Ecohumanism and the Ecological Culture

The Educational Legacy of Lewis Mumford and Ian McHarg

William J. Cohen, With a Foreword by Frederick R. Steiner
Book Cover

PB: $37.95
EAN: 978-1-4399-1828-9
Publication: May 19

HC: $109.50
EAN: 978-1-4399-1827-2
Publication: May 19

Ebook: $37.95
EAN: 978-1-4399-1829-6
Publication: May 19

318 pages
6 x 9
4 figures, 5 line drawings, 17 halftones

Explores how the vision of ecohumanism was championed by Lewis Mumford and operationalized by Ian McHarg

Read the Introduction (pdf).


Lewis Mumford, one of the most respected public intellectuals of the twentieth century, speaking at a conference on the future environments of North America, said, “In order to secure human survival we must transition from a technological culture to an ecological culture.” In Ecohumanism and the Ecological Culture, William Cohen shows how Mumford’s conception of an educational philosophy was enacted by Mumford’s mentee, Ian McHarg, the renowned landscape architect and regional planner at the University of Pennsylvania. McHarg advanced a new way to achieve an ecological culture―through an educational curriculum based on fusing ecohumanism to the planning and design disciplines.

Cohen explores Mumford’s important vision of ecohumanism—a synthesis of natural systems ecology with the myriad dimensions of human systems, or human ecology―and how McHarg actually formulated and made that vision happen. He considers the emergence of alternative energy systems and new approaches to planning and community development to achieve these goals.

The ecohumanism graduate curriculum should become the basis to train the next generation of planners and designers to lead us into the ecological culture, thereby securing the educational legacy of both Lewis Mumford and Ian McHarg.


"Drawing from archival and published sources, Cohen examines in minute detail McHarg’s curriculum adjustments. Graduate students will appreciate Cohen's insights, and faculty and administrators involved in the creation, revision, or assessment of landscape, planning, and sustainability curricula will find useful inspiration. Nonspecialists will find the bibliography a good road map to study of ecological literacy. Summing Up: Recommended."
– Choice

"(Cohen) masterfully sketches the landscape of the ecohumanist movement, its philosophy, and resulting graduate curriculum. It is an extensive, thoughtful work that will inspire ecohumanists from many disciplines, including those in planning, design, architecture, and education, to move beyond disciplinary territories to work toward the establishment of an ecological culture."
— Teachers College Record

“For those wishing to break down today’s seemingly impenetrable academic silos, William Cohen’s Ecohumanism and the Ecological Culture should be required reading. It is not only an intellectual biography of Ian McHarg and Lewis Mumford, his mentor; it is a step-by-step primer of how to build true interdisciplinarity—one idea, one course, one faculty hire, and one degree at a time.”
Robert Wojtowicz, Dean of the Graduate School and Professor of Art History at Old Dominion University

“If ever there was a time to resuscitate ecological planning, it is now, and Bill Cohen’s wonderful book helps us do that. This thoroughly researched and eloquently told story recounts Ian McHarg’s efforts to mold a new kind of ecologically literate planner/designer—inspired by the vision of his mentor Lewis Mumford. Cohen movingly shows how McHarg’s curriculum evolved and changed over time and ultimately—and sadly—disappeared. Full of rich narrative and personal stories, this book not only remembers McHarg’s ideas but also reengages them in educating the next generation of ecological planners. Ecohumanism and the Ecological Culture provides a critical starting point for rethinking the content and pedagogy of design and planning schools.”
Timothy Beatley, Teresa Heinz Professor of Sustainable Communities in the School of Architecture at the University of Virginia

"Cohen traces how two unconventional 20th-century thinkers sparked the creation—and demise—of a curriculum at the University of Pennsylvania that would place ecology and ecological thinking (aka 'ecohumanism') at the center.... The author manages to appreciate McHarg without whitewashing his failings."
— Planning

" Cohen’s book offers a broad chronological and ideological sweep in its attempt to explain Lewis Mumford’s ecohumanism, the foundational theory that McHarg subsequently implements in practice and education.... Cohen’s book holds many strengths. His writing is clear, straightforward, and free of jargon. The author provides great insight into the lives, accomplishment, and philosophical and ethical stands of Lewis Mumford and Ian McHarg.... Ecohumanism and the Ecological Culture is a major contribution to the field because it describes the important cross-fertilization of ideas from Mumford to McHarg, and it details the evolution of McHarg’s methods as they developed in practice and in the MRP (Master of Regional Planning).... Cohen’s book is timely."
— Journal of Planning History

Table of Contents

Foreword: Redesigning the Nature of the Academy, by Frederick R. Steiner
The Holistic Nature of Ecohumanism
Structure and Organization of the Book

Part I. Pathways to the Ecological Culture

1. Emergence of a Second Enlightenment for the Ecological Culture
A Second Enlightenment: Prerequisite for the Ecological Culture
Closing One Door and Opening Another
Constructing Ecohumanism

