European Planning Studies, Vol. 7, No. 2, 1999 243
The Development of Planning Education and its
Relation to the Belated Start of Geography Teaching
in Greek Universities
LOIS IABRIANIDIS AND ALEX M. DEFFNER
ABSTRACT Planning and geography teaching in Greek Universities has until very recently been extremely
limited. Moreover, there were no planning and geography departments, which contrasted with the substantial
research in the field since 1960. The subject of space was insufficiently covered by a number of courses offered
unsystematically by various departments of the Greek Universities. Among them the most comprehensive coverage
was given by the Departments of Architecture and Rural and Surveying Engineering. Space related courses were
usually complementary to the core courses of the departments offering them. What was of primary importance
to the way geography was taught was the scientific approach adopted by each department, and not the scientific
subject. Students were often taught geography concurrently with subjects which did not allow for spatial
differentiation. A pivotal question to be answered here is why planning and geography teaching has been so
neglected in Greek Universities. The recent establishment of Planning and Geography Departments should
principally be viewed as an outcome of the aggravation of the problems stemming from the unequal regional
development of Greece as well as the realization of the importance of space. The lack of systematic studies
allowed certain scientists to proclaim themselves 'experts' with the right to get invoked in the practice of planning
and geography. Concerning the more sophisticated needs, these were met by 'imported knowledge' acquired by
studies abroad. The outcome of this was two-fold: on the one hand, 'applied' geography relied on explanatory
tools and development models which were not products of analysis of the Greek society, and, on the other hand,
academic education focused more on physical planning and on traditional theories at the level of analysis.
Planning education in Greece is a relatively recent phenomenon, but its development is closely
linked to geography teaching, and this is more clearly expressed in the courses which are
related to space.
Urban and Regional Planning has been important in decision making involving spatial
phenomena and population distribution. It deals with the identification of trends, planning in
general, and the evaluation of alternative solutions as well as physical planning. Geography
has always been an applied subject, the basis for research and scientific development. After the
Louis Labrianidis, Associate Professor, Department of Economic Sciences, University of Macedonia, 156 Egnatias
Street, Thessaloniki 540 06, Greece. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Alex M. Deffner, Lecturer, Department of Planning and Regional Development, University of Thessaly, Pedion
Arcos, Volos 38334, Greece. E-mail: email@example.com
0965-4313/99/020243-11 © 1999 Taylor & Francis Ltd
244 Research Briefing
war, geography was the science that interpreted spatial phenomena, the rational ground and
analytical basis for planning. It studies and interprets the effects of spatial phenomena. And
although one cannot conceive planning without geographical analysis, the latter does not
necessarily lead to planning.
Geography studies the earth's surface, as well as the spatial distribution of socio-economic
phenomena and the processes causing this distribution. Thus it is closely related both to
the natural and social sciences. During the historical development of geography, its differentiation
into physical geography and human geography was sometimes marked and at other times
In its early days (see A. von Humboldt, C. Ritter, F. Ratzel, P. Vidal de la Blache, R.
Hartshorne, P. Kropotkin, E. Reclus, H. Mackinder) geography was a unified field, encompassing
both physical and human geography. In the sixties a sharp distinction was drawn and
in fact, as mentioned earlier, this resulted in the creation of specialized fields within human
geography. Today we are at the stage where criticism of this fragmentation and specialization
by post-positivist geography has restored some unity to the science.
Thus, geography is once again seen as a unity of physical and human geography. Typical
examples of this trend towards reunification are the studies by Cronon (1991), Stoddart (1986),
and Swyngendow (1994). This unity implies the necessity of a unified conception of space
(Panayotatou, 1988). The rough differentiation of geography into physical and human still
exists in universities, as well as in terms of job specialization among geographers, but not in
The paper constitutes a first approach to the analysis of the subject of planning education
and its relation to geography teaching in Greek Universities. It is based on an analysis of the
curricula and syllabuses of the various Departments of Greek Universities, as presented in
their respective course guides. 1
The following important points which would have helped towards a more comprehensive
approach of the subject were not studied, that is: (a) the different approaches to planning
and geography that are taught at Greek Universities (this presupposed an analysis of student
notes and text books used); (b) the undergraduate and post-graduate education in Greece
and abroad of faculty members, in order to identify their academic backgrounds and
interrelations; (c) the question of post-graduate studies both at the Masters degree level which
concerns the Institute of Regional Development at the Pantion University of Social and
Economic Sciences (PU), 2 and at a doctorate level which concerns also the Departments of
Architecture, Rural and Surveying Engineering, Economics, as well as the Departments of
Geology and Physics.
