When people hear the term “urban planning,” they often think of the sprawl of cities or of uncontrolled growth. This is not what urban planning is all about, however. The job of an urban planner is to help to direct the development of cities, towns, and other areas in which human beings reside. They plan not just the geography of the area, but also the life, health, and quality of life within these spaces. Urban planners have affected everyone who lives in any type of space – whether it’s city, town, rural, or village.
It stands to reason, then, that urban planners can improve the quality of life within these spaces. If a space, such as a city or town, is well-planned, this means that its socioeconomic benefits are available to all living within that space. This can be accomplished through controlling the way resources are used in the space, keeping levels of pollution low, and making sure that transport systems are operating at a high efficiency. The livability index of cities can be increased through good urban planning that improves the quality of life.
What kind of indicators can measure quality of life? It is often thought of as a subjective concept. For many years, researchers used the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of an area to determine its standard of living. This is not the only measure of well-being, however. Material well-being cannot explain or illustrate the broader quality of life in a space.
Good urban development can create jobs, reduce poverty, improve management and infrastructure, and further management and more urban planning in an area. The World Bank notes that urbanization can help to avoid sprawl, pollution and congestion within a space, and can help to plan a better standard of living for present and future generations living within a space. If a space is well-planned, the socioeconomic benefits of urbanization can be fully harnessed to create vibrant and livable urban spaces.
The World Bank notes four ways that urban planning can help to improve the quality of life in an area:
Urban Planning Can Strengthen Institutions and Governance
A strong government can contribute to better urban planning. This allows for efficient, coordinated urban development to occur. A good example of this occurred in Mexico, where the federal government has influenced local level infrastructure.
Mexico’s national planning strategy encompasses all government entities with an impact on the proper usage of space throughout the country. One of the main goals of urban planners there is to eliminate barriers to government operations and simplify complex processes that could result in bad planning. Mexico’s federal government published guidelines to help local governments plan more efficiently, and invested more heavily in communities that were in dire need of revitalization. The federal government also realized that involving the local community in the design and planning of an area is beneficial to planning efforts.
Creating projects that local governments can afford to maintain and sustain after they are created is of utmost importance. Mexico’s federal government also realized that they could not rely solely on the available data about issues like water access, crime rates and housing overcrowding in planning. They combined this data with observation and field work. In this way, government officials and urban planners were better able to fully picture the overall needs of the community and what planning was necessary to improve its quality of life.
Issuing Regulations and Codes Can Improve Planning and Implementation of Plans
While many cringe at the thought of red tape, it is only through the issuing of the proper and necessary regulations and codes that efficient urban planning can occur. Zoning and land use in areas is made possible through codes and regulations that are issued by government entities. The necessary regulations and codes must be in place first, before planning can occur.
Delays in planning approvals can add unnecessary cost, time, and uncertainty to urban plans. This process needs to be made more efficient, while still protecting the environment and improving the quality of development in an area. Implementing the proper public policies will lead to better urban planning and a greater quality of life for residents.
Investing in Sustainable Urban Infrastructure Can Enhance an Area’s Livability, Increase Its Competitiveness, and Promote Health and Wellness
Making investments in sustainable urban infrastructure has its benefits. It boosts quality of life through enhancing an area’s livability and increasing its competitiveness. It also can contribute to better health and wellness within that space.
Some urban planners are creating planned Health and Wellness Districts within urban spaces. For example, the Baton Rouge (Louisiana) Health District was designed to improve health care in the area. The city has invested in pedestrian infrastructure, greenspace, jobs, and transit to improve health outcomes within the district. New roads and trails lined with parks are included to promote outdoor activity and fitness. Healthier and more affordable eating choices are springing up in the district as well. It is hoped that a network of transit connections and healthcare facilities will help to improve overall health and wellness of the residents of the district.
Planners are beginning to realize that urbanization is a public health challenge that can enhance the livability of an area. Proper planning can help to increase the life expectancy of residents of that area as well. Sustainability planning is a huge contributor to increasing the quality of life within a space.
Implementing Inclusive Policies Can End Inequality Within an Area
The implementation of inclusive policies in the urban planning of an area can help to end inequality within that area. Urban planners aim to design cities and other living spaces that are accessible for everyone. Under the United Nations’ New Urban Agenda, global inequality is addressed through inclusive urbanism. In accessible, inclusive cities, all inhabitants have the opportunity to participate equally.
Not only do urban planners strive to make areas equal and accessible for all, regardless of age, race, faith, income, gender, or sexual orientation, they also want to respect these people’s rights and fulfill their needs. Public spaces must be flexible and safe, with walkable pedestrian trails, gender-neutral public toilets, public seating, affordable housing, and a variety of community facilities that fulfill various needs. Urban design must take the well-being and mental health of residents into account and also encourage socializing within and among groups of people.