City planning in the U.S. and other countries broadened in the late 1960s beyond a purely physical orientation. In its modern form, city planning is an ongoing process that concerns not only physical design but also social, economic, and political policy issues. As a fabric of human organization, a city is a complex weave. On one level it consists of the arrangement of neighborhoods, industry, and commerce according to aesthetic and functional standards and the provision of public services for them. On another, perhaps more important, level it also comprises (1) the background, education, work, and aspirations of its residents; (2) the general functioning of the economic system to which they belong, as well as their positions in and rewards from that system; and (3) their ability to make or influence the policy decisions that affect their daily lives.
Viewed from this perspective, city planning requires more than a narrow specialist who can develop and implement a physical plan. More general skills and activities are also needed. They include (1) the collection and analysis of data about the city and its population; (2) research into the need for and availability of social services; (3) the development, evaluation, coordination, and administration of programs and timetables to supply these services; (4) programs for economic and housing development and redevelopment—not only planning, but also packaging, financing, and carrying out the development, establishing public and private partnerships, and so forth; and (5) effective use of political activity and citizen participation to influence the character of and give support to development programs.
A. The Comprehensive Plan
The basic city-planning document is a comprehensive plan that is adopted and maintained with regular revisions. The plan receives its day-to-day expression in a series of legal documents—zoning ordinances, subdivision regulations, and building and housing codes—that establish standards of land use and quality of construction. The comprehensive plan serves many purposes: It brings together the analyses of the social, economic, and physical characteristics (such as the distribution of population, industry, businesses, open spaces, and publicly built facilities) that led to the plan; it examines special problems and opportunities within the city and establishes community-development objectives; it coordinates land development with transportation, water supply, schools, and other facilities; it proposes ways to accomplish these coordinated objectives over time; it relates the plan to its impact on public revenues and expenditures; and it proposes regulations, policies, and programs to implement the plan. The comprehensive plan is the guide to making daily development decisions in terms of their long-range consequences.
B. Development Controls
Land is allocated and private activities are coordinated with public facilities by means of zoning ordinances and subdivision regulations. A zoning ordinance governs how the land may be used and the size, type, and number of structures that may be built on the land. All land within a city is divided into districts, or zones. In these districts certain land uses are allowed by right, and general restrictions on building height, bulk, and use are specified. The zoning regulations carry out the land allocations recommended in the comprehensive plan. Specific locations are given for different types of residences, industries, and businesses. Specific numbers are given for allowable heights of buildings, coverage of a lot, and density. Allowable land uses are specified for each zone, including special conditions such as required off-street parking. Most regulations are termed “matter-of-right”; if the specified requirements are met a permit will be given. Other regulations provide general standards with considerable flexibility in the mixture of building uses or the building design. These require more extensive review before approval.
The conversion of raw land (construction on previously undeveloped land) is controlled by subdivision regulations and by site-plan review. These ordinances establish standards of land development by regulating such features as roadway width, drainage requirements, traffic circulation, and lot sizes. Subdivision regulations and site-plan review guide orderly development, protect prospective and current residents from poorly designed buildings or business districts, and ensure that most of the costs of land conversion are borne by those who will benefit from the development, that is, by the developer and the future residents.
Building and housing codes govern the quality and safety of construction of new buildings, as well as subsequent maintenance. In most instances, the codes specify the materials to be used, their minimum quality, and the building components necessary in a structure that is suitable for human occupancy.
C. Social, Economic, and Environmental Policy
Although the physical appearance and functioning of the city are the traditional focus of city planning, the city's population and economic resources are an important concern. Thus, contemporary city planning continues to focus on physical design, but also addresses the many long-range social and economic decisions that must be made.
A city has social needs and economic capital. The city government acts as a purchasing agent for many services needed by residents and businesses—for example, education, water supply, police and fire protection, and recreation. The quality, character, and efficiency of these services require planning to fit needs and desires with funding, with technological change, and with objectives for physical development.
City planning, moreover, should be concerned with providing decent housing (and minimal economic aid) to residents who cannot afford this basic amenity. When local housing is deficient and economic resources permit its upgrading, the city planning department may survey housing conditions and coordinate funding to finance its development and rehabilitation.
