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Mission + History

Our Mission

Our core mission is to develop a community of inquiry, learning, and practice that helps urban regions to become more livable, just, economically effective, and environmentally sound through a democratic process of urban design and planning.

Our History

The University of Washington was among the country’s earliest institutions when, in 1936, it established the MS degree in Regional Planning. At the time, a national planning consciousness was emerging based on factors such as the municipal reform movement, concerns about building better communities and lifting them above prevailing, haphazard, and crowded conditions, and civic ideals from recent world’s fairs for creating graceful coherent urban places in America. Locally, the young and relatively undeveloped city of Seattle, beginning to feel the flush of wealth from the Klondike and pressures for rapid growth and change, turned to its first systematic contacts with professionals in city planning and design. Since then, the University’s planning programs, like its urban context, have grown and evolved in response to increasingly complex problems and urban environmental objectives. By 1959, the new College of Architecture and Urban Planning was formed (now called the College of Built Environments) representing in its conjunctive title the educational setting and philosophy of the planning program’s central role in environmental design. The Master of Urban Planning degree was initiated in 1959, and in 1967, the College admitted the first PhD students in urban planning, furthering the University’s response to growing needs at the local, national, and international levels for advanced training and research in urban planning, design, and development.

In 1968, the Urban Design Certificate Program was established as an interdepartmental unit of College faculty based upon a tradition of teaching and research in physical planning and design of the urban environment. The Program was one of the first to use the term urban design, rather than civic design, in recognition of the changing nature of this specialization within planning, architecture, and landscape architecture professions.

In 1991 the College created the Preservation Planning and Design Certificate Program to establish a focus for interdisciplinary teaching and research on preservation in the planning and design fields. Faculty research and the Program curriculum centers on the identification, designation, interpretation, and preservation of historic places, as well as the restoration, adaptive reuse, and design of sympathetic new development in historic contexts.

Urban design and urban planning were brought together in the new Department of Urban Design and Planning in 1985. The professional MUP degree and the Certificate Programs are administered by the Department’s faculty. The research PhD degree is administered by a University-wide interdisciplinary group. This merger of urban design and planning underscored the University of Washington’s long-standing strength in the areas of physical design and land use planning and brought together a faculty with the expertise and commitment to foster an integrative approach to the education of planning professionals.