2. Planning and Design Perspectives for the Ecological Culture
Interpretations of Nature
The Scientific Field of Ecology
The Human Field of Ecology
Nature and Human Systems
The Environmentalists
Organic and Empirical Traditions
Frederick Law Olmsted (1822–1903)
Ebenezer Howard (1850–1928)
Patrick Geddes (1854–1932)
Lewis Mumford (1895–1990)
Benton MacKaye (1879–1975)
Artur Glikson (1911–1966)
Ian L. McHarg (1920–2001)

3. The Shaping of Lewis Mumford’s Ecohumanism
Technics and the Renewal of Life
An Emerging Ecohumanism
Charting a Direction
Mumford’s Ecohumanism in Regional Planning
Mumford’s Ecohumanism in Education

Part II. Planning and Design: The Fusion of Theory and Practice

4. Ian McHarg’s Theory and Method of Ecological Planning and Design
What Kind of Planning?
McHarg’s Theory of Ecological Planning
McHarg’s Planning Method

5. Design with Nature: Planning Theory and Critiques
The Rejection of Ecological Planning as Normative Planning Theory
The First Critical Reviews of Design with Nature
The Charge of Elitism
Questioning of the Philosophy
An Unsystematic and Incomplete Method
Ignorance of the Ecology of the City
The Need to Incorporate Political and Moral Values
Vague Treatment of Population Growth
The Economic Allocation of Land Resources
Later Critiques
Political Circumstances
Exaggerated Claims of Originality
Dogmatic Adherence to Environmental Determinism
Ecological Inventory or Ecological Planning
The Absence of a Cultural or Human Perspective

Part III. Ecology and Human Ecology in Planning and Design Education: A History of an Interdisciplinary Curriculum, 1936–2000

6. The Academic Environments at Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania, 1936–1968
The Academic Environment at Harvard University, 1936–1950
McHarg’s First Teaching Assignments, 1950–1954
McHarg’s Early Years at the University of Pennsylvania, 1954–1959
Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning, 1960–1968
“Man and Environment,” 1959–1963
Wallace-McHarg Associates, 1963–1964
Developing the Regional Planning Curriculum, 1963–1967
The Institute for Environmental Studies
The Dawning of the Golden Age of Ecological Planning

7. The Ecological Planning Curriculum, 1969–1973
Design with Nature, 1967–1969
Two Pivotal Nonacademic Ventures, 1969–1970
The Ecological Planning Curriculum, 1969–1972
Ecological Planning, Research, Design, and Applied Opportunities, 1970–1973
Center for Ecological Research in Planning and Design: The Medford Study
Design of the Environment Program
Wallace, McHarg, Roberts and Todd, 1965–1973
Changes at the University, 1970–1973

8. The Human Ecological Planning Curriculum Is Established, 1973–1979
The Period of Transition, 1973–1974
The National Institute of Mental Health Grant
Pedagogical and Practical Underpinnings of the Regional Planning Curriculum
An Interdisciplinary Curriculum in a Multidisciplinary World, 1974–1979
Some New Pedagogical Engagements, 1975–1978
Ominous Portents: Cracks in the Mirror, 1978–1979

9. Increasing Disarray and the Loss in Momentum, 1980–1985
Changes outside the University Affecting the Curriculum
Modifying the Pedagogical Statement and Joint Degree Programs, 1981–1985
The 501 Studio: Common Core of the Curriculum, 1981–1984
Losing the Momentum: Dilemma and Change, 1982–1985

10. Phasing Down of the Human Ecological Planning Curriculum and New Directions, 1986–2000
A New Chair and a New Emphasis, 1986–1993
A New Perception: Traditional Strengths and Process, 1994–2000
McHarg’s Final Courses and Tribute, 1996–2000

11. A Retrospective Analysis of the Ecological Planning Curriculum
McHarg’s Persona
The Interdisciplinary Curriculum
External Factors beyond the University

Part IV. Future Prospects for Education in the Ecological Culture

12. Ecological Planning: Ian McHarg’s Legacy in Practice and Education
McHarg’s Legacy in Practice
McHarg’s Legacy in Education
Future Educational Prospects for Ecological Planning

13. A Future for Ecohumanism and the Ecological Culture: From Technology to Education
The New Normal Science for Technology in the Ecological Culture
Ecohumanism in Planning for the Ecological Culture
Ecohumanism in Design for the Ecological Culture
Ecohumanism in Education for the Ecological Culture
An Ecohumanism Curriculum for the Ecological Culture
Foundational Studies
Planning and Design Studies
Community Development Studies
Project-Specific Practicum or Studio

Selected Bibliography
Index of Names
General Subject Index

About the Author(s)

William J. Cohen, a Fellow of the American Institute of Certified Planners, is an Associate Professor of Practice in the Department of Architecture and Environmental Design at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art and Architecture. He is the editor of People, Places, and Environment Reader and author of Swanendael in New Netherland: The Early History of Delaware’s Oldest Settlement at Lewes.