If you could rearrange your town, where would you put everything?
Would you build anything differently? Would you remove things entirely? Where would the roads, parks, schools, and shops go?
This is what town planners do. They look at a town and decide what the optimal positioning for new buildings may be. They additionally examine the where, why, and when of new areas and developments to ensure the town flows as smoothly as possible.
Town planning has existed since the first settlements were built. The Egyptians utilised town planning, and the ancient Romans used grid-like plans to map out new towns. In the 19th century, industrialisation led to new ideas of town planning, which provided healthier environments for workers and citizens.
A balancing act, town planning considers rural and urban areas’ economic, social, and environmental needs. But why do we plan so carefully? Find out here.
Laying Out Buildings and Streets
The primary role of planners is to lay out the groundwork for new buildings and streets that seamlessly interlock with the rest of the town.
Dating as far back as the 18th century, formal planning in the United Kingdom included the creation of geometrical shapes, such as squares or crescents. Squares were common in London, and other shapes, such as ovals, were noticed in Exeter.
The grid layout became increasingly popular as cities grew more expansively. In the United States, this layout was employed extensively within new cities to ensure that land was used effectively and could be expanded. Over time, the grid became a fundamental tenet of ‘master planning’, the process of designing a town layout linking homes to public places and gardens.
Improving Living Conditions and Public Health
The Industrial Revolution brought about massive changes in urban environments as people flocked to major cities for work. The demand for housing led to many buildings being thrust together to save space. These buildings were often built to low standards and became a hotbed for illness and disease. A lack of lighting, ventilation, and sanitation additionally made these areas incredibly unpleasant to live in or even pass through.
These conditions drew the eye of many reformers who campaigned for change. By the turn of the 20th century, urban planning was employed to develop and improve city spaces. Following this, the Town and Country Planning Association was founded in 1899, and slum housing was removed in the early 1900s.
Industrialists utilised town planning to their advantage, with Unilever building Port Sunlight on the Wirral and Cadbury building Bournville in Birmingham. Facilitated by town planners, these communities prioritised open spaces and community health.
Designing New Settlements
Historically, town planners have designed many innovative settlements that influenced the environment around them. One such settlement was the idea of garden cities, founded by Ebenezer Howard in his 1898 book Garden Cities of Tomorrow. These cities would limit urban environments spilling over into the countryside by developing self-contained cities surrounded by greenbelts.
Found in towns such as Milton Keynes, Bournville Village, and Telford, garden cities proved popular in the United Kingdom.
Additional ideas, such as the linear city, saw cities formed around a single straight line. Here, amenities including parks, schools, and housing were placed on either side.
Addressing the Housing Crisis
Following the mass destruction of cities during the Second World War, there was a huge demand for housing. In 1947, the government issued a Town and Country Planning Act to nationalise land use and develop a planning system to deliver new housing. This became the foundation of the planning system widely used in this day and age.
Listening to Local People
As we tackle another housing crisis today, town planners need to develop new communities and make the best use of the space provided. They are required to write policies and assess where buildings should or should not go and make decisions regarding development applications.
The use of cars soared during post-war redevelopment, a development that needed to be addressed. The Buchanan Report, or Traffic in Towns, was published in 1963. The report influenced town planning in the United Kingdom as roads were developed and historic buildings were conserved to limit vehicular access.
This raised the question of whether the community should have a say in town planning. The 1969 Skeffington Report suggested that local development plans should be subject to debate and scrutiny. It further advised that residents should be informed of any planning that may take place in the local area.
Following this report, community engagement in town planning has improved. Residents can now view 3D planning models online and submit any comments or concerns they have.
Taking Action on Climate Change
Climate change has caused a shift in town planning from regeneration in the late 20th century to sustainability in the 21st. Growing populations and increasing production of greenhouse gases have led to environmental concerns that town planners can now address in their designs for new developments.
Planners need to balance new housing and town developments whilst also ensuring sustainability and longevity for the future.
Town planning is a complex but rewarding process that provides numerous benefits for the surrounding areas that it concerns. Planners have many innovative ways to positively influence local communities, whether through building new homes or improving traffic flow throughout the town.
Planners can either develop proposals for private clients and submit them for approval or work for councils and assess planning applications submitted by others. Both sides are monitored and governed by the Royal Town Planning Institutes (RTPI) royal charter.