Land-Use Planning

An Overview of Land-Use Planning

urban planners working with cityscape overlaid
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Within urban and rural communities, geography plays a critical role in development of the built environment. Urban planners must rely on knowledge of geographic space when deciding how best to manage growth. As the cities of the world grow and more rural land is developed, ensuring smart growth and practical environmental management are necessary goals.

Steps Before Planning and Development Can Occur

Before any kind of planning and development can happen, funds must be collected from the public and a set of rules is needed to clarify the process.

These prerequisites are the two active factors in planning for land use. By collecting taxes, fees and even ideas from the public, decision makers are able to effectively provide plans for development and revitalization. Zoning regulations provide a legal framework for development.

Regulations of Use of Private Land

Municipalities regulate the use of private land for a variety of reasons. Designations for the use of land are provided in a municipality’s master plan, which is usually intended to ensure the following.

  • Transportation Flow
  • Economic Development
  • Historic Preservation
  • Recreational Space/Parks
  • Environmental/Wildlife Protection

Businesses, manufacturers and residential communities all require specific geographic locations. Accessibility is the key. Businesses are more suitable downtown while manufacturing centers are most accessible for shipping at an interstate or a port. When designing residential developments, planners generally focus on developing close to or directly above commercial areas.

Components of Planning Urban Areas

The desire for urban areas is flow of transportation. Before any development can happen, there must first be an infrastructure suitable to the needs of future growth. Infrastructure includes sewer, water, electricity, roads and floodwater management. The master plan of any urban region has the potential for guiding growth in a way that will generate a fluid movement of people and commerce, especially in emergency situations.

Public investment through taxes and fees is the cornerstone for developing an infrastructure.

Most major urban centers have been around for a long time. Preserving the history and aesthetic of earlier developments within a city creates a more livable space and can boost tourism in the area.

Tourism and livability are also boosted by growing the city around major parks and recreation areas. Water, mountains and open parks offer citizens an escape from the city’s hub of activity. Central Park in New York City is a perfect example. National parks and wildlife sanctuaries are perfect examples of preservation and conservation.

One of the essential parts of any plan is the ability to provide citizens with an equal opportunity. Communities cut off from urban centers by railroads, interstates or natural boundaries have difficulty in accessing employment. When planning for development and the use of land, special attention must be given to lower-income housing projects. Mixing housing for various income levels provides increased educational and opportunities for lower income families.

To facilitate the implementation of a master plan, zoning ordinances and special regulations are imposed on real-estate developers.

Zoning Ordinances

There are two essential parts to a zoning ordinance:

  1. Detailed maps showing land area, boundaries and the zone under which the land is categorized.
  2. Text describing in full detail each zone's regulations.

Zoning is used to permit some types of construction and prohibit others. In some areas, residential construction may be limited to a specific type of structure. Downtown areas may be a mixed-use of residential and commercial activity. Manufacturing centers will be zoned for construction close to the interstate. Some areas may be prohibited for development as a means of conserving green space or access to water. There may also be districts where only the historical aesthetic is allowed.

Challenges are faced in the zoning process, as cities desire to eliminate blighted areas of zero growth while maintaining a diversity of interests in a geographic area.

The importance of mixed-use zoning is becoming increasingly apparent in major urban areas. By allowing developers to build residential units above businesses, land use is maximized by creating a round-the-clock hub of activity.

Another challenge faced by planners is the issue of socio-economic segregation. Some subdivisions strive to maintain a certain financial status by regulating the scope of housing developments. Doing this ensures that home values in the subdivision will remain above a certain level, alienating the poorer members of the community.

Adam Sowder is a fourth-year senior at Virginia Commonwealth University. He is studying Urban Geography with a focus on Planning.