The paper is not a historical review, which in fact would be very useful. One can point
out, however, that the importance of geography was realized almost right from the beginning
of the formation of Greek Universities. In particular, even a brief survey of the history of the
Greek University shows that the first draft of the University of Athens' (UA) charter states
that geography is to be one of the sciences in the School of General Sciences. But, this has
been omitted from the final draft of the charter in 1837 (Rentzos, 1984, p. 34). Physical
geography has been taught in the Department of Natural History at the University of Athens
from 1931 (Rentzos, 1984, pp. 37-38). Finally, economic geography has been taught during
1952—1953 in the Department of Economics and Political Science at the Aristotle University
of Thessaloniki (AUT), 3 while at the Graduate Industrial School of Thessaloniki it was
compulsory in the first year starting with the first academic year of the School's operation
It could be argued, as a working hypothesis, that geography was considered as an
important field right from the beginning of university education in Greece. Physical geography
has been taught continuously since 1930, while human geography became a significant subject
in the studies of many schools after the fall of the dictatorship. Economic geography was
Research Briefing 245
introduced in the Departments of Economics very early, often as a compulsory subject.
However, although it started as an important subject in the curricula of the Departments of
Economics during the fifties, it declined in the seventies and eighties.
This gradual decline in the importance of geography was accompanied by a shift towards
regional geography, belatedly following the international trend of the time. During the sixties
the Schools of Technology introduced Urban and Regional Planning, which from the fall of
the dictatorship to the mid eighties—a period of intense politicization reflected in the
introduction of subjects with a social content—became very important and was selected by
Even a quick glance will show that, essentially, planning and geography are taught to a limited extent
in Greek Universities. Some courses of physical geography are taught in the Department of
Geology [National Kapodistrian University of Athens (NKUA) and Aristotle University of
Thessaloniki (AUT)], in the Department of Physics (NKUA and AUT) and in the Department
of Rural and Surveying Engineering of the AUT. Human geography courses are taught in
many departments: a few courses in the Departments of Architecture (AUT), of Economics
and International & European Economic Studies [Economic University of Athens (EUA)], of
Agriculture (AUT), of the Primary School of Education [Ioannina University (IOU), AUT,
Dimokrition University of Thrace, (DUT), University of Athens], of History [AUT, Ionian
University (IU)]. A significant number of human geography courses are also taught in the
Departments of Rural and Surveying Engineering [National Technical University of Athens
(NTUA), AUT]. In this respect, the Department of Geography of the University of the
Aegean (UA), which began operation in 1994, is unique; it has filled a serious gap and
undoubtedly has a very important role to play.
There are marry approaches to planning and geography, in other words different approaches to the
analysis of space, something that has a significant impact on the organization of university
studies. However, as we point out in Section 3, this issue has not been raised as yet in Greece,
though at the level of the individual faculty member/researcher the majority have identified
themselves to one approach or the other and some of them are prominent representatives of
the subject. One hopes that it is an issue that sooner or later will be dealt with in the newly
formed specialized departments that is: Urban and Regional Development (PU), Planning and
Regional Development, University of Thessaly (UTH), and Geography (UA).
The paper is divided into two main sections, apart from the introduction (Section 1). In
Section 2 we have focused on the analysis of the courses concerning space in general
(Planning, Geography, Regional Development, etc.) taught in various departments of the
Greek Universities. In Section 3 there are some general comments/conclusions covering the
teaching of planning and geography in Greek Universities.
2. Departments Dealing with the Subject of Space in Greek Universities
This section, which is subdivided in two parts, analyses how planning and geography are
taught in the Greek Universities and is based on an examination of the most recent curricula
of the relevant departments. The first part (Section 2.1) focuses on the three university
departments which specialize in the subject of space. The second part (Section 2.2) focuses on
the relationships between the classification of courses and departments.
