Environmental Planning

This article will discuss the concept of environmental planning. As we head into the future, normal planning practises will need to be altered in order to comply with new environmental regulations, or simply to ensure a better, cleaner planet. This can be achieved at the base level of planning. This article will also discuss the basic process of environmental planning, its history, who may be affected by this and also some projections about the future.

What Is Environmental Planning

Environmental planning is an alternate method to standard planning practises. This method seeks to improve planning outcomes by taking into consideration certain environmental factors when planning for the long term. The main goal is to not only take into consideration current environmental factors, but to also ensure that human systems and environmental systems can co-exist with the minimum possible impact. Planners must also take into consideration things such as current government policies, urban and regional development and urban and regional economic factors 1).

Environmental planning is interwoven with many other disciplines, and environmental planners are usually educated across a broad range of topics, such as planning, architecture, science, biology, ecology, economics and law 2). Environmental planners must adopt the core principals of planning and architecture, but must also be aware of scientific systems such as hydrology, ecological factors such as species dispersal and adaptation, urban population and socio-economic factors and legal boundaries set my local, state and federal governments 3).

History Of Environmental Planning

It can be argued that environmental planning has been around even before it was given a name. Farmers for example would often take into consideration many factors when deciding where to build their barn – will it get inundated when it rains? Do I have proper access to it? Are there any animals that may get affected should I build it there? These in essence are all types of environmental planning. The first people who are considered to have discussed this concept broadly and written about are planners such as Frederick Law Olmsted, who planned New York's Central Park, and also Gifford Pinchot, who wrote about the sustainable growth of timber 4).

Whilst these were concepts that were still relatively simple and had a narrow scope, environmental planning continued to evolve through the decades. It was during the 1960's and 70's when the American governments started to become aware of the detrimental effects that they were currently facing, such as the loss of resources, water contamination and poor air quality. These realisations brought about the first legislation on environmental practice, the Environmental Policy Act, which was implemented in 1970. Companies started facing restrictions and regulations regarding pollutants and emissions, and these policies brought about the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency 5).

The Process

The Environmental Planning process begins with the assessment of the area in which the proposed. Planners must assess whether the location is suitable by looking at certain factors, such as -


The local climate and weather factors should be considered when planning any project. Planners should use this data in order to determine orientation, building heights, ventilation what type of vegetation can be planted in the general vicinity. The current issue of climate change must also be considered, and planners should develop strategies to combat issues such as the rise of sea levels, droughts and possible flooding.


This is an important factor when planning projects. Planners should focus on the amount of rainfall in the area, in which direction the rain and storm water flows and then plan mitigation strategies in order for the project to be viable in the long term.

__Soil and ground conditions__

Soil and ground conditions are a critical aspect when planning any project. Planners should obtain and interpret data about the type of soils that are present at the location, and then proceed to plan accordingly.

__Current species inhabiting the area__

Environmental Planning requires that all planners are well versed in ecology and are able to assess and plan strategies in order to have the minimal amount of impact on any species that currently inhabit the area. Where possible and required there should be impact studies that can help determine what the possible impacts of the project can be on the flora and fauna of the area.

__Environmental, local, state and federal laws__

Planners should be well versed in all types of laws and regulations that their project may be subject to. They must be able to understand the structure of the laws and be able to competently interpret the laws and regulations and then implement them.

__Economic factors__

No matter the intention, the economic costs of projects will always be a major factor. Environmental Planners need to be able to weigh up all the options, and then make recommendations and decisions that make economic sense. Whilst the intentions of most planners will be to protect the environment and have the least impact possible, they must also remain mindful that going overboard with this can jeopardise the project as a whole.

__Social factors__

Social factors are an important part of planning. Planners must determine whether the proposed project fits in to the general social area. For example, it would not make sense to put a nightclub next to a retirement village. Whilst this is an extreme example, planners are often faced with more complex issues, with opposition from different parts of the communities, and sometimes groups with separate agendas. Public consultation, forums and focus groups are often used in order to gauge community opinion.

__Transport options__

Transport is an important issue for Environmental Planners. There are growing concerns regarding the use of personal vehicles worldwide, with the rising cost of fuel and pollutants from emissions being major problems in some major cities. Planners will try and minimise the use of these motor vehicles where possible, and plan the project accordingly, such as TOD (Transport Oriented Design) being the preferred method where buildings are planned around transport corridors to minimise impacts.

Who Is Affected

Environmental planning affects almost everybody living organism on the planet. Planners are aware that when undertaking any project, it is not only the human factors that they must consider. Ecology, climate change, sustainability, pollution and social change are all major factors in any decision making process. Environmental Planners must listen to a range of different voices, from governments to construction companies to communities to wildlife advocates. It can be a extremely difficult process as you cannot please all the groups all of the time.


Environmental Planning is not a new concept. People have been using similar methods for well over a century and a half, however it is only recently that it has evolved into a discipline. Planners in this field are required to be extremely flexible and have a broad range of knowledge across many different disciplines. They need to be able to juggle many different jobs and be able to deal with all different groups of people. As environmental awareness increases globally, the role of Environmental Planners will increase accordingly, and they will hold the key as to how the planet progresses towards a sustainable future.


Newton, R.D, 2011, 'Environmental Planning', Nova Scotia Publishers, New York
Bryson, J., 2010, 'Environmental Planning', Green Cities, Sage Publications, ISBN 9781412996822
Selman, P., 2001, 'Environmental Planning: The Conservation and Development of Biophysical Resources', Local Environment, vol.6, no.4, pp. 497-499
Newton, R.D, 2011, 'Environmental Planning', Nova Scotia Publishers, New York, ISBN 1CSAWGJvnr1sC2ZCMjoLzJcvm8emx5Tprm
Buckingham-Hatfield, S.,Evans, B., 1993, 'Sustainability and Environmental Planning', Area, vol.25, no.2, pp.193-194

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