San José State University - URBP 200
Professor Asha Weinstein - Fall 2004

Memo Assignments

Memo Guidelines

For 11 of the class sessions there is an associated memo assignment. The memos will help you to think about the readings in advance of each class, so as to stimulate your thinking, as well as prepare you for productive in-class discussions. Students should choose at least 8 to turn in. (I recommend you do them all, but it is not required).

Format: All memos should be typed and, unless otherwise indicated, consist of 300 to 500 words (this is the equivalent of one to one and a half pages).

Citations: In many of the memos you will need to refer to readings you have done for the class. Be sure to use footnotes whenever you do so. (See the course greensheet for more detailed instructions on proper attribution of sources and citation style.)

Grading and other policies: Your memo grade will be based on whether or not you turn them in, as well as their quality. 

Memo #1 – Planning History (due in class 9/13/04)

Part I: The reading

For this assignment you will read some articles about city planning written in the late nineteenth or early twentieth centuries. A large collection of such material can be found at John W. Reps’ web page “Urban Planning, 1794-1918,” which is available at:

When you get to the page, click on the link to search “By Subject.” Pick a single subject that interests you and read at least two articles. (I encourage you to read more than two, but it isn’t required.)

Part II: The memo

Write a memo commenting on the articles you read and reflecting on how they do (or don’t) reflect the material in the readings assigned for the class for September 13. The following optional questions may help you develop your thinking for writing the memo: 

Memo #2 – The History of Plans and Zoning (due in class 9/20/04)

This assignment has two parts:

Part I: Fischler argues that the thinking of the early New York planners is still applicable today. Write a one page memo in which you spend a few sentences summarizing the New York planning ideas he is talking about, and then present your own opinion as to whether or not he is correct. Be sure to spend the bulk of the memo explaining your own views and backing them up with logic or evidence, rather than on a summary of Fischler’s ideas.

Part II: After reading Neuman’s article, write down three questions that you think would make for a good class discussion.

Memo #3 – Planning Theory (due in class 9/27/04

This assignment has two parts:

Part I: After reading the article by Trounstine and Christensen, write down three questions about San Jose history that you would like to ask Professor Christensen.

Part II: Levy describes three approaches to the act of planning: the rational model, incrementalism, and intermediate approaches such as “mixed scanning.” In one page, please answer the following questions:

Memo #4 – Planning Ethics (due in class 10/11/04)

This assignment has two parts:

Part I: Imagine that the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) plans to update its code of ethics, and it has hired you to evaluate the current code. Write a one-page memo, in bullet-point form, evaluating the AICP Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct. Note specific elements you think should be improved, as well as elements you think should remain unchanged.  Briefly explain each recommendation in a sentence or two.

Some questions for you to consider:

Note: You will find the code on pages 203-205 of Everyday Ethics for Practicing Planners, which is reprinted in the reader.

Part II: Write a paragraph explaining whether or not you think Krumholz acted ethically in the situation described in “The Downtown People Mover.”

Memo #5 – “Competing Plans” and Citizen Participation (due in class 10/18/04)

Paul Davidoff makes an argument for “competing plans” as a way to improve the planning process. Write a memo that addresses the following two questions:

1. How might competing plans impact citizen participation? Would such plans improve or worsen the quality and extent of participation, and why?

2. Overall, do you think that competing plans would lead to better or worse planning outcomes? Explain why you think so.

Memo #6 – Housing (due in class 10/25/04)

In an attempt to revive the lovely, old-fashioned custom of letter writing, you decide to write to your grandmother/brother/best friend about the work you have been doing lately at San José State. After doing your URPB 200 reading, you decide that you will write a one page letter about chapters 11 and 12 in Crabgrass Frontier, describing the one or two most interesting/important idea(s) in the readings and explaining why you think these ideas are important ones for contemporary planners to reflect on.

Memo #7 – Public Spaces (due in class 11/1/04)

Your local parks and recreation department has asked you to do a quick observation of a local public space. 

Step I: Observation

Pick a reasonably well-used public space that you can observe easily from a single location. This can be a small park, a plaza, or a section of a larger park. Spend a half an hour to an hour observing how people use the space, taking note of the following:

Of course, you should feel free to note other topics that interest you.

Step II: Memo

Write a memo to the parks director briefly summarizing what you observed. In discussing the surrounding land uses, link your observations to the ideas in the reading by Jane Jacobs.

If you like, you may also suggest improvements that could be made to the space.

Memo #8 – Finance (due in class 11/8/04)

Write a memo to a new city council member providing her with some background on local government finance in California. To write your memo, pick the three most important ideas from the reading for the day and explain why they are important for planners to be aware of and reflect upon.

Memo #9 – Redevelopment (due in class 11/15/04)

The following memo topic has been provided by the week’s guest speakers, Jim Hines and Ruth Shikada, from the San Jose Redevelopment Agency.

The San Jose Redevelopment Agency is looking for some fresh impressions and ideas . They have asked you to write a memo advising them of your impressions of any two of the five sites starred on the downtown map passed out in class. You should visit each site and take note of the surroundings. In your memo, consider such questions as:

Please note: After I read these memos, I will pass them along to Jim Hines and Ruth Shikada rather than returning them to you.

Memo #10 – Transportation (due in class 11/22/04)

After reading the two pieces on transportation, write down at least two questions based on each one that you think would make for a good small-group discussion with your classmates. For each question, write a paragraph explaining why this is an important question for planners today to discuss.

Memo #11 – Growth Management (due in class November 29, 2004)

The following memo topic has been developed in consultation with next week’s guest speaker, Don Weden:

Describe the kind of community you would like to be living in ten years from now. In order of decreasing importance, list at least five factors that would be the most important in your selection of that community. For each one, write (1) at least a sentence defining what exactly you are looking for, (2) a sentence about why it would be important to you, and (3) the percentage of households in the Bay Area you expect would also put a high priority on that factor.

Finally, write a paragraph explaining what development patterns you expect the Bay Area will most likely use to accommodate the million or so people projected to arrive in the next twenty years.

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Page last updated 4 October 2004