titlenew.gif (6683 bytes)


The Creation of the ACSP Web Site

A Paper By

Dharm Guruswamy

Associate, Apogee Research and alumnus City Planning Program, Georgia Institute of Technology

The premier issue of Online Planning provides an excellent medium for the story of the creation of a web site for the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning (ACSP). This site was created by the author and seven fellow students (see Table 1) all of whom are now alumni of the Georgia Tech City Planning Program during late 1995 and early 1996. This article will begin with a brief background of the project and continue with a description of the issues dealt with during its construction and conclude with some lessons learned and issues for the future.

Table 1: Students Involved in the Creation of the ACSP Web Site:

Graduation Dates & Degrees in Parenthesis

Zaffar Ijaz Ahmad (MCP, 1996)

Harry James Boxler (MCP, 1996)

Sandra Elizabeth Glatting (MCP & MS, 1997)

Dharm Guruswamy (MCP, 1997)

Elizabeth Gates Kellett (MCP, 1996)

Subrahmanyam Muthukumar (MS, 1996)

Ramarchandra Sivakumar (MS, 1996)

William Robert Stein (MCP & MS, 1996)

Paula Kay Stevens (MCP & MS, 1997)


Founded in 1959, ACSP, is a organization of primarily North American (US & Canadian) departments, programs, and schools which teach urban and regional planning. It's first major activity and one of the most important to this day, is the sponsorship of a annual conference for academic planners. Since then, it has diversified its services to the academy to include a professional journal (Journal of Planning Education & Research), a newsletter (ACSP Update), and guides to both graduate and undergraduate education in urban and regional planning, both of which are updated on a biannual basis. In addition, ACSP is a partner with the profession through American Institute of Certified Planners in the Planning Accreditation Board, the body that accredits planning programs in the United States.

The ACSP web site as well as a web site for the Georgia Tech Graduate City Planning Program were created by the students listed in Table 1, as part of a studio class which covered both the Fall 1995 and Winter 1996 academic quarters at the Georgia Institute of Technology. The class was under the direction of Associate Professor's Michael L. Poirier Elliott and William J. Drummond. The credit for coming up with the idea for the project goes to Dr. Drummond who was also the lead instructor for the class. Inspired by the then recent publication of City of Bits on the World Wide Web by William J. Mitchell , Dean of the School of Architecture & Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology , Drummond approached then ACSP President Catherine Ross also of Georgia Tech with the idea of building a web site with information on urban planning with the ACSP's Guide to Graduate Programs in Urban & Regional Planning (Guide) at its core. With the backing of Ross, Drummond approached the Director of the Graduate City Planning Program at Georgia Tech, Steven P. French with the then novel idea of running a studio class which would create the WWW site for ACSP as well as one for the Georgia Tech program which lacked one at the time. French approved and Drummond then approached Elliott to co-teach the class as Elliott who possessed a undergraduate degree in architecture was more familiar with layout, style, and formatting. Due to the fact that no prerequisite knowledge in Hyper Text Markup Language (HTML) or the World Wide Web (WWW) was required the class was spread out over two academic quarters (a academic quarter is normally 10 weeks in length as compared with 15 weeks for a semester) with students taking 3 credits the Fall quarter and 2 credits the Winter quarter instead of the usual studio class which was 5 credits in one quarter.


In reading the following account of the class, the reader should realize that the web was still largely a novelty in late 1995 when we began the undertaking. Many large and important organizations still were not on the web and many web sites were very limited in both content and size and very few individuals had web sites. Version 1.1 of Netscape was just beginning to be supplanted by Version 2.0 and Microsoft's Internet Explorer was but a gleam in Bill Gates's eye. Web publishing software was just being released and thus the vast majority of web sites were constructed using a text editor and knowledge of HTML.

We began the class by going over the objectives of the class: to produce a web site that contains the contents of the Guide to Graduate Programs in Urban & Regional Planning and also helps to recruit students to ACSP member schools. Students learned to master HTML by first converting their resumes into HTML. One of the most difficult issues dealt with by the class was the answer to the question, "What is planning?" and how do we attract prospective students to the field? After grappling with that question, the instructors and students settled on dividing the site up into three areas:

  1. What is Planning?
  2. What to Planners Do?
    • profiles of planners in different specialization's and areas:
      • Ed Blakely - Dean of the School of Urban & Regional Planning University of Southern California, Los Angeles.
      • Connie Cannon - Chief of Transportation Planning, Metropolitan Rapid Transit Authority, Atlanta, Georgia.
      • Jack Glatting - Principal, Glatting, Glatting Jackson Kercher Anglin Lopez Rinehart, Inc., Orlando, Florida.
      • Alvin James - Director of Planning & Permitting, City of Pasadena, California.
      • Stephen Wahlstrom - Managing Principle, Applied Development Economics, Berkeley, California
  3. Consider a Career in Planning
    • The Guide to Graduate Programs in Urban & Regional Planning in HTML form. We added lists of schools by name and state and added links to schools web sites.

