Last fall The Guardian published a rueful retrospective by Sir Peter Hall — the last article written by the distinguished planner and historian before his death, in which he reflects on the status of city and town planning in Britain over more than half a century. From a high point in the 1960s, he wrote, “Planning fell into a long downward spiral. … It appears to have lost the capacity to plan good urban places. … Planning and planners have thus steadily become residualized.” So too in the United States. In an article in this journal, urban historian Thomas Campanella analyzes what he calls “a swelling perception, especially among young scholars and practitioners, that planning is a diffuse and ineffective field, and that it has been largely unsuccessful over the last half century at its own game: bringing about more just, sustainable, healthful, efficient and beautiful cities and regions.”

Both authors underscore a pointed and increasingly familiar dilemma: even as metropolitan regions face increasingly severe and structural problems — water scarcity, cyclical flooding, atmospheric pollution, housing affordability, failing infrastructure — the capacity of cities to counter these problems is diminishing. But the dilemma is not new — nor is the challenge to planning.