Planning is chiefly concerned with places – regions, cities, towns, neighbourhoods and rural areas throughout the world – and how they change and develop over time.
In each of these places and at these different scales, the purpose of planning is to reconcile the competing needs of environmental protection, social justice and economic development in the interests of the common good. For the 21st century, in the face of climate change, demographic change, economic change, shifting power relationships and globalisation these relationships can have significant impacts in the places where people live and earn their livelihoods.
Planning takes an integrated, long-term view about the future of places and has a deep concern for fairness and equity. As a discipline which has strong roots in the physical sciences, the social sciences and in the humanities, planning sets out a framework of spatial ethics within which the challenge of achieving sustainable futures for different places can be addressed.
Through formal and informal systems and processes of various kinds, planning develops long term objectives for the future of places; promotes responsible decision-making about competing uses for land and resources; provides legitimacy for these decisions (through consultation and the testing of evidence); and delivers resilient, creative and realistic place-making solutions for society as a whole.
What do planners do?
Members of the planning profession are graduates of professionally-accredited third level colleges or universities. Their primary function is to plan: to envision sustainable futures for places and to work in partnership with others in bringing about change in meaningful and effective ways.
Planners work in the public, private and voluntary sectors in a variety of roles. With a wide range of skills, they advise decision-makers (such as national and locally elected democratic bodies), communities, investors, interest groups, business people and the public at large on issues to do with the spatial development, growth, management and conservation of regions, cities, towns, villages, neighbourhoods, local areas and parcels of land everywhere.
Within the various planning systems in which they operate throughout the world, planners bring forward clear and well-researched solutions for how best to reconcile economic, environmental and social issues in the context of individual development proposals, planning appeals and strategic investment schemes for various locations. They develop future scenarios for change, carry out impact assessment of various kinds and advise on preferred planning options either at strategic or detailed levels.
Planners also bring forward imaginative, practical and sustainable ideas, strategies, master plans and designs at different scales for commercial companies, institutions, civic authorities or community organisations. They are skilled at working alongside developers and investors to ensure that high quality development - when based on good planning principles – adds value not only in terms of commercial viability but also for meeting environmental standards and community needs. They integrate the expertise of other built environment professions - and the inputs of various stakeholder groups and organisations - with the best principles of spatial planning and sustainable development in order to achieve workable and enduring solutions to environmental and place-based challenges.
Planners support the legal, political and administrative frameworks within which planning decisions are made through best practice, research, evidence-gathering and advice at the highest level. Their skills and competencies also allow them to function as effective mediators and facilitators in environmental conflicts relating to places and to bring forward alternative solutions for discussion and the building of consensus about preferred ways forward.
Planners consult and engage effectively with communities, stakeholder groups and individuals and bring legitimacy to decision making in the interests of the common good. Also, in recognising the often contested nature of planning processes and the ways that certain interests can sometimes exert a powerful influence on outcomes, planners are skilled at putting forward common good arguments in the interests of fairness and equity.
Planners also carry out scholarly, scientific and applied research into planning and sustainable development issues, publish in scholarly journals and support education and outreach in the field of spatial and environmental planning. They also aim to raise awareness of planning issues among the population at large to ensure that those who participate in planning processes are well informed and to ensure that there is a high level of debate about planning and environmental issues within civil society.