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Planning for Cities of the Next Century - Challenges and Opportunities

Written by: Pete Pointner, FAICP, ALA, ITE

March 28, 2020

Meeting the Challenges Facing Society in Shaping Urban Areas

I see two different challenges. The first has to do with values. How we get humans to know and understand more about the interconnectedness of all creation. This will help lead us to respect and peaceably interact with each other, individually and as a society.

A second and related challenge deals with the physical interaction of man and the environment. As the needs of humans increase and we struggle to achieve greater sustainability -- socially, economically and environmentally, we must become more responsible stewards of creation.

It is tempting to place our trust in new systems, technology, science and other “stuff” as a silver bullet to use in planning for cities and the growth of population. We wish we had a formula, a concept that could be applied which would produce great cities that are truly sustainable. However, there is no such silver bullet. Planning for the future of cities in a democratic society, focusing on land use and infrastructure, requires consideration of a wide range of factors such as the history and culture, the ecology, physiology and economy of an area as well as its existing pattern of development. Then, sound principles of sustainable planning must be employed.

Age Old Needs of Individuals and Society

There are basic human needs that are true for all ages and cultures:

  • A sense of community and shared purposes. This needs to be reflected, practiced and lived by our leadership, institutions and families.

  • Security of person and possessions in home, neighborhood, city and Country. People are diverted from a larger picture of life by violence and fear. Their creative, spiritual and emotional potential should not be constrained by everyday fear of forced cohesion, violence and danger. People also need adequate shelter and protection from the elements, extremes of cold, heat or harsh weather.

  • All communities need the provision and maintenance of infrastructure; potable water, community sewer, solid waste treatment and reliable energy and communication systems. Depending on location, density and the local economy, they need various forms of transportation including transit, roads, railroads, bicycle and pedestrian ways, harbors, docks etc.

  • People need economic opportunity for all, with realistic avenues of access to jobs and livable wage which provides the means for providing for themselves and their loved ones. Some provision and consideration should be given to those who prefer to live “off the grid” or a subsistence lifestyle with them growing, raising or hunting and fishing for some or all of their food.

  • Political leadership and effective, efficient and equitable management should govern at all levels from the family to business and government – leveraging available resources to meet the human needs of those they represent.

  • Help for those who cannot help themselves and their loved ones. There will always be a segment of the population who need help. This may be due to a health problem, age, an accident or an act of nature.

  • All persons should be able to depend on justice which is fair and blind to color, race, religion, position and influence.

  • With increased population, mankind and its institutions and corporations must be more responsible in their life styles contributing to a more sustainable planet socially, economically and environmentally. This includes: reducing the “things” and “stuff” we have filled our life with and which soon become a waste product; reusing material things, again, to reduce the waste stream; and recycling material rather than tossing it away.

  • Education of all, but especially our young people, including the passing of wisdom, values, culture and knowledge of nature as well as book learning of needed skills in language, science and other subjects.

  • People and society need a transcendent aim (Will Durant). For many this is religion and a sense of a Godly purpose in life.

New Challenges and Opportunities of the Next Hundred Years?

The only constant in life is change. No one can see the future. The degree to which each factor impacts our lives is yet to be determined by the cumulative and interactive impact of many small decisions made by individuals, institutions, corporations and governments throughout the world.

  • Aging population – a look at the demographic profile of various countries or regions shows an imbalance compared to that which has characterized societies for century’s past. In some areas the population is dominated by the very young. In others, the old. Each element of society has its particular challenges and needs.

  • Transfer of wealth. In the US, a generation from the 20th century has retired and their lives have often been lived frugally resulting in a net worth only dreamed about by the younger generations facing high debt and financial demands. How will this be used and shared?

  • Proliferation of technology and advances in communications and electronics. This includes artificial intelligence, renewable energy and many new applications of science and industry.

  • Unlocking of DNA code and genetic engineering and addressing ethical questions about manipulation of DNA prior to and during pregnancy. Related to this are managing the medical miracles including genetic engineering.

  • Exponential development of new chemicals and compounds, many of which can pollute the environment or create waste disposal problems and unanticipated health emergencies.

  • Increasing the scale of production and management to provide for the expanding number and density of people. This may require a blending of local production and globalism.

  • Locational relationship of jobs and the residence of the work force.

  • Environmental exploitation and pollution at every level often with irreversible and disastrous consequences.

  • Waste of energy and other resources and the disposal of solid waste.

  • The end of oil dependency and the societal adjustments or response to renewable resources.

  • New strains of viruses and diseases.

  • The impact of climate change and rising oceans which will impact a large percent of the world’s population.

As Einstein said of our age, a profusion of means and a confusion of aims!

What Can Be Done?

Challenges exist at all scales from an individual to large regions and units of government. Some of Pete's thoughts are contained in his papers titled: “Global Environmental Issues and Local Government Action”; “The Challenge of Growth and Change”; “Creating Sustainable Neighborhoods”, “Planning for Green Infrastructure”, and “Green Infrastructure and Site Planning”. They are part of a free e-book, “Readings in Urban Planning and Design”, with 60 papers and over 200 illustrations, available as a pdf download via Pete’s master blog site available via

Advice to Young Planners

Also found in Pete's free e-book, Readings in Urban Planning and Design”, is his advice to young planners who wish to learn life sustaining principles; influence the shaping of healthy and satisfying communities; and, grow

themselves as effective professionals (p.166). In light of the magnitude of challenges and opportunities that our profession will be facing in the next century, what advice does he have for emerging professionals given 50+ years of experience?

  1. Be a generalist with a specialty, a specialty that reflects your personal interests and abilities.

  2. Learn to love learning. Take time to read. Become good at what you do.

  3. Be happy in your work and enjoy it for its own sake. Focus on the task at hand.

  4. Enjoy solving problems and meeting challenges.

  5. Involve all interested and affected parties in the planning process.

  6. Listen well. Respect other persons and their views.

  7. Don’t assume. Dig for the facts, dig to find out how things relate. Seek the connections between the pieces and the whole, the bigger picture, the broader time frame, the more complete balance sheet of relevant factors.

  8. Be organized and be efficient in your use of time.

  9. Be enthusiastic. Your work is important. You are important. Make a difference.

  10. Keep your idealism and live up to your highest ideals. Life and work are going to be tough regardless of what direction you take, so take the high road.


About Pete:

After 50 years of professional practice Pete is now semi-retired and attempting to contribute to the advancement of urban planning and design through publications and public speaking. His background includes teaching at the university level, vp and department head for a large international engineering and planning firm, and founder of an interdisciplinary land use and environmental planning firm. See Pete's LinkedIn profile for more details or visit


Header photo by Dhyamis Klebe rfrom Pexels


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