Planning theory

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The planning profession is in a period of uncertainty at a time of change. There is nothing new in this. One of the features of planning is its openness to external influences, as it is always in a state of some change.

The idea that there are four main environments that the planning system deals with, the Physical, Social, Economic and Political, the questions raised are:-

* What sort of activity is town planning?

* What should town planning be aiming to do?

* What are the affects of actual planning practice?

I see theses three questions asking What? How? Why? And within these mini essays I hope to answer theses questions in What? How? Why?

Why Plan?

It is highlighted by Nigel Taylor that “Planning in a general senses is, state intervention in, and playing a, more active role in, the managing and planning of social and economic affairs.” (Urban planning theory since 1945)

This ‘management’ authorizes planning to adopt policy within our social, economic, political and physical environment, these being the theorists identified environments that are involved within the planning sphere. Planning is a valuable asset.

The physical environment of planning has been given measures such as, development control and litigation on conservation and design. From which issues of loss of countryside and habitat loss can be addressed.

Within our economic environment the distribution of resources within the regions would be part of planning policy; this could also involve the social environment.

There have been many theoretical debates as to what environment from the social, economic, political and physical environment that planning deals with. It was suggested by Keeble (1952), that planning was only concerned with our physical environment and did not include economic, social or political planning. But it is Taylor who suggests otherwise as I quote “People generally wish to control the form of their environment to maintain or enhance their well being or welfare” (Urban planning theory since 1945) this would give evidence to the involvement of the social environment.

I believe planning should deal with our physical environment, as the physical environment is reflective to what is demanded within our social, economic and political environment.

A good example of planning is EIAs (environmental impact assessments), which need to be carried out under European legislation. A Morden example to assess whether an aspect of planning is good would be whether it has accommodated for sustainability, which is a European plan of action.

Compare and Contrast.

The two chapters I have chosen to compare and contrast are chapter 1 which is on town planning as physical planning design. Chapter 3 on critiques of post war planning theory.


Chapter 1.

This chapter serves as an introduction to the concept of the nature of town and country planning as a discipline, and how theorists of the time would have defined town planning. Interwar economic depression called for the state to play a more active, interventionist role in society, from which the town and country planning Act 1947 was established. Outlined in tailors own definition of planning, as “state intervention in, and playing a more active role in, the managing and planning of social and economic affairs” (Taylor urban planning theory since 1945 pg 5). With definitions such as this, the chapter explores certain explanations and ideas of planning during the years following the Second World War in Britain. Planning had been seen as a natural extension of Architecture, while the textbooks published (e.g. keeble’s principles and practise of Town and Country Planning) at the time not only provided extended definitions of planning, but embodied certain values about he kinds of environment which, should be realised through town planning, (from the physical, economic, social and political).

Chapter 3.

In this chapter appears the main criticism of the post-war town planning thought, emerging in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. The main focus of these criticisms lies in the accusation that planners were insufficiently informed about the nature of the reality they were dealing with.

Highlighted from a sociological study carried out by Young and Willmott in Bethnal green, planning was accused of social blindness neglecting social aspects due to their over concern with the physical environmental, evident from the idea of physical determinism, from which planners presumptions identified the physical layout would determine quality of social life.

Here Blueprint planning is criticized for its failure to recognize changes within cities with time for such reasons as redevelopment, and this would stem from to many Utopian unrealistic view points.


Chapter 1.

* Planning, state intervention in, and playing a more active role in, the managing and planning of social and economic affairs.

* Relationship between physical, social, political and economic environment. How physical shapes or is shaped by the others.

Chapter 3.

* Planners insufficiently informed about nature of reality they dealing with W+Y study- physical determinism by Blueprint destructed social.

* Blueprints failed recognise changing city cause of UTOPIA.

Chelmsford 2050.

The influence of free market/consumer choice and instrumentalism on the development and evolution of Chelmsford.

Town planning under Thatcherism was responsible for allowing the free market to take control within the planning system, which was incremental in its process to planning. It was held by Hesiltine that the ‘planning procedures were unnecessarily slow and cumbersome’. It was his initiatives, ‘streamlining’, which would delegate minor projects to officers, rather then going through a full planning committee, and secondly planners were to take a positive view of market led planning. (Urban planning theory since 1945 Taylor)

It was this government that introduced urban development corporations (UDCS) to regenerate some inner areas of Britain major cities by, by-passing the established planning system. Using this information I can now formulate what I think Chelmsford in 2050 would look like under the free market and incrementalism.