2.1 Departments Specializing in the Subject of Space
At present there are three such departments, however since they have been established very
recently and they arc still understaffed it is very difficult to make any firm judgment. Until
recently there were neither systematic nor comprehensive studies in the Greek Universities
concerning the subject of space. There was no distinct unity recognized by the Greek
246 Research Briefing
academic community which would lead to a degree or specialization on planning or any other
academic field related to that (geography, regional development, etc.). As of 1989, for the first
time there are departments dealing specifically with space, as follows:
First, the Department of Urban and Regional Development at the Pantion University of Social and
Political Studies. It started operating in the academic year 1990-1991, and offers a four-year
degree course. Studies cover economics, quantitative analysis and regional science. The study
of regional science is one of the three main academic axes, which is supported by the other two.
The Department's curriculum does not include the teaching of Physical Geography, the
use of maps or the analysis of specific regions. However, an emphasis is placed on courses
related to law (6 out of 69 courses).
Second, the Department of Planning and Regional Development at the University ofThessaly, which
opened in the academic year 1989-1990, and offers five-year degree courses. As mentioned
in the 1992 curriculum, the Department's aim is to produce scientists who will have not only
a qualitative and theoretical knowledge of the economic, social, demographic and ecological
aspects of regions and cities, but also the ability to handle data quantitatively and to solve specific spatial
problems. The Department's curriculum is clearly orientated towards planning and spatial
analysis. The programme's stated aim is the emphasis on quantitative analysis techniques,
which, however, is not evident from the titles of the courses included in the curriculum and
from the actual contents of the courses. Though, an emphasis is placed on GIS, but it is used
as an analytical tool and not developed into a subject in its own right. The most recent
curriculum, which was initiated in the 1995 = 1996 academic year, differs drastically from the
previous one, in the sense that it is far more structured and concise. Moreover, it has an
additional emphasis on architectural subjects. There is a general tendency towards inter-disciplinarity,
especially in the optional courses: e.g. there exist courses related to cultural
geography, economics, law, political science, and sociology. Third, the Department of Geography,
University of the Aegean, which opened in the academic year 1994-1995, and offers four-year
degree courses. In the curriculum there is small emphasis on the subjects of physical
geography, and an emphasis on subjects concerning the environment.
The correspondence between other departments and universities which offer more
than one course related to space is summarized in Table 1. There is also reference to
the geographical emphasis of these courses. The table is based on an examination of the
most recent curricula of these departments (for a detailed presentation see Labrianidis,
2.2 Classification of Courses Related to Space and Departments
The classification of courses and departments shows a focus in certain types of courses, which,
in many but not all cases, 'correspond' to what are gene rally considered as the main features
of the types of departments, e.g. economics to Economic Sciences. An interesting point is that
there is a clear emphasis on urban planning courses, but this occurs mainly because of the two
Architecture Departments and not because of the two Planning and the one Geography
Departments. Urban planning courses are also dominant, perhaps surprisingly, in the Civil
and Rural and Surveying Engineering Departments. The second position is occupied by
economics courses which are dominant in the Economic Sciences/International Studies
Departments, but have also a good position in the Planning Departments. The next position
is occupied by methods and information systems courses which are dominant in the Planning
Departments (Figure 1).
The fourth position is occupied by human, rural and cultural geography courses mainly
because of the Geography and Planning Departments. Next comes, perhaps surprisingly low,
spatial/regional planning courses which have this position mainly because of the Planning
Table 1. Other departments and universities offering courses related to space
Rural and Surveying Engineering
International and European Studies
AUT NTUA DUT UP EUA UPI UM UA P NKUA IU IOU
Note: UP is the University of Patras, UPI is the University of Piraeus, UM is the University of Macedonia. For other abbreviations see text.
248 Research Briefing
Methods & Information
Theory & History
Human, Rural &
1 1 i 1
10 20 30 40 50
• Political Science/Law/Social
0 Economic Sciences/Administration/
0 Primary Education/Foreign
• Positive-Natural Sciences
Figure 1. Types of departments based on types of courses.
Departments. The sixth position is occupied by theory and history, courses which have this
position mainly because of the Architecture Departments followed by housing and infrastructure
courses which have this position mainly because of the Planning Departments. The eighth
position is occupied by physical geography courses which are dominating in the Geology/
Physics/Positive and Geotechnic Sciences/Forestry Departments (Figure 1).
