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Urban planning is ‘the discipline of land use planning’ which attempts to balance social, economic and environmental factors to induce prosperity. Urban planners have a hoard of problems facing them, and through trial and improvement have formed many solutions to the issues that they encounter, most of which are still being tested in modern development. The problems range from devising appropriate aesthetics for settlements, to the prevention of urban sprawl and use of gentrification to prevent the occurrence of the doughnut effect.

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Some suggested and tried solutions include the construction of high rise flats and the establishment of green belts, following work from Ebenezer Howard in 1944. One of the primary problems of urban planning is the current condition of housing in inner city areas, which forces the often capital intensive modernisation of housing, known as gentrification. This is often seen as a simple and environmentally friendly solution to the construction of housing within and around the green belt on greenfield sites.

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The improvement of pre-existing brownfield sites would prevent the occurrence of the doughnut effect, whereby a settlement slowly expands outwards; the central areas become dated, deserted and run down with few amenities. The authorities were keen to prevent this from happening, whilst protecting Britain’s famous green countryside. On the other hand, as was shown by the large scale gentrification of the London Docklands, the effects are not always positive.

Similarly to nearly all cases of modernisation, as the housing is refurbished the prices increase hugely. This increase in price means that local low-income residents are ‘priced-out’ of the market and consequently face forced migration. As a result these families are simply moved from one area to another, thus taking the problem with them. In London many former dock workers and their families were forced from their homes as they were unable to afford the new modern apartments which were replacing the old warehouses and terraced housing.

A further issue that is faced by urban planners is decentralisation. This is the outward movement from established central areas, usually a natural reaction to the negative factors of the CBD and surrounding regions; crime, noise, pollution and high land costs. The two most common problems currently caused by decentralisation are that, firstly, demand for housing on greenfield sites has increased and secondly the British suburbs are falling into decline.

It is expected that approximately five million homes will be needed within the UK by 2016, most to be built in satellite towns and within villages. As was mentioned above, investment in central urban areas has been a top priority in recent years, whilst the suburbs have been neglected. Furthermore the suburbs are also experiencing a decline in local shopping facilities as a result of increasing car ownership and the construction of large supermarkets on the periphery of settlements.

As shops in suburbia are closing, people are becoming more reliant on cars and a sense of community often suffers greatly, additionally congestion and pollution would increase as numbers of commuters would grow, consequently causing the suburbs to become increasingly similar to the CBD. A solution to this problem was suggested by the government in 1991 through the City Challenge scheme which encouraged authorities to compete for funding and gain funding to make improvements to their city.

In Leicester the City Council and De Montford University devised a plan and won funding to make improvements to the city centre. This would increase demand for housing in the CBD and encourage people to buy and gentrify homes or purchase those gentrified by the council, thus relieving some pressure on the green belts. One of the largest problems for urban planners in recent times is the government’s restrictions on the construction of housing which could encourage urban sprawl and conurbations.

Urban sprawl is the ‘spreading of a city and its suburbs over rural land at the fringe of an urban area’, a process which has engulfed much countryside around major British cities such as London, Manchester and Newcastle. Urban sprawl is often considered a problem for several reasons; firstly it can have a strong negative impact upon the overall health of the population, as people become increasingly reliant upon cars and public transport due to the increased distance needed to travel, which often reduces the amount of exercise they receive.

Additionally, congestion and pollution would increase for similar reasons, with the average suburban resident producing higher carbon emissions than their urban counterpart. Finally social capital can suffer as housing becomes low-density and reliance on cars means that people do not even have the opportunity to meet neighbors when waiting for the bus, train etc. This may reduce the quality of life for many residents and prevent the formation of any community spirit.

Furthermore public spaces such as parks can become less common as they are replaced with private, fenced in gardens which increase the sale value of properties and further reduce the chance of any social capital being gained. Generally the government endorses two predominant methods of preventing urban sprawl and solving this issue. The first of these is through physical barriers, such as the M25 around London. This makes the area unattractive and thus prevents the development of that area, which, in theory, closes development within a certain boundary.

