Enhancing Outcomes and Incorporating Uncertainty

When we envision the future that ought to be, we leverage the tools we have available today and knowledge from assessments looking at the past. This generates a "lag effect" in our efforts to create plans for the future. Traditionally addressing this lag effect in urban planning might be achieved through: adaptive planning, continuously and incrementally adapting a plan as new uncertainties arise; or plan evaluation, where assessing plan implementation is incorporated into future plans. In a new article for the Journal of Planning Education and Research, a team of scholars posits that a third solution, plan monitoring, offers a creative method of blending adaptive planning and plan evaluation to allow for enhanced implementation and conformance to the intentions of plans.

In their paper, the team utilizes the shrinking city of Youngstown, Ohio to highlight the benefits of plan monitoring and trace the contours of challenges created in the monitoring process. The team focuses on demolition, a significant dimension of planning in shrinking cities, and tracks its development through three aspects: 1.) the plan-suggested demolitions, 2.) the monitoring-meeting-suggested demolitions and 3.) actual demolitions. “In Youngstown, plan monitoring shifted planning from a singular event to an ongoing routine, so long as monitoring continued,” says Brent Ryan, a professor at the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at MIT and corresponding author of the paper. “This routine improved the long-term impact of planning by increasing planners’ flexibility, accommodating implementation uncertainty, and by integrating this flexibility and uncertainty into the planning process by intention rather than accident.”

Using a mix of qualitative and quantitative research methods the team identified a broad set of challenges associated with plan monitoring as well as guidance for best practices for planners considering plan monitoring. “The extent to which urban planning can shape the future of cities is a longstanding question for planners,” says Shuqi Gao, an associate professor at Southeast University and lead author of the paper. “As this study has shown, plan monitoring can be central to planning, particularly if plan implementation experiences uncertainty or if resources are scarce.”

Authors of the paper include Gao, Ryan, and Anna Morgan. Gao is an associate professor at Southeast University in Nanjing. His research focuses on urban and rural planning, community and housing, technology of urban planning, as well as shrinking cities and aging society. Morgan is a research analyst at the Urban Institute. Her research interests include accessibility to public transportation, affordable housing, evictions, and racial equity. Ryan is a MIT vice provost and professor at DUSP. His research focuses on the aesthetics and policies of contemporary urban design, particularly with respect to current and pressing issues like deindustrialization and climate change.


Read the full paper, "How Plan Monitoring Improves Plan Implementation" 
Learn more about Ryan’s ongoing work in Youngstown