Master of Urban Planning Strategic Plan

Version: June 15, 2013


This document presents the Department of Urban & Regional Planning’s Strategic Plan for its graduate Master of Urban Planning (MUP) program.  This Plan is prepared in accordance with the 2013 guidelines of the Planning Accreditation Board.[1] Though the Plan strictly follows the format required for accreditation, it also expresses our faculty’s intentions for the next accreditation period, expected to be five to seven years, but subject to periodic review and revision.

Context of our Mission and Strategic Planning

This is the Plan only for our department’s Master of Urban Planning (MUP) program, which has its own distinct mission, to be described below.  Our department also offers a Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Design and PhD in Urban and Regional Planning, which have separate mission statements, available on request. 

This is meant to be a flexible document, subject to evolving deliberation. The plan will have to be responsive to considerations that include changing faculty composition (such as new hiring, or persons returning from sabbaticals), school-wide strategic planning, and university plans and priorities.  Since our department is a constituent part of the School of Architecture and Planning, this Plan is consistent with, and reinforces, the School’s “Mission and Vision Statement” (version for October 2012—available on request), which will be undergoing revision in 2013-14.

Consistency of mission with strategic goals: Urban planning as a professional field emerges from multiple disciplinary sources, has a potentially vast scope, includes a plethora of subfields, and contains divergent visions of the future.  While we provide below a general mission statement for professional education, we know that we cannot hope to convey our field’s direction in its entirety.  Therefore, in this Plan we endeavor to fashion a distinct identity: our strategic goals correspond to our faculty capabilities and interests, our urban and regional location, our academic location, our projected student needs, and our vision for planning education.

Stakeholder input:  This Plan emerges from consultations both formal and informal during the spring 2013 semester.  Our consultations included a school-wide retreat, three departmental retreats, a meeting between adjunct faculty and regular faculty, and repeated informal consultation with the school’s administrative professionals.  We held a formal meeting with our current students: it consisted of three simultaneous focus groups, formally moderated by students themselves, with no faculty members present (apart from an initial introduction by the department chair).   We also held a moderated meeting with professional planners, an in-person meeting with alumni, a video-conference with alumni, and a debriefing on the draft plan with both alumni and professionals (an overlapping group).  Documented results of these meetings are available on request. 

Dissemination: This Plan has been distributed to our faculty, students who participated in stakeholder meetings, alumni and professionals who participated in stakeholder meetings, school administrative staff, and to the public via our departmental web page.

Evaluating Progress and Making Improvements: In the Self-Study Report in which this Strategic Plan is included, we lay out an “Outcomes Assessment Plan.”[1] That plan provides program benchmarks and time frames for achieving the goals set out below.

Mission Statement

Our MUP program has as its mission to prepare students for the professional practice of planning, for the applications of planning knowledge in allied careers, and for potential advanced study leading to the PhD.  We provide particular depth in a number of specializations, which may evolve over time. We are committed to teaching that brings to bear advances in planning research, scholarship, and technology—for which our faculty’s own involvement in research is essential.  We are also committed to teaching that involves students in service to our community and region.  In view of the many urgent challenges that cities and regions face, our aim is to educate planners recognized for their professional excellence, practical insight, and ethical practice.  We are committed to doing so through integrity in scholarship, academic freedom, and openness to debate. In keeping with the rest of our school, we are also committed to creating more equitable, just, sustainable, and well‐designed environments, and to diversity in student body, faculty, staff, and public involvement. 

Program Goals

We have identified five goals, a primary goal (Goal 1) and four additional goals (Goals 2, 3, 4 and 5), which are not priority-ordered.


 GOAL 1—TO ACHIEVE DISTINCTION AS A PROGRAM THAT FOSTERS PROFESSIONAL LEARNING THROUGH ENGAGEMENT.  Related terms for this goal include experiential learning, learning by doing, learning through practice, problem-based learning, service learning, and case-based learning. The justifications for this goal include:

·         Wicked problems.  Most planning problems are made up of complexly interacting factors, with many uncertainties, limited information, multiple interests, varying public perceptions, multiple scales, and ethical quandaries. Students better learn to deal with such problems through direct engagement under experienced guidance.

·         The region as our lab.  Buffalo, Western New York, Upstate NY, and the bi-national region provide vast opportunities for involving students in a large variety of planning issues.  Doing so helps fulfill part of our mission: to serve our communities and region.

·         Track record.  Through client-focused studios (practicums), final projects, in-class case studies, and student involvement in applied research, we have a long record of teaching through engagement.  Our studios have a strong record of winning state and national awards.  We wish to build on that record.

·         Connection to architecture.  Our kind of studio is a variation on the architectural studio and integrates analytical and design thinking.  Our goal takes advantage of our being in a school together with architecture, and reflects the school wide strategy of having architecture and planning together on purpose.

·         Value as educational modality.  Engaged learning is exciting and memorable; it is an important variation on the respected “case-study” learning method.  Whereas large lecture courses will, we predict, migrate to the web, engaged learning will continue to require students to be present on site.

·         Improved professional capability.  This mode of instruction provides superior experiential grounding for professional practice; helps students assemble portfolios of work completed; and gives them confidence in professional settings.

·         Communication skills.   This type of instruction gives students all-important exercise in writing, graphic presentation, presentation of data, interaction with clients, public speaking, and project leadership.  These are essential for professional practice.


GOAL 2: TO FOSTER MULTI-PERSPECTIVAL EDUCATION, through team teaching, themes across courses, and collaboration across specializations and disciplines.  Justifications:

·         Since planning engages “wicked problems,” we should through our teaching modality demonstrate to students how multiple perspectives and areas of expertise can be brought to bear in the search for solutions.

