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The practices of urban planning

Examine the practices of urban planning in order to appreciate where action can take place.
© RMIT Europe and EIT Urban Mobility

Urban planning comprises of two distinct parts – substance (what makes a good city) and process (how is planning conducted). It includes multi-scalar activity, multi-agency roles and responsibilities, and a series of plans and strategies that impact age inclusive cities.

Urban design and planning comprises of substance and process. iKix 3D Prints, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Last week we found that across the globe, a significant demographic transformation has been underway with the proportion of older people in our communities increasing, forming a significant share of the population.

We noted two key concepts:

  • the need to plan for ageing as a life-long process
  • the need to plan for active ageing.

These issues place a call to design age friendly cities with a focus on the built environment and its transport systems. These ideas are outlined in the World Health Organization ‘Global age-friendly cities’ project, launched in 2006.

Understanding urban planning

At a holistic level, the discipline of urban planning can be seen as two distinct dimensions – both interrelated:

  • the substance of planning – the physical form and features of the built environment, with the key focus on what makes a good city
  • the process of planning – how is planning conducted, focusing on the agencies that have planning responsibilities and the ‘instruments’ they use – the plans, strategies and decision processes.

These dimensions of planning mean that the practice of planning is a multi-scalar activity as it:

  • takes place at all spatial scales: region, city, town centre, neighbourhood
  • is a multi-agency activity – different agencies are charged with particular roles and responsibilities.

The agencies themselves may operate at different geographic or administrative scales, and may be organised around different sector interests such as:

  • urban development
  • urban design
  • road planning
  • public transport planning.

Mobility and urban planning – a brief history

If we think about the substance of planning, over the decades, planners have had ideas about what constituted a ‘good city’, in each case, the built environment features ideas about mobility.

The garden city

At the turn of the 20th century, during the rise of ‘the garden city’ movement, the key focus was on healthy cities, with access to surrounding countryside. This included neighbourhoods serving inhabitants daily needs, with activities within walking distance, generally a ten-minute walk, while work may be reached by walking, cycling and, later, public transport.

The automobile city

By the 1950s, with the rise of the private motor car, ideas of a good or ‘modern’ city, were framed around accessibility to activities by car. This saw activities such as shopping and work agglomerate into car based catchments; but this meant that many activities inhabitants needed to reach, became inaccessible by other transport modes.

Transit oriented development

One solution to this was to design cities around public transport. This gave rise to the idea of transit oriented development, where some activities were accessible in the railway station precincts by walking and beyond the neighbourhood by public transport.

New urbanism and the 15-minute city

By the late 20th century, planning ideas moved back to ‘the garden city,’ this time badged as ‘new urbanism’, again, with an interest in designing cities around walking catchments. More recently, this has been re-badged as ‘the 15-minute city.’ The principle is the same: the design of the city can be related to the transport solution.

Planning process: governance framework for the built environment

Alt textClick to expand

Source: Curtis, C. 2021. Concise guide to planning: planning, transport and accessibility

The process of planning is captured in this graphic of the governance framework, depicting from left to right how the different activities of planning the built environment, are often the domain of different sectors, here transport, urban development, and social infrastructure. From top to bottom it depicts the different administrative levels of government and notes a role for community in the process.

The various planning activities occur in different cells of the matrix depending on the planning framework and legislation for a given country or locality. For example, if we think about components of an age friendly city, the design of a public square or street may be governed at the local level when both the transport planners and urban planners may have a role in its design. In another example, the location of a new library or hospital may be the responsibility of a regional level government and may formally include roles for transport planners in addition to the social infrastructure provider.

This means that there are many places where actions to design and create age friendly cities exist. It’s a complex activity and process for those seeking action, whether they sit inside the system, or outside acting as advocates. Being aware of these factors means you are more likely to succeed in:

  • gaining traction for your own activities in designing for age friendly cities
  • understanding the elements for success in the urban interventions, which we’ll study in Week 4
  • positioning the various frameworks, standards and regulations for age friendly cities, which we’ll examine in Week 5.

Further resources

If you would like to explore some of the concepts we have covered in more depth, the following resources are optional.

Concise guide to planning: planning, transport and accessibility

Global age-friendly cities: A guide

Transit-oriented development for climate mitigation in urban centres

© RMIT Europe and EIT Urban Mobility
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