For this section, we have selected award-winning papers in prominent planning journals to use as our case studies of excellent writing.
Professor Donald Shoup was awarded the Chester Rapkin Award for the Best Paper in the Journal of Planning Education and Research in 2009. The award is named after Professor Rapkin who was a distinguished educator, who mentored 70 doctoral and numerous master students at the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia, and Princeton. According to the awards committee, Shoup’s article “presents a potentially very' important innovation in zoning, which could have significant application in practice." Beyond its practical utility, the “paper is a model for how to write an academic paper within a professional domain" and “it is persuasive, elegant, and economical" (UCLA, 2012).
The premise of Shoup’s (2008) article is that it is difficult to assemble sites that are large enough to redevelop at high densities, especially in city centers. As a result, regeneration in city centers is impeded and suburban sprawl spreads onto large sites already in single ownership. He suggests a new planning strategy' to encourage voluntary land assembly and graduated density zoning. This strategy' can increase the incentive for landowners to cooperate and participate in land assembly so that they can obtain a valuable economic opportunity, rather than hold out and miss the opportunity to combine contiguous properties to trigger higher-density economic benefits.
Shoup demonstrates how to craft an effective introduction. The introduction begins by detailing the traditional approach that cities have used to keep private landowners from holding out in land assemblage. He illustrates the controversy surrounding eminent domain by using examples of cities taking land from private landowners. These examples are strengthened by powerful quotations: “No one should be forced to sell just because a city say's a neighborhood isn’t rich enough to stay" (Huffstutter, 2006, cited in Shoup 2008, p. 162). By the time the readers reach the end of the introduction, Shoup has clearly demonstrated that eminent domain is a problem and something new is needed. Stating why the research is needed is one of the primary purposes of the introduction.
Also included in the introduction are his research questions, which appear directly' after the point is made that this is an important research topic. Shoup asks, “can cities assemble land for infill development without resorting to eminent domain?” Following this research question, Shoup suggests his hypothesis, that graduated density zoning may be a promising strategy', and then he outlines how the rest of the paper will proceed. This is a very good example of an effective introduction.
Shoup uses informative headings to organize his information within the paper. While, he does not explicitly label his sections as methods or results, the information flows logically and is presented in the standard structure of scholarly' articles.
An effective technique that Shoup uses liberally is pairing concepts with examples. For example, he uses concepts and examples to guide a reader through a complex section describing Graduated Density Zoning. This concept will not be familiar to all readers, but after his description of the concept and use of an example, readers should have a very clear understanding of how it works.
He writes about an example of a city and a rail transit line. The city wants to increase density around the stations, and that transit-oriented development would require sites larger than the existing parcels. The existing properties are small and in poor condition, but many owners either oppose higher density or are holding out for higher prices. Eminent domain is not an attractive option for the city either. Again, Shoup sets the stage to describe the concept of graduated density zoning and the example is made real to the reader.
The awards committee commented that Shoup uses “ingenious figures to make its message clear." These ingenious figures illustrate his concepts and research questions. For example, in order to demonstrate that large single lots gain more square footage than two single lots, Shoup shows the contrasting floor plans (Figure 2.3). Clearly the single lot gains more square footage by reclaiming the setback between the buildings. Furthermore, as Shoup explains, a land assembly of larger lots leads to better urban design, cost savings, and an increase in density.
Overall, Shoup’s article demonstrates effective writing. It is clear, concise, and meaningful. One of the Research You Can Use columns takes issue with Shoup’s methodology, but not with his writing (Ewing, August-September 2008).
Another award-winning article that demonstrates a significant original contribution to the field of planning and serves as a model to be emulated by other researchers is Dowell Myers and SungHo Ryu’s 2008 article, “Aging Baby Boomers and the Generational Housing Bubble: Foresight and Mitigation of an Epic Transition." Each year, the Journal of the American Planning Association honors the authors of excellent JAPA articles with the Best Article award. According to the selection criteria, the award goes to an article that communicates its content in a clear, logical, and comprehensible manner that appeals to a wide audience. This article does just that and received the award in 2008.
Myers and Ryu investigated the impact that the 78 million baby boomers will have on the housing market when they sell off their high-priced homes to relatively less advantaged generations who are fewer in number. Using a long-run projection of annual home buying and selling by age groups in the 50 states, the authors consider implications for communities of the anticipated downturn in demand.
Let us take a look at how the two authors have crafted an introduction that grabs the reader, as well as clearly indicating their contribution to the field:
The giant baby boom generation born between 1946 and 1964 has been a dominant force in the housing market for decades. This group has always provided the largest age cohorts, and has created a surge in demand as it passed through each stage of the life cycle. As its members entered into home buying in the 1970s, gentrification in cities and construction of starter homes in suburbs increased.
Figure 2.3 Contrasting Floor Plans
Source: Shoup (2008)
Their subsequent march into middle age was accompanied by rising earnings and larger expenditures for move-up housing. Looking ahead to the coming decade, the boomers will retire, relocate, and eventually withdraw from the housing market. Given the potential effects of so many of these changes happening in a limited period of time, communities should consider how best to plan this transition.
This single paragraph is focused, interesting, and leads the reader directly to why this research is important. Great paragraph.
Following their introduction, the authors review the literature on baby boomers, demographic changes, and changes in the housing market. The literature review is well researched: more than 30 articles are cited. Despite the wealth of research, the authors clearly indicate that their research is filling a gap, the raison d’etre of a literature review:
What have not been recognized to date are the grave impacts of the growing age imbalance in the housing market.
The methods section of this paper is complete and easy to follow. The authors describe their databases, the size of the sample, and what measures they will use. The steps in their statistical analysis are also detailed. All in all, this is what a methods section should look like.
Their results section is not an exception either: It clearly presents the results. The use of illustrative figures helps tell the story' (see Figure 2.4).
They conclude their paper with implications for local planning and open doors to future research.
Planners must adjust their thinking for a new era that reverses many longstanding assumptions. Though planners in many urban areas have been struggling against gentrification, they may now need to stave off urban decline. Whereas decline once occurred in the central city, it may now be concentrated in suburbs with
Figure 2.4 Average Annual Percent of Persons Selling Homes in Each Age Group Source: Myers & Ryu (2008)
Technical Writing 43 surpluses of large-lot single-family housing. Whereas residential development once focused on single-family homes, many states may swing toward denser developments clustered near amenities. Whereas the major housing problem was once affordability, it could now be homeowners’ dashed expectations after lifelong investment in home equity. The new challenge may be how to sustain municipal services in the face of declining property values. All of these reversals result from the aging of the baby boomers. By using foresight, planners have a better chance of leading their communities through the difficult transition ahead.