Evaluation of the role of urban planning in socioeconomic development

3.1 Introduction

The fundamental function of urban planning is to allocate land resources efficiently across various desired uses of land to ensure adequate provision for the range of needs a society has. Although not often thought of as such, planning promotes more than allocation of land resources to a variety of uses. It also promotes certain allocation of financial and human resources. Consequently, the contribution of urban planning to socio-economic development cannot be adequately understood merely by evaluating the adequacy of its land use provisions but also by its incidental financial and human resource allocation. This chapter evaluates the role of urban planning in socio-economic development based on existing literature. In doing so, the chapter first discusses some of the practical roles or functions of planning in society and thereafter examines their implementation.

The role of urban planning

Urban planning is a resource allocation tool. As a resource allocation tool, planning plays ecological, economic, and social roles in society. Keeble (1951), one of the renowned experts on the subject, notes that the outcome of planning should promote health and safety; convenience; economy; aesthetics; and, above all, liveability. It is therefore within the context of the foregoing that the role of planning is discussed.

Planning as a tool for promoting good urban environment

A fundamental position under the welfare economics justification for planning intervention in the operations of the urban property market is that the market fails as a resource allocation mechanism. As noted in the preceding chapter, one of the impacts of market failure is the destruction of the environment due to unbridled market operations. History shows that although planning practice might have started at different times and for different purpose, modern formal urban planning emerged at the turn of the nineteenth century. This was largely in response to the rapid rate of urbanisation and chaotic urban growth with their associated pollution and insanitary conditions that existed in Western European societies, particularly in the UK, because of the industrial and agricultural revolutions (Simpson et ah, 1989). The market, at the time, could not provide an adequate and decisive response to these chaotic urbanisation and urban growth. The urban environment was therefore characterised by unfit housing conditions and several other social and environmental ills, such as pollution of residential areas, emergence of slums and houses with poor water and sewerage services, small houses with damp and poor ventilation, and over-crowding.

Although the UK Government did not initially want to intervene, due to the high cost of intervention and the Government’s unwillingness to distort market operations, it eventually decided to do so (refer to Chapter 7 for full discussions). The intervention was by means of legislation, such as the 1830 Public Health Act; the 1848 Public Health Act; the 1851 Labouring Classes’ Lodging Houses Act and the 1866 Labouring Classes’ Dwelling Houses Act; the Health Acts of 1872, 1875, and 1890; and the 1890 Housing of the Working Classes Act. These interventions were supported by voluntary efforts and working-class self-help through new initiatives in urban control, civic design, and rural rehabilitation, such as the Ebenezer Howard’ Garden City concept around the latter part of the nineteenth century. Further legislation, such as the 1909 and 1919 (Addison Act) Housing and Town Planning Acts and the 1932 Town and Country Planning Act, were passed to partly ensure good urban environmental conditions (see Chapter 7).

Similar interventionist activities occurred in the US. The US is known for the protection and preservation of private property rights based on its market-oriented philosophy. Excepting the right of eminent domain clause in the US Constitution, which ordinarily allowed for acquisition of private property, intervention of the Federal Government in the urban property market was limited (Pena, 2002; Schmidt and Buehler, 2007). However, with unbridled market activities, which resulted in adverse externalities, zoning was introduced in the 1920s. When a suit was brought before the supreme court in Village of Euclid, Ohio v. Ambler Realty Co., 272 U.S. 365 (1926) challenging the constitutionality of zoning as an infringement on private property rights, it was ruled that zoning was constitutional (Dale and McLaughlin, 1999). Planning activities were parachuted into SSA at the turn of the nineteenth century by the British and the French; initiatives such as passage of legislation, slum clearance, preparation of development schemes and road improvements were partly to provide good spatial environment, especially for the areas occupied by the colonial officials.

The role of urban planning in promoting good urban environment is ultimately to ensure good health for urban residents. This is in terms of not only direct physical impacts, such as preventing contaminated air or water, but indirect impacts including social and behavioural effects, on the exercise we take, the people we meet, and the degree of inequality in access to housing, employment opportunities, health services and other facilities (Barton, 2009). Barton (2009) notes the environment is one of the key determinants of health, in addition to inherited characteristics, lifestyles, social and economic variables and underscores the fact that the environment is umbilically linked to human health. He further stated four reasons why planning health into environment is essential as follows:

  • 1 Reduction in the inequalities that exist in access to housing, facilities and transport for different socio-economic groups and vulnerable groups in the population, such as the elderly or children;
  • 2 Increment in the amount of incidental physical activity necessary to reduce the burden of disease, disability and mortality, due to sedentary lifestyles, by improving access to services and providing walkable, mixed-use communities;
  • 3 Contribution to the improved health of the population by reducing air and water pollution and greenhouse emissions, combating the threat of climate change; and
  • 4 Contribution to a changed social environment by improving the security of streets, making them safer, improving communication between people and therefore ensuring a good living environment.

