Planning can be seen as a product of its time (Freestone, 2007), reflecting, shaping and being shaped by social trends (Williams, 2007). This means the prevailing social, economic and environmental ideas are reflected in the planning theories of the time. Thus with the emergence of the modern environmental movement around the 1970s there can also be seen an emergence of environmental planning. However, environmental concerns do predate this 1970s emergence even if they are not primarily identified as environmental concerns, and much like this environmental concerns in planning existed prior to the 1970s even if they are not formally identified as such.
Environmental planning and in particular the term “environment” can have a broad variety of meaning. Environment at its most basic simply means “the sum total of the conditions of the surroundings within which an organism, or group, or an object exists” (Clark, 2003). This means environments can be used to talk about the natural, disturbed and artificial environment. This means in the broadest sense, assuming that the term “environmental” covers the built environment too, all planning can be considered environmental planning as planning has been focused on the built environment since its inception. However a more common definition is that “environmental” planning is more concerned with the natural environment.
An appreciation of the natural environment is not a new development in human history, however the most dramatic changes in attitude to the environment in Australia (since European settlement) have been since 1970 (coinciding with the emergence of environmental planning as a profession). These changes have been formalised with changes to laws regarding; pollution, chemical use, protection of native flora and fauna (especially endangered species) and regulation of natural resource use (Young, 2000).
The origin of a specific identity for planning dates to around the turn of the 19th century, emerging from ideas like the garden city movement, the city beautiful movement and concerns over public health (Thompson, 2007). Planning however has existed from ancient history to the present day in a variety of names, with a variety of different functions even if it wasn’t explicitly identified as planning. Classical Greece developed planning theories for the building of their city states and colonies, whilst in cultures like Ancient Egypt planning and architecture existed mainly to reinforce the power of the rulers with cities such as Thebes designed to meet religious and governmental roles (Greed, 2000).
It is however the 19th century that is identified as when modern town planning began to emerge in response to the conditions of life in the major metropolises of the age. Initially it was deeply concerned with improving urban health, efficiency and beauty (Freestone, 2007). The earliest planning reforms were intended to simply deal with the (linked) effects of disease, overcrowding and slum development. Drainage and sewerage were made necessary along with other interventions to halt the spread of cholera and other disease (Greed, 2000). In the United Kingdom the Public Health Act of 1875 provided local authorities the power to make and enforce building bylaws to control the height, structure and layout of buildings and the width of streets in an attempt to address air and water pollution, waste disposal and ventilation issues (Wood, 1999). These actions were done in the name of public health and chiefly aimed at the working class (Greed, 2000). This development of the planning system (in the United Kingdom) from a concern about health and pollution in fact give an environmental origin for planning that has since been forgotten (Wood, 1999). Indeed combating pollution is a major role for environmental planning today.
Initially planners like Ebenezer Howard, Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier (even if they did not self identify as planners) concentrated on transforming the urban environment with new designs and dramatic changes to the cities of their time. Whilst all pushing different ideas and directions they felt good planning was a way of creating social harmony. The plans arose from the fear and revulsion felt over the 19th century metropolises, an excitement about what technology meant for new urban forms and the expectation that a new age of freedom was at hand. Concentrating on ideal models for cities their plans may seem utopian to us today but they were in fact not just architectural changes but complete alternate societies (Fishman, 1996). None of these plans had much of a focus on the natural environment however, dealing mainly with architecture, urban design, politics and economics. Housing was the main question and Garden Cities (popularised by Howard) was one of the main answers (Hall, 2002).
Howard’s Garden city was seen by the inventor (for he saw himself as an inventor not a planner) as a combination of proposals already before the public. Focusing on combating the poverty that existed in existing cities it held many radical social ideas dating to the late 1800s (Fishman, 1996), there was no focus on the natural environment. The surrounding greenbelt parks of the Garden Cities existed mainly for human amenity however they could potentially serve a purpose of conservation and protection for the natural environment. As such the garden city movement can be seen to have an (initially) unintended connection to the environmental movement and what would later become known as environmental planning.
Planning focus started to shift during the 1920s, whilst still concerned primarily with housing there was a greater focus on planning for future needs due to the accelerating urban growth (Freestone, 2007). The Garden city movement had begun to give way towards modernist integrated high density ideas like Le Corbusier’s Radiant City (Hall, 2002) however, with housing and density the focus there was a decline in what could be seen as environmental planning.
