What Planners Do

Spatial planners deal with the substantive and procedural aspects of public policies affecting land use, buildings, transport systems and other infrastructure elements. Planners are also often involved in local economic development. Although the same university departments often teach economic planning and social policy courses, the traditional focus of the profession is on the built environment at the local level. Thus planners may design neighborhoods, specify permissible uses of land, lay out street patterns and transport corridors, locate community facilities such as schools and parks, establish aesthetic standards and ensure that private development proposals conform with a locality's grand vision, its comprehensive plan.

Historically, planning has roots in architecture, engineering, public health and late 19th-century progressive social movements (Campbell and Fainstein 1996; Duany et al. 2000). Architects interested in design problems on a larger scale than the single building began to focus on relationships among buildings. Engineers interested in the design of infrastructure elements and public utilities wanted to coordinate their projects with housing and land use initiatives. Public health advocates sought to reduce the impacts of pollution by separating noxious industries and residential neighborhoods. Social progressives hoped that, by providing urban workers with dignified, safe and pleasant housing, pathological behaviors might be averted. Planning became recognized as a distinct profession in 1914, with the founding of the British Royal Town Planning Institute, and recognition came later in most other countries (Masser and Yorisaki 1988). The field thus has both a technical and a normative basis.

In capitalist countries, planning sits at the intersection of market, political and administrative decision realms. Market actors finance a majority of the buildings, and thus take the risks and reap the rewards of real estate development. Government, meanwhile, finances a majority of the infrastructure elements and establishes regulations for land and building markets. Some decisions, such as the layout of the street grid and specification of allowed land uses, are usually under local control. Many other decisions, such as the placement of transport corridors and subsidy arrangements for housing finance, typically belong to higher levels of government. Thus intergovernmental relations and public-private sector relations are key elements of planning.

Table 38.1 shows illustrative data on selected physical planning characteristics for a few advanced industrial countries. The table confirms that circumstances differ radically even among countries at a similar level of economic development. Conditions diverge even more in the developing world. Illustratively, the World Bank (2000) reports that the urban percentage of total population in 1998 was above 75 in all of the countries shown in Table 38.1, but it was 11 in Nepal, 80 in Brazil, 31 in China, 28 in India and 42 in Nigeria. The total annual percentage population growth between 1980 and 1998 averaged well under 1.0 in most of the countries shown in the table, but it was 2.5 in Nepal, 1.7 in Brazil, 1.3 in China, 2.0 in India and 2.9 in Nigeria.

Cities also differ greatly from one another, even within the same country. According to the World Bank (2000), the percentage of work trips by public transport in 1993 was 67 in Rio de Janeiro, 53 in Delhi, 54 in Lagos, 27 in Copenhagen, 40 in Paris, 17 in Cologne, 22 in Amsterdam, 51 in New York and 20 in Atlanta. Residential crowding, measured in square meters of floor space per person in 1993, was 19 in Rio de Janeiro, 7 in Delhi, 6 in Lagos, 44 in Copenhagen, 30 in Paris, 34 in Cologne, 38 in Amsterdam and 41 in Toronto. The percentage of urban households with sewerage connections in 1993 was above 98 in Copenhagen, Paris, Cologne, Amsterdam, New York, Atlanta and Toronto, but only 87 in Rio de Janeiro, 40 in Delhi and 2 in Lagos.

Focusing primarily on advanced industrial economies, Downs (1999) identifies factors that influence metropolitan area development and lead to different outcomes in each country:

• size and cultural unity of the nation, which promote personal mobility and correspondingly reduce loyalty to places;

• national abundance of land, which affects its intensity of use;

Table 38.1 Comparisons of physical planning characteristics

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