·         As part of the School of Architecture and Planning, we have the special opportunity to explore modes of education that integrate policy-analytic and design thinking, and to continue close collaboration with the Department of Architecture. 

·         Since planners must routinely work with other disciplines, we should build our educational and research relationships, not just with architecture, but also other disciplines, including but not limited to Geography, Economics, Engineering, Law, and Public Health.

·         Such teaching increases flexibility for students and decreases “silo effects” between specializations.

GOAL 3: TO BUILD THE INTERNATIONAL CHARACTER OF OUR PROGRAM, through more international (and global) content in our curriculum, more teaching resources directed at international students, and more study abroad, including international studios.  Particular emphasis will be on selected global areas, such as (1) Caribbean and Central America, (2) and Asia, from South Asia through East Asia.  Justifications for this goal include:

·         The reality of planning practice: that economic and environmental changes, population movements, and cultural and media influences occur across national boundaries, challenging cities and regions.

·         Our faculty’s strong record of international experience and research, especially in the global areas identified above, but also in other areas.  In Asia in particular, we have seen increased faculty capability regarding India, parts of Southeast Asia, the Koreas, and China.

·         Our high proportion of international students, especially from Asia, who wish to learn about the regions in which they will practice.

·         Our domestic students’ need to acquire global and comparative perspectives, both to better understand U.S. localities in a global context, and for potential international careers.

·         Our school’s and university’s commitment to global education.

GOAL 4: TO ADVANCE THE PROFESSION THROUGH RESEARCH, including published scholarship, theoretical advances, grant funding, and research opportunities for students.  Justifications:

·         Professional planning is rapidly evolving in response to urban and regional changes; future professionals should be taught in part by those directly involved in advancing knowledge through research.

·         Whether they undertake the MUP to pursue professional careers or advanced education toward the PhD, students benefit from applied research experience.

·         While our faculty provides a professional program, we are also part of a research university and must continually demonstrate scholarly and research achievements. 

·         Increased grant funding is a high priority for our school and university; funded research helps sustain our department’s resources.  

GOAL 5: TO BUILD DIVERSITY AMONG STUDENTS, FACULTY AND STAFF, AND IN PUBLIC INVOLVEMENT.  Our program, department, and school have a long-term, continuing commitment, extending beyond the accreditation period, to building diversity in race/ethnicity (especially with regard to historically underserved populations), socio-economic status,  gender,  sexual orientation/gender identity, and disability.

Measurable Objectives


 Objective A -- At least double studio education in the curriculum; demonstrate sharp increase in studio projects completed, measured in completed project reports available for public review.

Objective B -- With the exception of lecture classes to be shifted to web-based education (see below), implement engaged teaching throughout the curriculum, as demonstrable through syllabi. Syllabus evidence may include problem-based instruction, case studies, field trips, community engagement, interactions with clients and officials, applied research, and professional projects.

Objective C -- Increase teaching in professional communication and planning facilitation by at least one course.

Objective D -- Establish a formal internship program.

Objective E -- To the extent possible, retain opportunities for seminar education.

Objective F -- Gradually shift large lecture classes to web-based education, at a rate to be determined by faculty, but constituting no fewer than two classes within the next accreditation period.

Objective G --  (Outcome measure) Significantly increase graduates 2nd through 5th year satisfaction with our program’s preparation for planning and related professions, as measured in annual survey.

Objective H --  (Outcome measure) Significantly increase 2nd through 5th year rate of employment in planning and related fields, as measured in annual survey.


Objective A -- Establish faculty-led program of annual experimentation with problem-based team teaching, to be reported via Departmental Annual Reports.

Objective B -- Continue close interaction with Architecture through joint classes, joint teaching, and joint studios.  Build at least one formal certificate program in fields, such as urban design and historic preservation, which involve faculty from both departments.

Objective C -- Develop multi-disciplinary learning and research opportunities, with other academic programs, notably Public Health, as demonstrable through joint research, joint classes, and joint degree programs, reportable through the Departmental Annual Report.

Objective D -- Take formal faculty action to increase flexibility in specializations to reduce silo-effects.


Objective A --  Develop foci for research and teaching in global areas such as Caribbean-Central America, and Asia (South through East Asia), as measured by a selection of the following: publications, study abroad programs or international educational collaboration, international research collaboration, class content (indicated in syllabi), and enrolled students from those areas.

Objective B -- Incorporate international content in at least half the curriculum, as measured in syllabi descriptions, with reference to global areas identified above.

Objective C -- Provide special advising specifically for international students.  As long as high international enrollment continues, establish means of increasing professional English language competence, whether through orientation program, special course coordinated with the university, or intercession remedial course.

Objective D -- Increase study abroad, possibly including international studios, by developing at least one ongoing relationship with a city (region) in Asia, possibly in India or China.


Objective A -- (Outcome measure) Maintain rate of scholarly publication in planning equaling or exceeding peers in Association of American Universities—measured and reported in Chair’s Annual Reports.

Objective B -- (Outcome measure) Sustain annual grant funded research at least in the level of several hundred-thousand dollars per year, and demonstrate progressive growth in applications and awards, as measured by UB’s Sponsored Research Activity reports and presented publicly on our web page.


Objective A -- To pursue objectives set out in the school-wide Diversity Plan, which is available on request. The plan lays out objectives for increasing diversity with respect to race/ethnicity (with revision being considered with regard to historically underserved populations: African-Americans, Latinos, and American Indians), socio-economic status, gender, sexual orientation/gender identity, and disability.


  1. The guidelines are found in Part II, Standard #1, of the Planning Accreditation Board’s “Self-Study Report Manual & Template,” 2013 Edition.
  2. University at Buffalo, Department of Urban and Regional Planning, Self-Study Report, June 2013, Part III, Standard #7.