An Overview


Perhaps the first question that has to be answered in a book about planning is simply "why do we need planning?" The need for planning comes down to two words, interconnectedness and complexity. If there were few of us and the technologies by which we lived were relatively simple, there would be little need for the planning described in this book. We could each go our own way and would gain little from common planning efforts. However, the fact is that we are numerous enough and our technologies complicated enough that this is not the case.

Consider a simple illustration of interconnectedness, the use of a few acres of urban land. The amount and character of development on that land will determine the amount of traffic it generates. Developing it with singlefamily houses will produce a different traffic flow than developing it with apartments, which will generate a different traffic flow than developing it with a neighborhood shopping center. Thus a land development decision is a traffic decision as well. That, potentially, affects everyone in the area. How much of the site is paved, and even what material is used for paving, affects how fast rainwater runs off from the property. Runoff may affect flooding and stream flow conditions miles downstream from the property. The types and quantities of commercial or residential activity on the property may affect air quality, noise levels, water quality, and the visual and social qualities of the area.

Decisions about the residential uses of land will affect housing prices, rents, and vacancies—in short, who lives in the community.

Those decisions, in turn, will have effects on the economy of the community and the demands that are placed on the community for educational, social, and other services.

The land-use decisions made by a community shape its very character—what it is like to walk through, what it is like to drive through, what kinds of jobs and businesses exist in it, how well the natural environment survives, and whether the community is an attractive one or an ugly one. In some cases such decisions may directly affect human life and health; for example, whether traffic patterns are safe or hazardous.

Land-use decisions affect the fiscal health of the community. Every property that is developed burdens the community with obligations such as education, police and fire protection, recreational services, and social services. Conversely, every development contributes, directly or indirectly, to municipal revenues through property taxes, sales taxes, or charges and fees. Thus the pattern of land development will affect how heavily the community must tax its residents and the level of public services the community can provide.

The land in question may be privately owned, in which case public control is exercised through a regulatory process. It may be owned publicly, in which case direct public investment will determine its use. But in either case there is a distinct public interest in what happens on the land. It is the fact of interconnectedness that helps justify public planning efforts.

Complexity is the condition that justifies planning as a separate profession and as a separate activity of government. If all of the sorts of relationships suggested were simple, they could be dealt with simply and informally. If the community were tiny, perhaps direct negotiations between private parties would suffice. If the community were somewhat larger, perhaps the relationships could easily be dealt with along with the general flow of municipal business. But the complexity of a modern community renders such simple and direct approaches inadequate.

The complexity of the community also means that many things that in a simpler place could be done privately must be done publicly. In a sparsely populated area water supply and waste disposal could be handled on-site by the individual household. No common decision making would be necessary. In a large metropolitan area, these functions may involve systems that span many communities and involve billions of dollars of capital investment. Comparable comments could be made about transportation, education, public safety, recreation, and the like.

Thus in the thousands of communities in the United States, planning is a formalized and distinct process of government. In relatively small communities, the planning function may be lodged in an unpaid, part-time planning board with the technical work done by a planning consultant. In larger communities, the planning function is generally located within a planning department. Depending on community size, that department may have a staff ranging from one person to several hundred individuals.

In a very small department, the planner (or planners) may be a jack-of-all- trades handling land-use questions one day, capital budgeting another day, and economic development a third day. In a larger agency, there may be considerable specialization of labor. One section of the agency may specialize in zoning issues, another in master planning, a third in planning-related research, another in environmental issues, and so on.

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