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Urban Planning

Learn more about urban planning and the processes.
Urban Planning
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In this step, you will learn about urban planning processes, outputs, and how adaptation to climate change can be incorporated or ‘mainstreamed’ into urban planning processes and strategies. Urban planning is an important spatial approach to urban development. Comprehensive plans that address climate change adaptation, development, and inclusion are needed nowadays to shape resilient urban environments. The integration of the natural and physical elements of the urban with its social and economic setup is critical in building resilience.

Urban planning processes include setting goals, developing alternatives, and evaluating the alternatives on how urban areas and neighborhoods can be organized to enable social-economic well-being. Urban planning has previously been a highly technical process with outputs including master plans, zone plans, and detailed schemes. These were found to be largely inapplicable in many cities around the world where more flexible processes and outputs have been developed in the last three decades.

Recent approaches and theories of urban planning include strategic plans, urban management programs, cities without slums, city-region and territorial planning, as well as the integration of green (vegetation-based infrastructure), blue (water-based infrastructure), grey (concrete and steel infrastructure), and cultural dimensions in cities. Master plans were critiqued for being inflexible when socio-economic conditions in many cities required adjusting planning standards.


Strategic plans embraced people’s participation and provided more flexible principles and standards on housing, demographics for service areas, services and mixed land uses. But these planning approaches were still characterized by high standards and costs for implementation, thus many cities have plans which were not implemented.

Systems urban planning approach led to the development of strategic planning as illustrated in the map below, while participatory planning theory has led to trials of urban management, city development strategies, and cities without slums programs largely by multi-lateral banks. Contemporary urban planning has extended the systems approach to usher in the territorial city-regional planning approach which embraces natural landscapes within the city region. The latter approach is also the anchor for integrating climate change adaptation and disaster risk in general into urban planning.

Kaart2 Proposed New Road Network for the GKMA from KCAA (2012)

There is neither agreement on the number of stages in the planning process, nor on the mode of involvement for urban residents and stakeholders. At which stage should involvement take place? Whereas some schools of thought advance full participation, which would imply involving stakeholders from step one in the planning process, other schools of thought still see stakeholders as passive bystanders in the planning process.

More generally, the steps in a planning process include:

  1. Analysis of problems/opportunities
  2. Formulation of aims/objectives
  3. Evaluation of options
  4. Selection of options for implementation
  5. Action or implementation
  6. Evaluation and re-planning.

In the context of climate change adaptation, the planning starts with climate risk and vulnerability assessment. Goals and targets are set and interventions are implemented. Monitoring to track progress is important and can be followed by an evaluation of interventions. The risk and vulnerability assessment will always be designed to provide a baseline for subsequent (re-)evaluation.


Boone, C. G. et al. (2014) Reconceptualizing land for sustainable urbanity, Rethinking Global Land Use in an Urban Era.

Huang, D., Vairavamoorthy, K. and Tsegaye, S. (2010) Flexible design of urban water distribution networks, in World Environmental and Water Resources Congress 2010: Challenges of Change – Proceedings of the World Environmental and Water Resources Congress 2010.

KCCA (2012) Updating Kampala Structure Plan and Upgrading the Kampala GIS Unit. Final Report. Kampala Capital City Authority.

© University of Groningen
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Sustainable Cities: Governing Urban Adaptation Under Climate Change

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