The Early Years
The post-World War II housing boom, African-American rural to urban migration, the advent of air conditioning, and the results of New Deal experiments with city planning led to both rapid growth in the Southeastern U.S. and growing confidence in the ability of city planning to contribute to the design and construction of better urban places.
The early years of planning instruction at Tech, beginning in 1952, were characterized by frequent practitioner and policy-maker lectures, a Program advisory committee that included noted developers and civic leaders, and regular studio projects in which students engaged the issues of the region. The Georgia Power Company was a backer of early projects, motivated by its concern for rural growth in its service area.
Early graduates often became planning directors of small- and medium-sized cities in Georgia and neighboring states, while others joined consultantcies or staffs at state planning boards across the South or with national planning organizations such as the American Society of Planning Officials.
Tech faculty were responsible for drafting Georgia’s General Planning and Zoning Enabling Act, writing A Planning Manual for Community Development (Georgia’s basic community planning manual) and organized an annual Summer Institute in City Planning that offered continuing education to planners throughout the South.
Pushed by Atlanta’s civic leadership to address these issues, Georgia Tech set about to create a Graduate City Planning Program in 1950, bringing Howard Menhinick to Atlanta from the Tennessee Valley Authority to become Regents Professor and the first Program Director. Menhinick had been editor of Planners Journal and Director of the United Nations Headquarters planning staff as well as Director of Regional Studies for TVA. With grant support from the Rockefeller Foundation, he welcomed the charter incoming class of ten students in 1952.
Menhinick and his early colleagues, including Malcolm Little who joined the faculty in 1953, sought to pioneer an integrative planning curriculum drawing on the design professions, social sciences and law aimed at educating generalist planners who would work in land use and regional resource development. The first female graduate of the Program, Thera Richter (MCP ’59), was also the first woman to earn any graduate degree at Georgia Tech.
1960's and 1970's
In the 1960's the generalist planner model gave way to introduction of specializations and supplementation with dual degree studies. A joint degree in the field of transportation planning was developed in 1962 with the School of Civil Engineering and another in urban design in 1968 with the Architecture Program. Improving analytical capabilities were a focus of the late 60s and 70s, led by Anthony Catanese’s teaching. Research clients in the heady planning days of the 1970's included Atlanta’s new MARTA rapid transit system, U.S. Department of Transportation, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, General Dynamics Corporation, and a long list of Georgia state agencies and local governments. Arthur Campbell (MCP ’70) was the first African-American graduate. In the 1960's and 1970's, Tech's city planning graduates were widely sought after in municipal and regional planning agencies across the South. The era was capped by a Malcolm G. Little Roast and Testimonial Dinner held in mid-town Atlanta’s Biltmore Hotel in May 1978.
By the early 1980's, the core curriculum focused on theory, history, scientific methods and law; and students were asked to concentrate in either development or redevelopment. Reagan-Thatcher era government retrenchment, combined with spiraling interest rates, challenged enrollments and contract funding with the result that when David Sawicki arrived as Program Director in 1983, his mandate was to reshape the Program toward increased scholarship and expanded extramural funding. Sawicki brought a microcomputer with him, the first in the Program, and soon had micros on every faculty desk and available to students.
The core was reorganized emphasizing regional theory and methods and the specialization list expanded to include transportation, urban development and redevelopment, land use and environment, economic development, and urban design. A concentration in city planning was started as part of the new College of Architecture (now College of Design) PhD program. The Journal of the American Planning Association’s Planners Notebook section editorship moved to Tech. Many faculty departures and arrivals occurred in these transitional years with the result that by 1988 all ten full-time faculty held doctoral degrees.
The 1990's program retained the original concept of providing a broad, comprehensive planning education with the technical skills necessary to accomplish a wide range of tasks. Steven French arrived as the Program’s fifth director, and city planner Tom Galloway began as the College of Architecture’s (now College of Design's) third dean. The roster of specializations grew to include community and land development, economic development, environmental planning, geographic information systems, land use, transportation and urban design. New dual degree programs were begun with environmental management, law, public policy, and water resources. The law dual degree partnered with Georgia State University, as did new graduate certificate programs in historic preservation and real estate development. An undergraduate land development certificate was created to promote interest in the planning profession and to build understanding of planning among future architects, engineers and others.
Tech faculty became leaders in developing applications of the new geographic information systems technology in the planning profession, leading to creation of a Center for GIS with a dual mission of state service and technological innovation. Student recruitment broadened both geographically and demographically. Tech formalized a Co-op Work-Study Program through which many planning students gained real-world experience applying classroom learning as well as earning financial aid. Tech’s graduates were included on planning faculties including the universities of California, Florida, Pennsylvania, Florida State and Virginia Tech, By the end of the decade, the Program was widely recognized as a significant national generator of new ideas for planning practice and scholarship while continuing its prominence as a regional catalyst for maturation in the planning profession.
In the 2000s, under leadership of Director Cheryl Contant, the Program re-conceptualized its work as promoting sustainable cities and regional planning and development. The Program and master’s degree names were changed to City and Regional Planning. With endowment funds created to honor retiring Atlanta Regional Commission chief planner Harry West, a Center for Quality Growth and Regional Development and a named professorship were created. Catherine Ross, returning from work as Executive Director of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, was named Director of the Center and the first Harry West Professor.
In 2003, 300 alumni and friends returned to Tech to celebrate the Program’s 50th anniversary. As part of the celebration, Larry Keating, Professor Emeritus, wrote a comprehensive 35-year history, “Georgia Institute of Technology Graduate Program in City and Regional Planning: The First 35 Years." A Healthy Places Research Group was formed involving faculty and practitioners from City and Regional Planning, other Tech units, Emory University’s Public Health School, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. In 2005, David Sawicki was named editor of the Journal of the American Planning Association. In 2007, Planetizen, a commercial website/publisher focused on urban planning, released the results of its first reputational survey of planning programs, naming Georgia Tech 10th nationally among U.S. planning schools. The 2009 strategic plan highlighted sustainability, broader internationalization of curriculum, urban design, master’s core instruction, PhD program growth, and facilities as areas of focus in upcoming years.
In 2010, Georgia Tech established the School of City and Regional Planning combining the City and Regional Planning Program together with doctoral instruction in the field, with a City and Regional Planning PhD program approved by the University System of Georgia Board of Regents. Students previously enrolled in the City and Regional Planning PhD program were transferred to the new degree program.
In 2011, Planetizen ranked Georgia Tech 8th in the nation among U.S. planning schools, and the editorship of the JPER moved to Tech under Subrajit Guhathakurta and Nancey Green Leigh. In 2012, the U.S. Department of Transportation designated a National Center for Transportation System Productivity and Management at Georgia Tech. New degree programs in Geographic Information Science Technology and Urban Design enrolled their first students. In 2014, Tech was ranked 5th in the U.S. by Planetizen. In 2017, Tech was, for the third time in a row, ranked in the top ten planning school's in the nation, coming in at number 7.