Urban5: The ancestor to PlannerBot

There is a running joke in this year’s first-year M.Sc.Pl. class. It started around the time we were debating the merits of rational comprehensive planning (RCP). To take RCP to its extremes, some students imagined a “PlannerBot,” a supercomputer capable of integrating all available information and making the best (i.e., most rational) decision based on these inputs. Would PlannerBot, the students wondered, make the kinds of decisions we’d want our planners to be making? If you had the power to determine whether PlannerBot was activated or not, what would you do?

After its introduction, PlannerBot continued to make routine appearances during the rest of the fall semester. The general consensus, even amongst its creators, was that PlannerBot was not where we wanted the planning profession to go.

Although PlannerBot was conceived independently, it seems that the idea is not a new one. As it turns out, PlannerBot (or at least one of its ancestors) dates back to at least 1968…


This booklet contains conference proceedings from a conference at Yale:


This publication highlights some of the best technology at the time for urban planning and architecture:


Referencing #8, above:mouse2

Toward the end of the publication, we discover that Nicholas Negroponte, now more famous for his One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative, is the true father of PlannerBot.

He called his system URBAN5, and its capabilities were very impressive for 1968.



Here are some excerpts from the article. It’s very funny:











URBAN5 is starting to sound a bit like HAL9000, its exact contemporary.

Here’s how the article concludes:


Apparently, the project was canned because of technical issues. Many of URBAN5’s features can still be seen in modern GIS packages, however. Who knows – PlannerBot might still see the light of day…


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