The majority of courses are taught in the Planning Departments, followed, with a large
difference, by Architecture and, perhaps surprisingly, by Civil and Rural and Surveying
Engineering Departments. In the Primary Education/Foreign Languages/History Departments
the dominant type of course is theory and history, which is also dominant, along with
spatial and regional planning, in the Political Science/Law/Administration/Social Anthropology
Departments (Figure 2).
If the departments are grouped in three types, then the vast majority of courses are taught
in the Planning/Geography/Architecture Departments, in which case the dominant type of
course is urban planning. The second position is occupied by the Environment/Natural
Sciences/Engineering Departments, in which case the dominant type of course is physical
geography. Fewer courses are taught in the Social Sciences Departments, in which case the
dominant type of course is economics (Figure 3).
1 I HI
40 60 80 100
fj] European Studies
E3 Methods & Information Systems
0 Policy/Institutional Context
• Spatial/Regional Planning
B Housing & Infrastructures
• Theory & History
• Human, Rural & Cultural Geography
Figure 2. Types of courses based on types of departments (nine).
Research Briefing 249
n European Studies
Q Methods & Information Systems
0 Policy/Institutional Context
• Spatial/Regional Planning
^ Housing & Infrastructures
^ Urban Planning
• Theory & History
• Physical Geography
£] Human, Rural & Cultural Geography
0 20 40 60 80 100 120 140 160 180
Figure 3. Types of courses based on types of departments (three).
3. Concluding Remarks
(1) The teaching of planning and geography in Greek Universities was until recently extremely
limited, and there were neither Planning nor Geography Departments. The situation has
changed with the recent establishment of the Departments of Urban and Regional Development
at PU, Planning and Regional Development at the UTH, and the operation of the
Department of Geography at the UA as of 1994. It is necessary to consider why no
Department of Geography existed in Greek Universities and why the study of geography at
the level of the university was underdeveloped in a country with a rich tradition in geography
in the ancient world (Herodotus, Ptolemeus, Strabon, etc.). Also, there existed Greek scientists
doing post-graduate studies abroad, as well as significant geographical research as early as
1960 due to the French human geographers who worked in Greece. They published several
books (Burgel, 1965/1988; Kayser, 1964; Kayser et al, 1971, 1989), and the first Socio-economic
Atlas of Greece (Kayser et al, 1964). A new Atlas is being produced through the
collaboration of the Institute of Urban and Rural Sociology (of the National Centre for Social
Research in Athens) and the French School of Athens.
The answer to the aforementioned question may lie in the fact that the subject was
dominated by engineers and that the powerful Technical Chamber of Greece blocked the
entry of competing professions. Also, until recently neither the extent of regional inequalities in
Greece nor their importance for the development of the country as a whole or its regions had
been realized. The conventional wisdom was that if the country developed as a whole, this
would inevitably lead to the development of the regions and therefore would reduce or
eliminate spatial inequalities.
Finally, it should not be forgotten that other important scientific fields were very late in
developing in Greek Universities. For example, a Department of Sociology was established for
the first time in the sixties, while Departments of History and Social Anthropology were
started only in the early eighties. Thus, there is a general delay in the organization of social
sciences in the Greek Universities, due to the role they play in Greek society. In other words,
the social sciences are clearly underdeveloped in Greece, and universities are mainly interested in
professional training as in the Faculties of Medicine, Engineering, Agriculture and Education.
Finally, it should be pointed out that the rich tradition of geography in Ancient Greece did
not necessarily continue in modern Greece, where the economic, social, and political
circumstances are entirely different. This argument is in accordance with a modern approach
of heritage which has recently been formulated and focuses on the last two centuries.
250 Research Briefing
(2) Studies in Planning and Regional Development consist of isolated courses and faculties
scattered among several departments of the Greek Universities. The peculiarity of the subjects
that planning and geography deal with as well as the plurality of approaches to planning and
geography are important explanatory factors referring to the peculiarity of faculties and
departments in Greek Universities that are dealing with all these different aspects. The
importance and nature of the courses dealing with space vary between schools and departments. The same
department in different universities will not always teach the same or similar courses dealing
(3) As it has already been pointed out there is not only one 'geography' and hence there
are many approaches to geography teaching in universities, placing an emphasis on physical
rather than human geography, on quantitative rather than or on critical geography, etc. (see
Figure 3). Up to now there has not been any opportunity for a substantive scientific discussion regarding the
direction of teaching of geography and planning in Greek Universities should follow.
