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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Critical Planning

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Critical Planning is published annually by the students of the Department of Urban Planning in the Luskin School of Public Affairs in the University of California Los Angeles.

Critical Planning welcomes article submissions from students, scholars and professionals that demonstrate a critical approach to the study of cities and regions.


Issue cover
Cover Caption: From the Housing Development Opportunity series by Leo Blain (2023)

Openness is an enduring urban ideal. The open city has long been associated with difference, freedom, creativity, and collaboration, as “a city that is life affirming, that reaches out to others who are not necessarily like us, and that acknowledges our common humanity and the pleasures of life lived among multipli/cities” (Friedmann 2002). From data points to migration patterns, “open” vocabularies are often employed in social movements and across urban planning efforts to express a range of democratic principles in pursuit of social justice in the city.

Embracing all the potentiality and pitfalls of this theme, the editorial committee also interrogated how the journal’s own administrative structure and operations might themselves become more open. From the call for submissions to the review process to publication, we considered how Critical Planning could amplify voices and perspectives underrepresented in conventional urban planning discourse. Building on the journal’s history of student-led creative inquiry, we endeavored to attract and publish contributions in a range of formats and to offer support and guidance to emerging scholars, activists, and artists.

These efforts come to life in volume 27, which contains articles, commentaries, poems, photo essays, and other artistic outputs from a diverse set of contributors, who together explore a great breadth of themes.


Volume 27: Open

Critical Planning Journal Volume 27: Open

Cover, Contributors and Contents

Cover, Contrubutors and Contents


Introduction to Critical Planning Journal Volume 27: Open.

The Open Spaces of Post-Earthquake Skopje: A Planning Strategy for Architecture Beyond Capitalism

On July 26, 1963, a 6.3-magnitude earthquake devastated the city of Skopje, the capital of Macedonia, one of the six Yugoslavian republics. This initiated a multilateral reconstruction effort that saw international experts lend support to local teams of architects and planners. The resulting plan (the Urban Plan Project, or UPP) focused on the development of neighborhood units, as well as the propagationof ample “open green spaces” to provide higher standards of living to the inhabitants. This paper draws a connection between the open spaces of Skopje andthe theories of Henri Lefebvre concerning concrete utopia and habitation, to show that beyond purely utilitarian reasons, the open spaces reflected a search for new socialist urbanities in Yugoslavia and allowed for architectural experimentation. The resulting plan reveals a model for planning and architectural practices as disaster relief, and illustrates a collaborative and self-managed working methodology, which makes it a valuable study for planning and architecture history in the face of current destructions related to climate change.

Opacity and Porosity: Space, Time, and Body in the Age of Ultra-capitalism

We have entered an era that David Harvey (1989) has coined “time-space compression,” which refers to the reduced production time and spatial barriers as a result of advanced capitalism. This phenomenon inaugurates the opacity in the urban — the concealed and asymmetrical power geometry, and the homogenization of cities. Porosity brought by Walter Benjamin and Asja Lacis (1925) in their writingon Naples, on the other hand, depicts urban cities with interpenetration and heterogeneity, resisting any fixedness. Starting from personal memories in Shenzhen, China, this essay proposes that the city can be seen as an urban space where opacity and porosity coexist and mingle with one another, which dissolves the dichotomous rural-urban configuration in cities. In this sense, Shenzhen is fused with tensions between two forces: capitalist modernization and standardizedlandscapes that alienate and homogenize lives andexperiences; and porous cultures and everydayness inthe urban villages that resist the former. Together withtheories of time-space compression and porosity, thepaper will then examine the urban villages in Shenzhenas porous spaces through the prisms of space, time,and body. In conclusion, I argue that porosity here,as a form of openness, relationality, and fluidity,orchestrates an alternative spatial imaginary thatmediates capitalist cities.

Pershing Square: A History of Plans, Designers, and Publics

Pershing Square, located in the heart of downtown Los Angeles, has transformed several times over its 150-year history. Its design iterations throughout time have mirrored the city’s own transformations, growth, and community’s self-image. I retrace the history of civic attempts to renovate Pershing Square, starting from the 1910s through to the present. By examining the events and battles over control of its design, I use Pershing Square as a lens for understanding larger trends in the practice of urban design, city planning, and politics in Los Angeles. In particular, I focus on the shifts in influence among various design professions, and I consider the tensions between the prevailing practice of urban design by this professional class and the growing imperative for public participation in public space design. I also examine how the most recent attempts to remake Pershing Square are emblematic of two paradigms in urban design: landscape urbanism and placemaking.

Architecture and the Accessory Dwelling Unit Revolution: Perspectives from Builders

Since the passage of AB2299 in 2017, Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) production in California has grown significantly. Along with the goals of increasing supply of infill rental housing, targeting new housing units in single-family zoned neighborhoods, and improving affordability, AB2299 intended to create new opportunities primarily for smaller, younger, more diverse, and more innovative building firms. To evaluate this last goal, we conducted ten interviews with three categories of building firms in Los Angeles. We find that architects, contractors, and technology companies see ADUs differently, that there is significant interest in building ADUs but few inquiries turn into finished buildings, and that there are consensus policy proposals in the building industry to produce more. Furthermore, analyzing across interviewees we find that successful ADU builders utilize a production model predicated on standardizing construction elements and processes,partnering with select contractors or engagingin design-build construction, mastering buildingcodes and regulations, engaging directly with localgovernments, and actively pushing for legislativechanges. AB2299 has created new opportunities, butour research suggests that only forward-thinking firmsare capitalizing on these opportunities to better realizethe promise of ADUs.

Reframing Urban Agriculture: Open Land for the Public Good

This essay uses the lens of historical-structural analysis to examine how the history of municipal land use policies and urban agriculture in the U.S. informed the policy design of California’s Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones (“UAIZs”) and their resulting failure to increase land access and security for community food producers. It argues that UAIZs sit at the end of a long history of lot conversion programs that have been used for urban crisis management in the U.S. In this process, the essay examines the role that land insecurity has played in redevelopment and land commodification and financialization more broadly, how equitable urban agriculture requires both rearticulating the functions that community food production play in cities and reasserting the right not only to occupy but to manage land in a way that serves one’s community (land equity), and why practitioners and researchers need to reframe the questions they ask when designing food systems policies and research.