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
- 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
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