This is mainly due to the fact that until 1989 there was no university department dealing
with the subject of space. Hence, since the teaching of planning and geography was peripheral
to the main core of the apartments where it was taught, it was to be expected that there was
not going to be any scientific discussion on the approach to planning and geography that the
department was going to take. As for the three departments specializing in the subject of space
that have developed since 1989 at the moment they are still in a process of formation, they
are relatively understaffed and hence one should not have expected them to develop a
dominant view on which approach to geography to follow.
(4) The space related courses are not always incorporated into the curriculum, and their
teaching must adapt to the general direction of the department. The faculties where these
courses are taught are not always orientated towards planning and regional development.
Thus, these courses complement other subjects which make up the core of the faculty or
department. Because of this they cover a limited area of this science, as viewed from the
faculty's or department's main subject. The courses are not taught fully or in a structured way,
and are not orientated towards a specific specialization.
However, a scientific field cannot be properly organized simply by lumping together the
individual subjects that constitute it. The parts must be integrated into a whole with its own
philosophy of studies, conceptual categories, analytical and methodological tools, modus
operandi and mechanisms of growth.
In many departments they are the 'icing on the cake', cut off from the main body of
studies such as: Primary Education, Agriculture and Forestry (AUT), Foreign Languages (IU).
Students are taught subjects that do not recognize the existence of spatial differentiation. In
the final analysis, the scientific approach that prevails in the department is more important than the scientific
subject into which it is incorporated. The difficulties involved in the teaching of the space related
courses in Economics Departments in Greece are considered below.
(a) The neo-classical economists accepted it as a fact that economic activity happened in
a vacuum ('on the head of a pin'). As Richardson (1969/1972, p. 8) points out, if we accept
the assumptions of neo-classical theory (the most important of which are price and wage
flexibility and total mobility of the factors of production—labour and capital—within the
country), then space makes no difference. Intractable regional problems do not exist, since the
market smoothes out all interregional disequilibria. Interregional differences in prices, wages
and incomes cannot persist, other than to the extent that transportation costs prevent their
equalization. In other words, the market smoothes out all interregional disequilibria. For this
reason, the neo-classical economists did not include space in their general economic theory,
nor did they analyse the problems created by the spatial distribution of economic activities.
From the nineteenth century 'spatial theories' had been put forward concerning the
location of agricultural and industrial production (von Thiinen, 1826/1966; Launhardt, 1882;
Weber, 1909/1971), which, however, remained outside the general economic theory.
Research Briefing 251
(b) The introduction of the concept of space creates problems in economic equilibrium
analysis (general equilibrium in the private sector and general equilibrium in the private and
public sectors). The neo-classical economists accept positions based on marginal analysis (e.g.
the marginal utility of a good is inversely proportional to the quantity consumed) that cannot
incorporate space. They assume, for example, that all relations can be expressed as continuous
functions, whereas distance and other spatial factors create discontinuities in these continuous
functions, discontinuities that cannot be dealt with by using marginal analysis.
(c) The concept of space is absent in economics courses. It is not accepted that space has
an impact on social, political, cultural or other activities, and that it is influenced by them. The
following two examples are characteristic. In the subject of public economics considerable
time is spent on the determination and analysis of public and semi-public goods. The partial
and general equilibrium models of the neo-classical theory for the specification of the
optimum quantity of public and semi-public goods do not take space into account as a
variable, even though certain public and semi-public goods are of limited geographical range,
e.g. a lighthouse which is a semi-public good, the fire brigade, a road, which is built under
entirely different conditions on level ground and through mountains.
In the subject of Macroeconomics Analysis, the theory of investments plays an important
role in determining the equilibrium income of the economy. Nevertheless, in the neo-classical
approach the factors determining investment do not mention space directly as a component
that also influences the extent or nature of investments. However, in reality investments vary
enormously in size and form from one area to another.
The teaching of subjects dealing with the analysis of space may be thought of by both
students and academics as something that concerns 'special' cases or 'something else' such as
'sociology', 'epistemology' or 'pedagogy'.
