6.2  What is urban planning?

Urban planning is about designing towns and cities to function effectively and meet the needs of people living in them. This is a technical process, concerned with bringing benefits to people, controlling the use of land and enriching the natural environment. It requires careful assessment and planning so that community needs such as housing, environmental protection, health care and other infrastructure can be incorporated.

Urban planning means managing urban development so that uncontrolled and haphazard building is prevented. Unplanned development in peri-urban areas can lead to towns and cities spreading out and extending the impacts of change of land use over an ever-increasing area. In central urban areas, unplanned development gives rise to densely-packed, single-storey housing with narrow alleys making it very difficult to provide necessary services for the inhabitants (Figure 6.3). The negative effects of impoverished, informal settlements were described in Study Session 5.

  • What are the main negative impacts of slum areas on the people who live there?

  • The main problems are the poor quality of housing construction materials, overcrowding, and limited access to water and sanitation, which combine to create unhealthy living conditions.

Figure 6.3  Close-packed houses in Addis Ababa.

Unplanned urban development is characterised by poor housing quality and by the lack of supporting infrastructure and services. These inadequate services can include any or all of: electricity, water supply, sanitation, drainage, solid waste management, roads and transport facilities, shops and schools and health care. The lack of available space in central urban areas also results in people building insecure homes in unsafe places, as shown in Figure 6.4. Urban planning aims to address these problems.

Figure 6.4  Houses perched precariously close to the flooding Akaki River in central Addis Ababa.

Historically, the concept of urban planning arose in Europe in the 19th century (Corburn, 2005). It emerged from the awareness that public health and infectious disease outbreaks were closely related to inadequate housing and poor sanitation, particularly affecting the urban poor. By the 20th century, the idea of land-use zoning was the dominant approach to urban planning. Zoning meant the creation of defined areas within a town that were designated for different activities such as residential, commerce, industry, etc. The aim was to improve urban living conditions by separating people from ‘noxious land uses’ (Corburn, 2005). However, zoning also had the effect of creating a social divide by separating areas where well-off people lived from those occupied by people with little or no income, with increasing inequality between the services and facilities available in different zones. Excluding people from living in central zones that were allocated for commerce and business resulted in increasing urban sprawl, where the effects of urbanisation and land-use change were spread over larger areas (UN-Habitat, n.d. 1). Recommended urban planning practice has since moved away from the zoning approach and currently adopts principles of integrated use designed to ensure the sustainability of future towns and cities.

6.1.3  Extraction of building materials

6.3  Planning for sustainability