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“What we today consider to be ‘local’ is influenced by international debates and policy norms”

Peter Schmitt is an Associate Professor in Human Geography. His research focuses on urban and regional planning. The highlight of his year is getting back to do field work in another European city as part of the course Field Project in Urban and Regional Planning.

Within this course students conduct onsite analysis and learn about the specific challenges and approaches that exist within the field of urban planning in other countries, cities and regions.

What do you get out of being both a teacher and a researcher?

“My research informs my teaching. It enables me to offer students knowledge based on my own empirical findings and conceptual reflections, and I feel I can give a more reality-based and up-to-date account of the established knowledge within a specific area.

The discussions with students provide useful feedback and triggers reflections

At the same time, the discussions with students provide useful feedback and triggers reflections on some problematic issues or new questions that I could engage in.

Tell us more about your research field and how it informs your teaching!

“I’m interested in how urban and regional planning is practiced, how it unfolds and is translated into strategies, norms and concrete interventions that affect our cities and regions. As a researcher I try to take a step back to identify and then to construe recurring patterns, trends and institutions within these practices, and I seek to understand the politics behind it.

Peter Schmitt next to a brick wall.
Peter Schmitt Photo: Rickard Kihlström

Scholars apply a number of theories and methods, often stemming from neighbouring disciplines within the social sciences. The way I approach my research and teaching is to figure out what urban and regional planning is, or should be, how it is implemented, and what it may imply for the students who soon will become practitioners.”

What impact can your research have on society?

“Urban and regional planning studies is a key practice-based discipline that deals with many of the societal challenges that are ahead of us. It is about how cities and regions can be prepared for and cope with challenges such as climate change. To make them more resilient for future upcoming events and crisis, how to handle spatial and social justice issues and to develop and safeguard innovative, cultural, historical and social capital are key issues.

Another crucial question is what governance models are emerging and how (should) we plan and prepare our cities and regions for the future?”

What are your views on having an international study environment?

“Urban and regional planning is a place-based practice, intrinsically connected to the challenges of a particular place. Hence it is tied to the real-time interventions, strategies and policies at local and regional levels. However, what we consider to be ‘local’ today is highly influenced by international debates and policy norms. These debates and norms are greatly influenced by the UN’s global sustainable development goals, for instance.

In Europe the EU influences urban and regional planning among its member states through regulations, interventions and directives, the co-financing of specific projects and by framing and pushing discourses on policy norms and concepts (e.g. the smart city, polycentricity, circular economy). 

It is a great advantage that the students in the programme usually represent more than ten different countries

Another international aspect is that the planning ideas, approaches and practices that are assessed locally as being ‘successful’ or ‘good’ in different parts of the world often ‘travel’ to other places. Planning practitioners try to learn from each other, which is increasingly taking place at the international scale. Therefore it is a great advantage that the students in the programme usually represent more than ten different countries, which is a great resource for discussing planning ideas, practices and approaches and its potential implications. Furthermore, the teaching staff involved in the different courses also represent many different nationalities.”

What would you say to a student considering studying Urban and Regional Planning at SU?

“A Master’s in Urban and Regional Planning covers a large range of the place-based societal challenges of our time, such as the urban-rural divide, segregation and gentrification in urban neighbourhoods, the quest for more sustainable land-use to name a few. The programme teaches students how to approach these problems making them attractive on the job market. One of the strengths of our Master’s programme in Urban and Regional Planning is its international focus.

The programme teaches students how to approach these problems making them attractive on the job market

The research at our department is anchored in a number of European countries, but also beyond, in parts of Africa and Asia. This internationality is also the result of having international staff working at our department.

Finally, students in our Master’s Programme can choose between a number of optional courses at Stockholm University, at other Swedish universities or abroad. Hence there is a high degree of flexibility, so each student can put together parts of the curriculum to suit his or her interests.”

Tell us something memorable from your work as a teacher/researcher at SU!

“For me personally the so-called field course to another European urban region each year is a highlight. Field courses are highly important, especially for an urban and regional planner. Conducting onsite analysis, getting impressions from other planning professionals, and learning about the specific challenges, planning approaches and planning cultures in other countries, cities and regions.”

More about Peter Schmitt

Associate Professor in Human Geography, focus on Urban and Regional Planning

“As with many other researchers, my research is to some extent related to my biography. I am from Germany and I started as a PhD student there. My experiences are based on applied collaborative projects, which I think form a good base to understand contemporary planning practice. Since the very beginning of my life as a researcher in 1999, I have been involved in EU-financed research projects, which enabled me to follow a cross-national comparative approach in my work, which I think is very meaningful for our international Master’s programme.”

What are you teaching?

“I am responsible for four courses at the Master’s level: Theoretical Perspectives on Planning (7.5 ECTS), Planning Practices in Cities and Regions (7.5 ECTS), Field Project in Urban and Regional Planning (7.5 ECTS) and Spatial Planning Across Europe (7.5 ECTS). In addition, I am involved in a number of courses in our Bachelor Programme in Urban and Regional Planning, which is given in Swedish and is called ‘Samhällsplaneringsprogrammet’.”

Apart from teaching and researching, Peter spends time with his family in the first place and tries to be outside as much as possible, since he loves (mountain) biking, running and hiking.

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