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The Evolving Field of Land-Use Planning


The Evolving Field of Land-Use Planning

The fields of land-use planning and community development have evolved in the past several decades to address a number of rising concerns.

Some of the issues that have spurred changes in the way that communities are planned and built include:

  • Longer commutes, rising gasoline prices, growing traffic congestion and declining mobility.
  • Loss of farmland, wildlife habitat and natural resources as low-density development spreads into formerly undeveloped areas.
  • Air-quality and climate-change issues associated with vehicle emissions and energy use in buildings.
  • Inefficient water use and water-intensive plant selections in traditional landscaping.
  • Investments in infrastructure and services that can’t keep pace with growth and the need for maintenance and replacement.
  • Changes in the nature and location of work, along with a declining economic base in older urban neighborhoods and aging suburbs as jobs and businesses shift to newer areas or leave the region altogether.

As the field of urban planning has evolved, issues that were once peripheral to planning have become more central. For example, concern about the environmental consequences of land use spurred policies and procedures to ensure that decision-makers and the public understand the environmental effects of decisions and that officials take steps to minimize or avoid environmental damage.

Demographic trends have also spurred changes in the types of housing and neighborhoods that people seek at each stage of their lives. These trends include changing family patterns, such as an increase in the number of smaller households, growing numbers of households with three or more generations under one roof and “downsizing” by empty-nest couples and retirees.

In fact, the fastest population growth is occurring at both ends of the age continuum, among young people and the elderly. Squeezed in between these two growing groups is a busy “sandwich generation” of middle-aged adults, many of whom are caring for children, grandchildren or elderly parents. As a result of these demographic changes, local communities have found that they must plan for new patterns of land use and transportation and a wider variety of types of development.

Concerns about the relationship between health and the built environment are increasingly reflected in land-use planning. Local communities are working to invigorate downtowns and main streets, retrofit auto-oriented suburbs, find new uses for old strip malls and shopping centers and build new neighborhoods that work socially, economically and environmentally. Many efforts like these are motivated in part by a desire to create healthier and safer communities where residents have more opportunities to be physically active and have access to a variety of nutritious foods.


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