What is town planning? | ArchDaily

In theory, urban planning is a process of developing solutions that aim both to improve or requalify an existing urban area, as well as to create new urbanization in a given region. As a discipline and mode of action, urban planning deals with the processes of production, structuring and appropriation of urban space. In this sense, its main objective is to indicate what measures must be taken to improve the quality of life of the inhabitants, including issues such as transport, security, possibilities of access and even interaction with the natural environment.

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In the urban planning process, therefore, the problems posed by urbanization are addressed, such as pollution, traffic jams, urban voids, ecological impacts, which makes it essential in the current context where there is much talk of the future of cities and aspirations of sustainability and mobility as a means to combat climate change.

Town planning is essentially a multidisciplinary activity, which can count on sociologists, historians, economists, geographers, in addition to town planners. In its process, local authorities are also included, be they government, private companies or international organizations. When linked to a government, urban planning can generate a document that contains all the bases and rules for the development of a given region, which we call a master plan.

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Barcelona, ​​Spain. Image source: @digitalglobe

The idea of ​​town planning is present from the first signs of civilisation. The idea of ​​town planning has been present since the first signs of civilisation. In ancient Greece, for example, theories and ideas about the ideal use of land and the location of roads and buildings were developed, as well as in pre-Columbian civilizations, which built their cities taking into account the planning with sewer and running water systems, such as Tenochtitlan, Mexico. However, its concept was not formalized until the 19th century, following the industrial revolution which brought a new dynamic to the urban environment, creating the demand for a clear conception of the functionality of cities.

It was at this time that famous examples appeared, such as the Plan Cerdá in Barcelona (1860), one of the first major milestones in what has been called “urbanization”. Born from the urgency to transform the city, the plan created by engineer and urban planner Ildefonso Cerdá followed an ideology of “humanist urbanism”, opening streets, requiring green spaces inside the blocks, defining maximum heights and guaranteeing collective facilities at certain distances, in addition to moving industrial areas away from the city centre.

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Plan Cerda (1858). Image © Ildefons Cerdà i Sunyer – Museu d’Historia de la Ciutat, Barcelona. Public domain

At the same time, the urban remodeling of Paris (1954), under the orders of Mayor Georges-Eugène Haussmann, also stands out. At the request of Napoleon III and under the pretext of health, due to the spread of epidemics, wide boulevards flanked by regular neoclassical buildings were opened, adding roundabouts, monuments and parks. A bold change that, on the one hand, improved transport, sanitation and recreation, and on the other hand, drove up housing prices by increasing segregation. Paris is an example that highlights the relationship between urban planning and its importance in structuring the dynamics of cities.

In the 20th century, with the emergence of the modern movement, urban planning also began to play the role of creating new cities from scratch. In the discussion of how it would be possible to develop more functional cities, the role of the Athens Charter (1933) following the IV International Congress of Modern Architecture (CIAM) stands out. The document drafted by Le Corbusier recommended a new form of urban planning that would divide the city into residential, leisure and work zones, precepts put into practice in the pilot plan for the construction of Brasília, in 1950, developed by Lúcio Costa and, until today, one of the greatest models of modernist city in the world.

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Sketch of the Brasilia pilot project, by Lúcio Costa. Image: Uri Rosenheck/Flickr. Image via Caos Planejado

As you can see from the examples above, the precepts that govern urban planning change as new challenges and changes in mentality arise, so cities are constantly analyzed. If decades ago the goal of urban planning was to create new cities, today its functioning has changed radically. Currently, the main challenge is to work with existing infrastructures in order to create more resilient and sustainable cities, which promote encounters between inhabitants and reconnection with nature.