Land use planning is the term given to public policy that directs how the land in a community is used. The goal is to balance the needs of the people who live in the area with the needs of the environment. This term is often used interchangeably with urban planning.
At its most basic, land use planning determines which parts of a community will be used for residential areas and which will be used as commercial areas. This is called zoning. It also places a great deal of emphasis on transportation planning.
Transportation planning includes several components. Public transportation is important in areas that have a dense population since, without effective public transportation, automobile congestion would be so heavy that it would affect the quality of life of the people in the area. Transportation planning also includes designing roadways in the community, since properly designed roads can relieve congestion and stress associated with commuting.
Once the basic zoning and transportation issues are resolved, land use planning can expand in a variety of ways. The planner may design the physical layout of the community, and determine the scale of development permitted in various areas. Planning can also include the aesthetics of the community, and involves such issues as the type of building materials that are used, and the style of landscaping that is installed.
The environmental aspect of land use planning can include a variety of components as well, depending on the area. It may include where to best locate roads, determining ways to reduce pollution and surface runoff, and studies to determine the potential for flooding. Environmental planning is a highly specialized field, and environmental planners often work in conjunction with land use planners to design communities.
Land use planners come from a variety of backgrounds. Experience in surveying, engineering, or architecture are all excellent areas to start. The growing concern about people’s impact on the environment has lead to an increase in interest for sustainable developments, which attempt to concentrate population in smaller areas to reduce transportation needs as well as the use of natural resources.
An increased interest in regional, or metro, government has lead to regional planning. In regional planning, planners work to tie together communities through public transportation and shared facilities. This reduces the need for duplicate service, allowing each community to save money.