The real answer to that question might be shrouded in the mists of time depending on the age of the place you live. When it comes to new developments, though – changes to land-use and the creation of large structures, then it’s likely that an urban planner has been involved in the decision-making.

picjHERE talked to Tom Goemans, a student at the University of Amsterdam who’s going to become an urban planner, to find out a little more.

“When it comes to planning things like [changes to a city layout], urban planning comes in different forms. Spatial planners and transport planners think about the roads and the infrastructure and how to cope with these urban areas, while geographers more look to the demographic side. They think about the mix of people, how to let them work together and how to create a community.”

Urban Planning is a mixture of technology and politics. The technological aspects might include predicting changes in the population of an area, and working out how to deal with that; looking at the geography and understanding its constraints; planning the necessary infrastructure to allow developments to happen and the 1000s of other details that need to be settled for anything to work.

This might be the part where location intelligence from HERE could play a part – such as understanding the impact of new housing on city traffic, for example.

Why do we need them? A glance at pictures of the factory slums of Nineteenth-century Europe might be enough to provide an explanation. A laissez-faire approach to city development isn’t likely to result in lots of parks and civic amenities. Deciding on the proper mix of these options is the political part of urban planning and will vary according to the government of the day, as well as the cultural norms of a country or city.

It’s a craft as much as a science, and it’s a craft we’re still very much in the process of learning.
Historically, says Tom, the approach was very much ‘top-down’. The government would come up with a plan or approach and everyone would have to live with it. To give a specific example, in the Netherlands, the government created a plan called Fourth Memorandum Spatial Planning Extra (known as VINEX), which called for new developments to be placed “outside the city core… long rows of equal houses which all have a front and back garden.” They wanted to lure wealthy citizens to leave the city centres in order to free up affordable housing for those less well-off.

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