis, but insensitive to human concerns and aesthetic problems. Their criticism of Kilbridge extend outside the CRP to what they see is an insensitivity to the other more design-oriented departments at the school. CRP officials say Harvard's way is the way of the future. The increasing number of applicants and job opportunities for graduates seems to support their position.

Maurice D. Kilbridge, dean of the GSD, announced his resignation last week, and several present and former members of the department rejoiced. However, it appears that Kilbridge gave up his post as part of a normal evolutionary process, not as a result of pressure from critics.

Reginald R. Isaacs, Norton Professor of Regional Planning Emeritus and chairman of the department of CRP from 1953 to 1964, has persistently criticized Kilbridge's policies. He says Kilbridge resigned because he lost the confidence of the alumni and the Overseers. However, other observers within the department say Kilbridge received the strongest backing he has ever received in the last few years. Gerrald M. McCue, associate dean of the faculty of design, analyzed Kilbridge's departure, saying, "He's in a period of greater support than ever before. I suspect his motivation was to get out while he was ahead." McCue says Kilbridge's announcement was a surprise to everyone on the faculty, but "I think the logical explanation is that after some period of time, any professor in an administrative post would give up these chores and return to teaching." John F. Kain, current chairman of the CRP and the subject of much of the ongoing controversy, says Kilbridge "has decided he's done his job and has other things to do." Kain, a professor of economics, adds that "the least likely time for the dean to resign is when he's under attack, "Kilbridge himself says, "It's been long enough for me, it's been long enough for the school, and I have other fish to fry." He says he will continue to teach and research at the GSD.

Regarding speculation that pressure from opposition within the GSD forced him from his post, Kilbridge says, "I am not aware of any critics of me or my policies within the department."

Kilbridge's resignation overshadows the latest controversy surrounding the GSD. In March, an official of the American Planning Association (APA) said the organization had rejected Harvard's application for renewal of APA recognition of its degree program. Soon the APA clarified its position--they just needed more information, and Harvard officials expect to pass despite APA's initial disapproval. But the APA's initial criticisms of the department's emphasis on economics at the expense of a traditional planning curriculum highlights the basic conflict inside and outside of the department.

One subscriber to more traditional planning ideas, Francois C. Vigier, professor of City and Regional Planning and department chairman from 1969 to 1971, says Harvard's program lacks balance. "Planning is not a bunch of numbers," Vigier says, adding, "It deals basically with human beings and how they deal with space." Vigier points out that most of the professors on the Harvard faculty had very little professional planning experience.

Some members of the profession agree with Vigier. In March 1977, an Overseers' visiting committee reported the department placed "far too much emphasis" on policy analysis and social sciences, downplaying planning as a professional discipline.

But other city planners, including nearly all members of Harvard's department, defend Harvard's program as innovative and better-suited to the current job market. In a letter to The Crimson, 20 department members state that the history of planning is one of resistance to change. "The true issue is whether universities can develop innovative curricula without being harassed by narrow traditional interests within a profession," the letter said.

Kilbridge agrees that criticism of Harvard's program comes from backward-looking city-planners. "We're not terribly impressed with the APA," he says.

Many professional planners support the CRP's approach and think it is the appropriate response to the current demands of employers. Weaver, former secretary of HUD and a member of the visiting committee of the GSD says the field of urban planning in America is focusing more and more on economic problems. It is dangerous to "have people who can make lovely plans and yet don't know how to implement them," Weaver says.

Calling the GSD "an outstanding school," Weaver describes the APA decision as "largely a personal thing." He says some of the people at the APA don't like Kain, and therefore refuse to recognize his accomplishments.

Kain, department chairman since 1975, has evidently not heard the warnings about throwing stones in glass houses. He shook up the basic curriculum required of all first-year planning students who enter the glass and concrete Gund Hall. Heavily steeped in economic and political analysis, courses include two semesters of quantitative methods and offerings entitled "Economic Analysis for Planning," "Urban Growth and Spatial Structure," and "Public Finance and Budgeting."

Kain dismisses the criticisms of the CRP program, saying, "Our graduates find very few employers who criticize us for being too quantitative." He adds that "it's pretty hard to find a CRP department which doesn't do a lot of economics. But there is a tendency to confuse the department with me. People talk about us as econometricians; however, most people who make that calim don't know what econometricians are."

But Kain is one of the faculty members Vigier mentions with little professional planning experience. Vigier says Kain has harmed the department by bringing in junior faculty who share his outlook on city planning.

Despite the complaints, students are eager for a GSD planning degree. Stephen G. Hoffman '64, registrar in the GSD says applications to the department have risen steadily. About 255 people applied for 120 spots in 1978, and this year 240 have already applied. He said nobody who declined an invitation to attend the school mentioned the APA decision as a factor.

James H. Evans, a second-year student who has been coordinating employer recruitment efforts this semster, has had four or five job offers himself and says students who look hard for jobs are very satisfied with what they find.

Most second-year students say they are satisfied with the city planning program, although they were less happy while studying the core curriculum during their first year.

"I was forced to learn a lot of things that I wouldn't have enrolled in myself, but in retrospect I'm glad I had them," Evans said, adding, "A lot of us didn't know that we needed those courses, so we hated them while we were in them."

With Kilbridge's resignation, the future direction of GSD is now as unknown as the identity of the new dean. Some observers believe the post will be filled by McCue, whom critics of Kilbridge have found more acceptable. However, McCue seems to support Kilbridge's policies. Thus, his accession could continue the untraditional outlook of the CRP.

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