(5) In the Departments of Architecture and Rural and Surveying Engineering these
subjects are taught more extensively and intensively. The Schools of Architecture are
traditionally connected to urban and regional planning. As early as the late sixties regional
planning moved towards the social sciences. The relative independence of urban and regional
planning was initially expressed in Greek Universities through the establishment of Chairs in
Urban Planning and later Regional Planning at the Schools of Architecture (AUT and
NTUA). The above Chairs later developed into Faculties. Regional planning is no longer seen
as technical training for engineers, but as a complicated procedure for regulating social
practices which develop in space. Courses in social sciences, geography, etc. were introduced.
This change was favoured by political developments in the 1970s (dictatorship and shortly
after its fall) when many students chose these courses, while now very few do so.
(6) New subjects have recently been added to departments where the analysis of space was
already being taught such as GIS, EU and ecology. In addition, subjects related to space are
gradually beginning to appear in departments where they were not taught in the past (i.e. in
Law Schools subjects concerning the social and institutional component of the issue).
However, most of the new trends that have appeared in planning and geography since the
eighties (e.g. structuration, post-modernism, realism) seem not to have been incorporated in
(7) Mapping is a useful tool for spatial analysis. However, the way it is taught today leads
to fetishism of digitization techniques (GIS), which thus become autonomous. Descriptive
geography, e.g. geography of continents, countries, etc., is absent. With the exception of the
Departments of History and Archaeology, no subjects are taught concerning the historical
dimension of spatial development.
(8) Geography is either not taught in the Primary Education Departments (e.g. Mathematics,
Chemistry) or it is taught in a very restricted way (only physical geography in the
Departments of Physics and Biology). Moreover, in secondary schools, where geography is
252 Research Briefing
supposed to be taught by high school teachers of physics and chemistry (who have not been
taught any relevant subjects), geologists, biologists and naturalists, it is actually taught by many
others (Rentzos, 1984, p. 70). In universities, subjects related to human geography and urban
and regional planning are taught mainly by those with a first degree in Architecture and
post-graduate studies—usually abroad—in Geography, Regional Development, Urban
and Regional Planning, etc. Subjects related to regional development and space economics
are usually taught by holders of a degree in Economics.
(9) There are many reasons for the recent establishment of special university Departments
for Urban and Regional Development, Planning and Regional Development, and Geography.
First the acute problems arising from the country's unequal regional development and
awareness of this through more complete statistical data which show the extent of the
inequalities. The realization by Greek University professors and society in general that, as
Massey argues, 'geography matters' (1984). The development of EU Regional, Environment,
as well as Urban Planning policies. Finally the realization of the problems created in the
professional field by the absence of systematic studies on space. The lack of a defined and
institutionalized subject allows various professionals (architects, economists, land surveyors,
etc.) to proclaim themselves 'experts' in planning by simply registering in the 'General
Researchers' Registry'. As far as specialized imported needs are concerned, these are covered
by 'imported knowledge' acquired through studies abroad, mainly at a post-graduate level.
Among other things this leads to the use of explanatory tools and development models which
are not based on an analysis of Greek society.
The consequences of importing knowledge into Greek Universities were, on the one hand,
excessive emphasis on physical planning as a result of an 'imported' knowledge from the
Anglo-Saxon School, and, on the other hand, traditional theories at the level of analysis due
to the influence of the German School.
Starting from the last remark, we can formulate the main directions that planning
education in Greece should take: a) the development of a 'local knowledge' based on the
interrelationship of the physical and social aspects of planning as well as the examination of
the specific regional and urban inequalities of the country; b) the materialization of the
plurality of approaches to planning (including the new trends which appeared in the eighties)
combined with a unified conception of space and the use of both quantitative and qualitative
methods of analysis; c) the balance between planning theory and practice, incorporating the
historical dimension of spatial development.
1. For an extensive presentation of the arguments advanced in this paper see Labrianidis (1996).
2. This body has a tradition in the subject. Although founded in 1975, it is essentially a continuation of
the Society for Regional Economic Studies (1962-1967) founded by Professor Ieronimos Pintos. It
offers two-year courses and accepts graduates from various fields such as engineers, economists,
3. Professor Poulopoulos's text book Economic Geography of Greece, published in 1972 by Sakkoulas
(Thessaloniki—Athens) was available as of 1964.
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