What is Urban Planning?

Urban Planning Definitions throughout the century

What is Urban Planning?

Many find it hard to pinpoint exactly what urban planners do. The profession goes by many names including city planning, land use planning, town planning and regional planning  But what is Urban Planning? This page highlights why there is many variations to what urban planning has been defined as.

Urban Planning is a profession that deals with the spatial land use influencing the physical, environmental, economic and social aspects of the urban and rural environment. Urban Planners often have to set goals, collect data, carry out analysis, forecast, design, think strategic and include the general public in planning. The urban planning profession evaluates the bigger picture, and thus touches on architecture, geography, engineering, social science and law, and tries to achieve the best solution for a city or community.

What is Urban Planning - City Planning, Land Use Planning, Town Planning

Urban Planning Definitions

Historical Definitions

While the above is one type of definition, many influential urban planners throughout the ages have attempted to create a clear definition.
A few of these are listed below:

  • Lewis Keeble (1969)
    The art and science of ordering the use of land and siting of buildings and communities routes so as to secure the maximum practicable degree of economy, convenience and beauty.
  • Patrick Geddes
    Sound planning decisions have to be based on a detailed regional survey, which established an inventory of a regionʼs hydrology, geology, flora, fauna, climate and natural topography, as well as its social and economic opportunities and challenges.
  • Sir Peter Hall (1974)
    Planning is the making of an orderly sequence of actions that will lead to the achievement of a stated goal or goals.
  • William Solesbury (1974)
    Planning is a concern of government and a field of public administration.
  • Fredrick Olmstead (1914)
    Olmstead summarizes the aims of planning in three:
    1. Means of circulation: the distribution and treatment of the spaces devoted to streets, railways, waterways and all means of transportation and communication.
    2. The distribution and treatment of the spaces devoted to all other public purposes.
    3. Concerns the remaining or private lands and the character of development there on, in so far as it is practicable for the community to control such development.

Contemporary Definitions

The above definitions by influential urban planners show some brief excerpts of what urban planning was at that time. In newer times key planning institute across the world have established their own urban planning definitions. A few of these are listed below:

  • Canadian Institute for Planning
    Planning means 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.
  • Royal Town Planning Institute 
    As a professional activity, town planning balances the social, economic and environmental needs of urban and rural areas. Planners organise, design and make decisions on where new homes, roads, schools, shops and all the other things we need to live and work should be built.  At the same time, town planners try to make towns, cities and the countryside attractive, safe and environment friendly. They are at the heart of discussions with local communities, businesses and politicians.
  • American Planning Association
    The goal of planning is to maximize the health, safety, and economic well-being of all people living in our communities. This involves thinking about how we can move around our community, how we can attract and retain thriving businesses, where we want to live, and opportunities for recreation. Planning helps create communities of lasting value.While architects often focus on a single building, a planner’s job is to work with residents and elected officials to guide the layout of an entire community or region. Planners take a broad view and look at how the pieces of a community — buildings, roads, and parks — fit together like pieces of a puzzle. Planners then make recommendations on how the community should proceed. One of the greatest challenges for planners is to imagine what can and should happen to a community: how it should grow and change, and what it should offer residents 10, 15, or even 20 years into the future.
  • Planning Institute of Australia
    Planning is the process of making decisions to guide future action. The planning profession is specifically concerned with shaping cities, towns and regions by managing development, infrastructure and services. Planners are professionals who specialise in developing strategies and designing the communities in which we live, work and play. Balancing the built and natural environment, community needs, cultural significance, and economic sustainability, planners aim to improve our quality of life and create vibrant communities.

    Evolvement of the Urban Planning Definition

    Patrick Geddes, one of the founding fathers of urban planning, first introduced a ‘sustainable development’ concept around 1915. This concept was known as “Think global, act local”, and is the forerunner to sustainable development.

    With the evolvement of the concept ‘sustainable development’, properly introduced in United Nations ‘Our Common Future’ report in 1987 and institutionalised during Rio Earth Summit in 1992, it represented the term for ideal planning. The report discusses that sustainable development is “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

    The term ‘Sustainable development’ was a breakthrough in environmental policy making and planning globally. Since its’ conception it became of central importance and widely implemented in governments after the 1992 Rio Earth Summit.

    However, despite there being a widespread consensus that this incorporates the essence of planning, the use was not always supported. This was especially due to the focus on the expenses
    and constraints sustainability would result in. Furthermore, limiting growth in order to prioritise sustainable development was not attractive to politicians.

    The role of urban planners?

    Due to the various views on how development should be conducted, it is the role of contemporary urban planners to land best suited decisions for the future. The planners need to balance the conflicts of economic growth, environmental issues, social equity and the overall city aesthetics. To enable and regulate this balance we need manifest this into the planning processes, either through city plans, municipal plans, neighbourhood plans, or policies.

    We promote Urban Planning knowledge

    At World Urban Planning we collaborate with urban planning professionals across the world. We do this because we want to create a better understanding of urban planning across Nations and Cities. Therefore we developed the Urban Planning Magazine discussing Countries’ Urban Planning Systems, City Plans, Urban History, Urban Challenges and Solutions.

    Learn more about Urban Planning through the Urban Planning Magazine