Urban Conservation through Urban Planning

With the physical expansion of existing towns and cities and the proliferation of new ones, not only individual monuments and landmarks but entire historic quarters and towns containing unique examples of architectural styles or ways of life are increasingly exposed to the forces of urbanization. Suitable guiding of the growth of the city is necessary. This requires an understanding of the dynamics of urban growth so that solutions can be attempted which facilitate conservation without making a futile attempt to stall the forces of urbanization. This can only be done through the forces of regional planning, town planning, pragmatic land use planning, transport policies and civic management. The basic objectives of Urban and regional planning are very closely related to those of conservation of historic towns, areas and monuments. Town planning in the modern context is originated from the desire of people to have certain self-imposed norms and standards for utilization and development of land in their cities. Instruments such as master-plans, zoning regulations, building bye laws etc all help in achieving these objectives. This calls for the subordination, to some extent, of the immediate interest of the individual in favors of the overall interest of the community and, in the long term interest of the same individual. The most obvious restriction placed on an individual’s right is that which prohibits him from developing his land in any manner and for whatsoever purposes he pleases. Land has no value unless it can be put to use. Its value then depends on what specific use can be made of it. As town planning determines the land use, it can therefore dictate or modify land values. It is this factor which makes town planning policies so crucial for the conservation of old buildings and areas, especially those situated in the central areas of the cities.

Opposition for conservation (CC0 Public Domain image)

The town planning process imposes far greater restrictions on the individual’s rights and carries a heavier financing liability on the part of governments than the conservation of historic buildings and areas would call for. This at times might result in counter urbanization when the regulating measures are too harsh or lead to NIMBY. Massive chunks of private lands are compulsorily acquired for housing, roads, bus stations and civic amenities. Town planning for existing old towns and areas in cities needs the application of similar will to take care of the architectural fabric in urban areas. Conservation is and must therefore be explicitly recognized to be an integral part of the town planning process that is of land-use plans, building regulations and development policies.

Planners also need to think about their role in the city. Is it to just build according to the latest ‘make it London’ fashion? Or do planners have a duty to respond to the needs of all citizens in the city? Is it our job to make demarcations about authorized/unauthorized, or try to facilitate a decent living and working environment for physical realities on the ground? What about scale? Master planning for metro cities is daunting task – but where is the focus or expertise devoted to creating high quality zonal and area plans? Do cities even have the expertise and funds to collect the data required for such fine-grained planning, leave aside addressing questions of democratic inclusion?

Author Bio:

Shubham Aggarwal, founder of PlanningTank is an Urban Planner from India working to improve the human settlements. PlanningTank is the Urban, Regional, and Rural Planning Knowledge base which provides insight into to urban and rural areas. It focuses on educating, engaging and developing the community.


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