One of the ultimate goals of improving people’s access to good living spaces through legislation and other planning activities at the time of its inception in the UK, the US, and colonial Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) was the preservation of human health (Simpson et al., 1989; Pena, 2002; Njoh, 2009). Studies over the years including more recent ones have also demonstrated the link between urban planning and good environment and by extension good health. Baffour Awuah (2018) highlights that urban morphology or design and human action or activities are fundamental to the activities that lead to pollution (Panagopoulos et al., 2016; Perera and Emmanuel, 2016) and that the extent to which urban planning can configure good urban design to prevent or mitigate urban pollution and unhealthy human action will determine the level of diseases borne out of pollution. Viegas et al. (2013) demonstrate how planning is used to manage issues related to climate variation in urban environments. The study developed a framework with ten categories for assessment of climate variation with each category displaying indicators that describe a complex relationship that influences temperature variations. These were applied to the Master Plan of Porto Alegre in Brazil and the evidence shows the plan is climate sensitive and is helping to address the effects of climate variation in the city. Rosalia et al. (2017) cited in Baffour Awuah (2018) also modelled six distinct types of urban designs to determine their impact on waste management and carbon emissions, and established that urban morphology has a substantial impact on the use of public services and appliances, and it represents up to 2.6% of the total carbon emission per capita. More so, the study found that the most contaminating urban designs are those based on single-family buildings as during their use stage they emit up to 155% more carbon emissions per inhabitant and this was because their designs comparatively call for longer waste collection service routes, as well as more collection points given that the dwellings were more dispersed.

Beyond the above discourse, and as noted in Chapter 1, it is important to stress the point that the United Nations (UN) in 2015 formulated 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for the realisation of its 2030 sustainable development agenda. Given that sustainability and sustainable development have three dimensions, namely, environmental, economic, and social (Salas-Zapata and Ortiz-Munoz, 2019), these SDGs set out principles of good development that are expected to guide government policy; regulatory authorities; and other stakeholders, such as funding bodies and developers in the foreseeable future to protect people’s rights to a decent quality life and the protection of the planet’s environment. Further to the SDGs, the UN adopted the New Urban Agenda (NUA), which is a framework for urban development, enshrining the principles of the SDGs also in 2016 in Quito, Ecuador, at UN-Habitat III (UN, 2017). A core acknowledgement of both the SDGs and NUA is the role urban planning could play in the achievement of the environmental goals of sustainable development (UN, 2017).

As can be gleaned from the foregoing discussions, urban planning improves urban environments and could lead to the achievement of the environmental goals of sustainable development (UN, 2017) because it is the main tool for the design of cities and urban areas (Baffour Awuah, 2018). This is often undertaken through its instruments: typically, the regulatory frameworks and their enforcement to achieve development control, which were discussed in Chapter 1. These regulatory frameworks, like the legislation mentioned in the earlier paragraphs in the UK, US, and colonial SSA, set standards and principles of developments, among others. Other legislation, such as the zoning ordinance or regulation, also separate incompatible land uses and bring together compatible land uses (Baffour Awuah, 2018). Indeed, the master planning philosophy, which is still in force in many countries across the globe (UN-Habitat, 2009), is based on the land use segregation concept, which is underpinned by unifunctional land use, discrete zoning, regulation and consensus, and the use of master plans (Njoh, 2009). The regulatory frameworks further require the provision of infrastructure, amenities, and services and until recently these were provided solely by governments in many countries. Apart from regulations, Baffour Awuah (2018) identifies urban planning system’s ability to provide information, for example, by way of capacity development of stakeholders as well as the provision of incentives, to help the reduction or mitigation of pollution. The study emphasised that such capacity development could enlighten urban sector stakeholders on urban pollution, its sources and effects or impact, as well as interventions such as land use decisions and practices, and development materials that can prevent air, water, noise, and visual pollution. The study also noted that incentives could impel behaviours, which are environmentally friendly.

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