A day that celebrates planning may not be on your calendar, but it is on ours here at HSAL. November 8th is World Town Planning Day. Every year, planners from approximately 30 countries on four continents observe this day in some fashion. This is a day to raise awareness about planning and the important role Planners play in contributing to the quality of the human environment.
To be expected then, I want to play my part today by firstly defining “planning” and secondly, highlighting some of the work Planners are doing every day that contributes to our lived experiences.
Planning emerged as an institutionalized vocation in the early 20th century in large part due to poor socio-economic and sanitary conditions in burgeoning industrial cities (Hodge, 2003). Planning has since become an established, deeply rooted profession. As Hodge (2003:3) points out, “there exists in every province and territory some form of legislation that both sanctions the notion of planning and specifies its format for that
Planning has no single, universally accepted definition. Since its inception, it has been defined in many ways. The Canadian Institute of Planners (CIP) defines planning as “the scientific, aesthetic, and orderly disposition of land, resources, facilities and services with a view to securing the physical, economic and social efficiency, health and well-being of urban and rural communities”. This highlights the multidisciplinary nature of planning. For instance, environmental planners may deal with protecting the integrity of natural resources; land use planners may review development plans one day and draft policy plans another day; and, health planners may be concerned with a community’s ability to care for its inhabitant’s medical needs. Though planners may take on a variety of tasks, Forester reminds us that planning’s purpose is to improve public well-being (Forester, 1989).
Forester (1989:3) also adds to our understanding of planning by recognizing that it is a political process not done in isolation. He notes that “planners do not work on a neutral stage, an ideally liberal setting in which all affected interests have a voice; they work within a political institution”.
Hodge (2003) introduces yet another vital theme in planning – the need for not only making plans that reflect the public interest, but the need for appropriate implementation
mechanisms to realize the plan in view of attaining a preferred future. Here, Hodge links planning to action.
The way I like to define planning is to marry the elements of the contributions
provided above and say that planning is:
The technical and political process concerned with the welfare of people and their communities through the collaborative design of the built environment, the protection and enhancement of the natural environment, the control of the use of land, and the provision of facilities and services.
The Many Roles of Planners
Bayer, Frank and Valerius (2010) identify the following work Planners do to ensure that cities are sustainable and have what they need to grow and prosper, including (direct
excerpt – abbreviated):
- Areas where people can live – we estimate the number of households that will need to be housed in the coming years and recommend where within the community land should be set aside for homes to be built. In the process, planners work with communities to determine the proportion of homes that will be single-family houses, duplexes, or multi-family housing and the proportion that will be targeted for home ownership versus rental.
- Areas where employers can build shops, offices, and
factories – in addition to working to identify the best places within a community for locating factories, shopping areas, and offices, planners also work to attract jobs to communities.
- Transportation facilities (roads, rail, airports, and seaports) – we study transportation systems to determine when additional transportation facilities are needed, where they should be built, and the mix of transportation options that should be available. Planners collect and analyze information to find out whether the growth and prosperity of a region is hampered because the transportation network does not provide sufficient access to some locations in the community or because congestion is creating excessive delays in getting from one place to another.
- Clean water for drinking and washing and systems for managing wastes – we work with civil engineers to ensure that basic urban infrastructure—sewer and water—will be available as a community grows.
- Places where people can recreate – we plan for parks, open space, and community facilities like ice rinks, athletic fields, and community centers. Planners study the age distribution of the population as it is today and as it will be in the future. Planners seek a fair distribution of parks and open space across
- Places where people want to be – we know that it is not enough simply to meet basic needs for housing, shopping, working, and recreation. People choose where to live, work, and play based on many factors, and the physical design of urban places is one of those factors. Urban design considerations—how tall should our buildings be, how far should they be set back from the street, where parking for cars and bikes should be located—are an important aspect of the urban planning puzzle.
- Community development – some Planners focus on community organizing and community development, seeking to increase social justice, reduce poverty, and “build vital and thriving under-resourced communities” (National Congress for Community Economic Development, 2009).
- Supplies of energy – we have always worked with energy utilities to predict
future energy demands and to locate sites for new energy facilities, such as
power plants, natural gas pipelines, or petroleum storage areas. Today,
increasingly, planners are at the forefront in identifying ways in which communities can reduce their energy needs and plan for the future of renewable
Forrester, John (1989). Planning in the Face of Power. University of California Press.
Hodge, Gerald (2003). Planning Canadian Communities: An Introduction to the Principles, Practice, and Participants. 4th Edition. Thomson, Nelson.
Michael, Bayer; Nancy, Frank; Jason, Valerius (2010). Becoming an Urban Planner: A Guide to Careers in Planning and Urban Design. John Wiley & Sons.
Andrzej Schreyer , R.P.P. is a senior land use and environmental planner with Hardy Stevenson and Associates and a member of the Ontario Professional Planners Institute and the Canadian Institute of Planners. His experience includes developing and implementing public participation and communications plans, managing social impact assessments and land use studies in support of infrastructure projects and preparing community-based strategic plans.