The city's economic development and redevelopment also fall within the scope of city planning. Economic development plans make use of a mixture of incentives, technical assistance, and marketing to create jobs, establish new industry and business, help existing enterprises to flourish, rehabilitate what is salvageable, and redevelop what cannot be saved. Economic development, however, must go beyond the enterprise and the facility to reach the workers. In a rapidly evolving technological environment with frequent global shifts in trade relations, skilled workers need new skills and unskilled people need some skills. Job training is a necessary part of development strategy, especially for the city's poor and unemployed citizens.
Capital improvement programming is the budgeting tool used by planners to schedule the construction and financing of public works. Capital projects—such as road improvements, street lighting, public parking facilities, and purchase of land for open spaces—must be sorted out and assigned priorities. A program prepared each year sets the priorities for the next six years on projects needed to implement the comprehensive plan and replace the wornout infrastructure. In rapidly growing regions, city planners are constantly faced with public facilities that have become inadequate for future development.
In declining areas, economic redevelopment is of prime concern. Before any new capital improvements are scheduled, the condition and viability of the neighborhood must be assessed and strategies for remedy must be adopted. Some declining neighborhoods require vigorous public development; others should be left to available private development.
The urban-renewal movement of the 1940s was insensitive to the cyclical ebbs and flows of city neighborhoods. From the 1940s through the 1960s it was believed that if an economic function such as business or industry failed, all that was needed was to crop out the “decay” and clear the land for reuse. In many instances the redevelopment never appeared. The multiple forces that affect neighborhood changes were ignored or improperly analyzed. City planners now understand that regional, interregional, national, and international economic forces affect a city. They also realize that the effectiveness of plans to bring about a city's continued economic viability depends on the correct analysis and interpretation of these forces. These are the lessons of the shifts in suburban, nonmetropolitan, and interregional economic patterns that took place in the 1960s and '70s.
City planners today are becoming ever more involved with environmental concerns. Environmental planning coordinates development to meet objectives for clean air and water; removal of toxic and other wastes; recycling of resources; energy conservation; protection of wetlands, beaches, hillsides, farmlands, forests, and floodplains; and preservation of wildlife, natural reserves, and rivers. Historic preservation strives to keep important buildings and places as part of the permanent environment and uses them to finance the maintenance costs.
Although city planners may report to mayors, city managers, or other officials, their true clients are the people and businesses of the city. Their plans must reflect the interests and priorities of these two groups, and the programs that are implemented must, at the same time, help the city survive and maintain the quality of life that these groups desire. Political astuteness is required in order to ensure that neighborhood programs and priorities will be properly perceived by local, state, and federal officials and will stand a chance for implementation.
IV. THE FUTURE OF CITIES AND CITY PLANNING
City planning in the last decades of the 20th century is becoming increasingly involved in setting or executing policy about public services and with delivering these services. Since it is apparent that resources are limited and that global events affect the future of each community, city planning must be done within a framework of national and international planning for mutually sustainable development.
The capital infrastructures of many older cities need replacement. Public schools and city hospitals are a shadow of formerly dominant city institutions. For half a century the American public was mesmerized by the outer reaches of metropolitan areas. The force of this attraction has been so strong that when travel distances to jobs in the central city became excessive, companies moved and took the jobs to the suburbs. In the late 20th century, however, the newest generation of adults—younger than most city residents, more mobile, frequently childless, and having greater freedom in their living relationships—has become enamored of city life. Cities are responding by directing public services and capital improvements toward upgrading the quality of life in those areas that have unique attractions for this new population.
In this setting, different groups of city residents have become more sophisticated in pursuing their special interests. They are better informed, understand laws and procedures, have greater political skills, and are more militant and persistent. They have learned that planning brings order to change and, thus, they want to influence the planning. In turn, city planners are attempting to balance the demands of competing interests into a dynamic community consensus sufficient to allow decisions to be made.
In the future, city planning will continue to work under conditions of scarce urban economic resources and will constantly be faced with competing priorities—of neighborhoods, interest groups, businesses, and residents. The targeting and delivery of adequate public services will pose serious problems during the rest of the 20th century. As cities search for a revision of their role, they will undergo recurring adjustments. It is the task of city planning to minimize the impact that changing cycles have on the city's residents and businesses.