Affordable housing and slum clearance and other social concerns came to the fore in the 1930s thanks to the depression (Freestone, 2007), with still no environmental focus. But an even bigger change to planning occurred in the post WW2. Post war reconstruction saw a burst to planning activity all over Europe with strategic plans for cities like London, Stockholm and Copenhagen (Hall, 2002). These plans tried to integrate the planning ideas that had emerged since the 19th century like garden cities, rural conservation, urban renewal, traffic planning, affordable housing and regional development, and influenced planning in cities such as Sydney, Ottawa and Tokyo worldwide (Amati & Freestone, 2009).
The post war period was not one where concern about the environment was strong so environmental planning was not a focus (Wood, 1999). One of the pre eminent names in planning of this era is that of Patrick Abercrombie, who amongst other things created the post war plans for London. His background as an architect was a common thing for planners in his time but is rare now and he held the technocratic outlook that was common for planners of his time. Favouring one shot design solutions he avoided many of the things common in planning now such as costing, cost benefit analysis, monitoring or projections feeling that much of the job needed to be done so cost was irrelevant and that poverty and inequality were concerns of sociologists and not planners (Amati & Freestone, 2009; Hall, 1995). His view of the car as a liberator to be planned for was also common for the time (Hall, 1995) and this could be seen as at odds with current environmental planning focuses. He continued to promote the Greenbelt idea proposed by the Garden City movement, which today has a strong connection to sustainability and environmental planning (Amati & Taylor, 2010). Indeed the post war period could be seen as a “heyday” for the Greenbelt, however the reasons initially put forward for the green belts were inevitably closer related to separation of urban and rural areas and providing human amenity rather than direct environmental concerns (Evans & Freestone, 2010).
The recognised environmental movement began to emerge worldwide around the 1970s and it is at this time we see the linked (re)emergence of environmental planning. Events like the Green Bans in Sydney during the early 1970s showed the power of this newly emerging environmental movement and brought this movement into the field of planning (The Planning Boardroom, 2010). In a case of history repeating itself the first environmental issues that environmental planning would be related to in the 1970s would be that of pollution. In this period pollution became a much more important factor in development control than it ever had been before (Wood, 1999). However in this case it was environmental health issues being the driving factor rather than simply human health. Protection of the environment became a one of the many focuses in this era (Hall, 2002) rather than one focus, such as housing that had existed previously.
The environmental agenda has remained at the forefront of planning since the emergence of the modern environmental movement in the 1970s. A development plan without environmental protection policies is as rare today as one including environmental protection was during the post war period (Wood, 1999). However concerns have broadened to include more than just the initial concerns of pollution and degradation (Hall, 2002) to things like globalisation, sustainable development, habitat protection and biodiversity conservation (Williams, 2007). As the environment has become a much more high profile issue politically since the 1970s there has also been an increase in political interest in environmental planning, particularly concerning issues such as sustainable development where planning is seen as a key instrument in delivering land use and development compatible with sustainable development (Wood, 1999). In fact the growth in concern about the environment and the subsequent creation of dedicated environmental agencies has been criticised as making environmental planning a more complicated issue (Williams, 2007).
Planning can be seen as a reflection of social trends, and the emergence of the modern environmental movement in the 1970s can directly be linked to the emergence of the modern environmental planner as a profession, however this is not the first time that environmental concerns have been present in planning. The fluctuation in concern for the environment socially is reflected in the fluctuations of importance given to the natural environment in planning. Planning grew out of initial concerns about pollution connected to the industrial revolution thus giving it a strong environmental connection at the beginning. As the concerns of society changed however the environmental focus of planning declined to its lowest level in the post war period where it was all but forgotten, only to re-emerge in the 1970s, and with this can the emergence of the environmental planning profession.
The environmental planning movement has been around since the inception of the planning movement it has just ebbed and flowed with the level of environmental concern in the society at the time.
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Amati, M. & Taylor, L. (2010) From Green Belts to Green Infrastructure, Planning, Practice & Research 25 (2)
Clark, A. (2003) The Penguin Dictionary of Geography, 3rd Ed, Penguin Books, London
Evans, C. & Freestone, R. (2010) From Green Belt to Green Web: Regional open space planning in Sydney, 1948-1963, Planning, Practice & Research 25 (2)
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Thompson, S. (2007) What is Planning? In Planning Australia: An overview of urban and regional planning, ed Thompson, S., Cambridge University Press, Melbourne
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Young, A. (2000) Environmental Change in Australia since 1788, 2nd Ed, Oxford University Press, Melbourne