Green belt boundaries would be drawn border, and would virtually be non existent as all development would take place away from the town centre in the outer suburbs for benefits such as easy access by car, cheaper land values, room from expansion, cleaner environment. This would lead to a city doughnut syndrome whereby the industry from the city would then be reversed when development within the city becomes cheaper and offers benefits.

Buildings would be low rise, spacious areas. Development would take place in no traditional pattern it would be dispersed multiple nuclei development. Inappropriate buildings would be put next to each other as no control procedure to maintain equilibrium. The thing to remember about the free market is that the main motivation for any development. Pollution would be high as would congestion within towns etc, but the consumer would take the brunt of it all, by paying for it.

Free market development would take place incrementally, as identified by the doughnut syndrome and its reverse, consumer trends setting the way. From this I would say it is the consumer who is in control of development trends.

Attached is a picture to illustrate what I think.

Race and Planning

“The conceptual problem arises because it is difficult to make much sense of the idea that town and country planning is not concerned with ‘social’ matters. One could suggest that it is concerned with the ‘physical environment’. (N. Taylor urban planning theory since 1945 pg 6.

It is here from which I wish to identify the concepts around the issue. This I find is a rather contrived distinction, for if one were to ask what physical planning is for, or why you might wish to plan the physical environment, it is difficult to think of a reason, which is not social. However it is through a lack of social consideration in planning that I suggest responsibility for such things as segregation, social exclusion and damaging effects within the community, to explain urban civil disorder.

In 1957 a book published by two sociologists Michael Young and peter Willmott took account of a working class community in Bethnal green, with its close ties of family and kin. The book describes how this community, following the redevelopment of a large part of Bethnal Green, many of its members were moved out to a new suburb, which consisted of better houses, with gardens and new schools and shops. Young and willmott found that many of the residents found themselves to be living in a better physical environment but there was a loss of the social environment, which was entirely attributed to physical dislocation, this accompanied by the new social (rather anti social) habits, such as watching T.V. drew more and more people into the private spheres of there homes.

Using this as an understanding, I would suggest that the problems such as the Bradford riots were with the planner’s inability to take into account the needs of the community, especially a community foreign to our understanding. It is environmental determinism, attributed to master plan involved within such an issue.

Attempts to reduce these discretions should account for the need of community involvement, a communal responsibility and understanding to counteract against the private sphere of their homes.

The Profession.

The new vision for planning sees planning as being about people and places, the natural and the built environment, immediate requirements and long-term stewardship and capacity building.

The key roles of the professional planner are identified as;

* Inclusive- recognising the wide range of people involved in planning

* Intergrative- in terms of the knowledge, objectives and actions involved

* Sustained- looking at the short, medium and long term actions involved

* Spatial- dealing with the unique needs and characteristics of places

* Value-driven- recognising that planning involves identifying, understanding and mediating conflicting sets of values.

* Action-oriented- seeing planning as the twin activities of mediation of space and making of place.

This challenges us to think outside the box statutory systems and to take a broader view of what society needs through planning and the practices by which to deliver this. It also challenges us to see planning as a societal activity, where professional planners facilitate the activity, but do not own it.

There is a need to take a broader view of the professional practices that are involved in planning as spatial action. Areas that should be included are transport planning, environmental planning, community planning, economic development and regeneration. Planning is in reality characterised by diversity of knowledge sets brought together by the common focus on spatial action.

Planners have the statutory power to make decisions passed down from central government policy, as it is seen that planners as professionals are impartial to proposals in question, it is this external view point that allows them the freedom to make informed decisions. This I believe is recognized in the charter by its suggestion in the definition of the word ‘stewardship’.

A professional body is required to promote planning and what it is as an institution.


In answering the questions I posed in my introduction, What? How? Why? I would start by suggesting that planning is made up of four distinct environments, physical, social, political and economic. The problems of the past planning system have been attributed to the dominance of physical planning neglecting the others, which were of equal importance.

I have identified that planning under the influence of the free market would be a disaster to what planners try to achieve, proved by Thatcher’s governments free market movement.

Race and Planning only regurgitates what has been identified already by the other essays, in that planners failed to understand the importance of the social environment during their planning process shown by the mentioned example, and only confirms that the gap between theory and practice is widening.

Planning is both about people and places, the natural and the built environment, immediate requirements, and long term stewardship, which is the RTPI new vision for planning. This new vision recognises the importance of the social environment, it also attempts to gain ground on the gap between theory and practice.

If I was to draw a link between theses topics I would suggest that they all identify the importance and struggle of the planning profession in the past and the need correct past mistakes and react to new issues raised. This lies in the agenda of the RTPI new vision, ‘spatial action’, and the integration of the public to amend and improve the planning system.

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