The second method is used around the country; green belts. Green belts are rings of green countryside around towns and cities within which urbanisation is strongly resisted, but not technically prohibited. The government sees many advantages to the use of green belts; initially they prevent urban sprawl and provide a green region for the urban population to practice leisure activities and relax. This contributes towards the government aim to preserving the environment and protecting some endangered species, including indigenous birds.

Additionally the policy helps to prevent decentralisation, which would help to reduce or end the decline of the suburbs and shopping in city centers’. This would allow shops to agglomerate, compete, share information and make profits, some of which the government will gain in tax (hence their interest). This would maintain employment and prevent the occurrence of a negative multiplier effect whereby disposable employment and income would decrease, spending would collapse and businesses would close down, thus further increasing unemployment.

Though the idea of green belts seemed to separate the urban and rural areas effectively, it is less effectual in reality. The most prominent disadvantages to Ebenezer Howard’s green belt idea has been devised to protect the interests of the ‘bourgeois status quo’ of those who already own property within the zone. This relates mostly to the control of property prices within the zone, as the high demand cannot be satisfied through construction, and therefore the existing housing increases in prices hugely.

This is of high benefit to middle-class homeowners and landlords who can make considerable profits upon their properties whether renting or selling. Through green belt policy the government ensures that the demand does not decrease and prices can be maintained. This is illustrated by rural housing rising by 75% between 2000 and 2005, 7% more than urban property. The other most prominent criticism is that the green belts actually encourage urban sprawl, as development merely skips these regions and causes development within and around pre-existing villages.

This encourages other problems such as increased pollution as a result of increased commuter activity, as well as increased congestion on rural B-roads. The recommended solution to the continuing pressure to develop within the green belts is to utilise brownfield sites. For example in Bristol the increasing population is causing pressure on the green belt and the local authorities are planning to build 92,000 new homes, most of which will be located in the old industrial areas of the city.

This will cause a release of pressure, and a lower number of people will be forced to move into villages on the far side of the green belt, consequently reducing counterurbanisation. Economic stability of a region is important when considering the construction of housing. For example in Consett, North-East England, most of the population had jobs in the local steel industry and the area was fairly affluent. Unfortunately the steel industry collapsed after the global recession after 1973 and was forced to rationalize their resources, which meant widespread job cuts to counteract overproduction.

After the steel industry closed 3,750 jobs were lost, with unemployment increasing to around 40%. This sparked a negative multiplier effect whereby people lost jobs, income and disposable income fell which reduced spending in local businesses. This consequently meant that businesses closed down and further local jobs were lost, increasing the unemployment figures further. In order to solve this issue funding was used from the EU structural funds and Regional Selective Assistance (RSA).

The RSA donated grants to attract new business and help to decrease levels of unemployment in order to stimulate economic recovery which would in turn induce a demand for local business, which would generate new employment and cause a positive multiplier effect. The EU structural funds currently provide twice as much funding as the UK government and would contribute to the attraction of new employment as well as making general improvements to the quality of life offered in Consett. This would help to attract new residents and generate further demand for business, furthering an economic recovery.

A final issue faced by urban planners is the availability of resources. A prime example of this is in Phoenix, Arizona, USA. Phoenix is located in the state of Arizona, a predominantly dry and arid region of the US, with the Colorado River being virtually its only source of fresh water. Without crucial resources such as water no settlement can survive. This problem was solved through the construction of the Hoover dam on the Colorado River which provides the city with both electricity (through hydroelectricity) and water through the resultant reservoir.

Through irrigation the city is now often described as an oasis, with luscious green farmland and golf courses. Without the river, Phoenix would be unable to exist thus proving that the availability of natural resources is just as important today as it has been throughout history. In conclusion, urban planners do face a large number of problems, though as proved; there are a large number of solutions that could be taken into account and used; government investment, use of brownfield sites and generation of employment to name a few.

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Kylie Garcia

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