    To round out the site famous quotes dealing with planning were inserted throughout the main page.

    Students worked individually or in groups on filling out the outline shown above. For example, the author conducted interviews and obtained resumes for Blakely, James, and Wahlstrom, as well as writing up the specialization on international development planning. In terms of the actual process of creating graphics and doing HTML conversion students were also assigned specific tasks. Those with a background in design worked on the graphics while others worked on creating tables similar to that found in the Guide. The task of marking up resumes and converting the Guide was both painstaking and arduous as most everything was done manually in a text editor, except for the use of Microsoft Excel which was used with a macro to create the tables (data entry was still done manually). The process was so drawn out that the class was unable to complete the Georgia Tech City Planning Program site, which was completed by the author during the summer of 1996 as a independent study.

    Picture of Genie Birch During the studio class, the leadership at ACSP shifted from Catherine Ross to Eugenie Birch (see picture), who not only continued her support for the project but wrote a welcome statement which plays a prominent role in the site. After the web site was completed, the ACSP leadership which included President Birch and the Executive Committee decided to unveil the site at the ACSP's annual Conference, which in 1996 was a "joint world Congress" with the Association of European Schools of Planning (AESOP) in Toronto, Canada. The author traveled to Toronto in July of 1996 and made a presentation during the annual business meeting. Despite some technical glitches in the presentation, the site was well received.

    Lessons Learned & Future Issues

    While constructing the site, much more class time was spent discussing questions of content than with formatting and web technicalities. The class met for three hours each week the first quarter, and the author recalls one class period spent almost exclusively on debating "what is planning?" In order to build the site, we spent substantially more time thinking about what planning is, what makes it unique, and most importantly how to present it to prospective students than in actually dealing with the technical details. We found that planning is truly interdisciplinary in that it draws from so many disciplines which makes it hard to profile and describe. However, this is also a strength because its easy to make connections with prospective students in so many areas. In doing so, many in the class including the author gained a deeper understanding of the philosophical underpinnings of planning and its relation to the problems of society. Whether a student was researching a city where planning made a difference or interviewing a planner with many years of experience, we were always learning something new.

    At the time the web site was unveiled in July of 1996, we knew of no other profession which had as much information for prospective students on one web site, and it was a achievement we felt was reason enough to be proud of our efforts. However, one cannot rest on our laurels, and one comment I received at the unveiling was when will undergraduate and Ph.D. programs be added to the site. Currently, many other professions have already exceeded the content of our site, highlighting the importance of continuos upgrading and updating to stay at the forefront.

    In the short period (one year) between the unveiling of the web site, and this article another edition of the Guide to Graduate Programs in Urban & Regional Planning has already been released. While advances in HTML authoring tools will no doubt make the task of updating the site easier, it will still require significant effort. This raises the question, once the class is over and the students have graduated who updates the site. The construction of the site required significant intellectual effort which justified offering it as a class. However, updating the site is certainly more routine and thus Dr. Drummond and the ACSP are investigating ways in which ACSP could fund a graduate research assistant to update the site.

    In terms of adding the undergraduate and Ph.D. programs to the site, this too would be a significant undertaking. The graduate Guide's undergraduate companion is aimed at a different audience, high school students. The construction of a undergraduate site would thus be probably best accomplished by undergraduate students in a undergraduate program (which Georgia Tech does not have). The Ph.D. program possesses another challenge in that their is no separate guide for them at this time. This is primarily because the market would is so small, however, the web would be the perfect medium to start a guide for Ph.D. students. Again, the audience would be different, and it would be best accomplished by students at a Ph.D. program.

    In order to construct the site, we had to find links to all the planning programs which had sites at the time. One observation the author made is that their was not necessarily a relationship between stature and size of a program and the quality of its web site. The low cost of setting up a web site and its ubiquitous nature make it the great equalizer between planning programs. Ultimately, the schools with better and flashier web sites will most likely attract better students, and the web site will essentially become the flashy brochure of the future.


    Dr. Drummond deserves much credit for both coming up with the idea for the site and following through with excellent leadership during the studio. The author would also like to thank the other students in the class and (now fellow alumni, listed in Table 1) who were a pleasure to work with. The contents of this article including any errors are, however, the author's who takes full responsibility for the contents of this article.


^ top







Editorial Board



Journal Home

OLP Home

Editorial | Editorial Board | Articles  | Submit | Journal Home | OLP Home