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New approaches to land-use planning: transport policy and sustainable urban development
Average reader rating: 8  
by Andreas Dorda, IPTS 03 the future of Urban Development

Issue: One of the aims of spatial planning is to achieve compact and multifunctional city structures as part of an effort to limit urban sprawl and slow the steady increase in demand for transport. To be effective new tools for urban development and land-use planning are needed which go beyond traditional planning regulations. These could include encouraging professional stakeholders to broaden their development portfolios and influencing choices through information campaigns aimed at potential house buyers.

Relevance: Sprawling suburbs, declining economic activities in inner cities, the spread of out-of-town shopping centres, are all trends which increasingly endanger Europe's urban environment, economic development and cultural tradition. Thus the European Commission has envisaged a key action within the Fifth Framework Programme for research called "The city of tomorrow and cultural heritage". Policy makers increasingly acknowledge the powerful impact of housing patterns on energy consumption, social interaction, patterns of consumption and particularly on transport demand. Better co-ordination of land-use planning and transport policy could be a key factor in achieving sustainable mobility, as could encouraging changes in property developers' practices and house buyers' preferences.


Institutional obstacles
Housing patterns have an enormous influence on the social, economic and environmental impact of human habitation. Sufficient population density and mixed-use city structures bring numerous positive effects by reducing transport demand, ensuring public transport and local shops are profitable, and enabling communities to share infrastructure costs. Multifunctional land-use patterns also facilitate social cohesion by ensuring a feeling of community and making neighbourhoods safer and pleasanter places to live.

A multifunctional mix of housing and other land uses can have considerable influence on a variety of environmental and social parameters. Nevertheless, transport and planning have tended to be dealt with as entirely separate issues.

Unfortunately coordination between urban land-use planning and transport policy has tended in the past to be rather poor. This is mainly due to the fact that spatial planning and transport policy tend even today to be the responsibilities of entirely different departments within regional authorities. Although this is beginning to change towards a more holistic style of administration, there is still a lack of coordination between city and transport planners for reasons of educational background and differences between the administration's external partners, as well as historical factors.

As a relatively densely populated region, Europe faces considerable pressure on land, exacerbated by changes in lifestyles and patterns of production.

However, conflicts in land-use planning in many countries in Europe are not just a result of a lack of coordination between different policy fields. On the one hand, rapid changes in patterns of production and life styles have increased demand for space in Europe, a continent with relatively high population density where space has to be regarded as an increasingly valuable resource. And, on the other hand it seems unclear at what administrative level, geographically speaking, (i.e. local, regional or national) spatial planning decisions should be taken. Making decisions at high levels may mean local circumstances fail to be taken into account. Local authorities, however, frequently come under tremendous pressure from professional and private stakeholders when they try to achieve solutions optimizing the public good.

Care has to be taken when determining the level at which planning decisions should be taken. At high levels it is hard to take local issues into account, but at very local levels authorities may find their freedom to act limited by the risk of businesses moving to other areas.

Towns compete for local tax revenues from businesses, thus professional developers can shift their investment plans from one place to another if the municipal administration tries to impose more stringent conditions based on considerations of the common good in its building permit granting system. Particularly in smaller communities, private builders can have a decisive influence on local policy makers who may feel obliged to approve their building plan in order to produce the tangible economic benefits they need to show to be re-elected. These pressures on authorities at municipal level have meant that some countries have begun to move planning decisions up to regional authority level just as cities and their surrounding countryside set up coordination committees to avoid unfair competition. Sustainable land-use planning is therefore very much a matter of making decisions at appropriate levels and in close cooperation of different parts of the administration.

You can find the full article, please search in the issue # 36:
http://www.jrc.es/iptsreport




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