Your Creative Design


Getting on the Land Use Diet

Created by Andrea Trabelsi and Justin Dahlheimer

National concerns with health problems and rising health care costs have led leaders and citizens alike in search of new ways to promote healthier lifestyles and get at the health care dilemma through prevention.  While people's lifestyles certainly impact their health, even the most health-conscious people are bound by their surrounding environment, especially outside of the home. Land use decisions impact our health on a daily basis.  The following list is a summary of land use impacts on public health pulled from the Eastern Neighborhood Community Health Impact Assessment Final Report (2007).

  • Relatively expensive housing may force low-income tenants to use more of their resources to obtain shelter, leaving less for other necessities such as food.
  • Overcrowded housing conditions contribute to mortality rates, infectious disease risk, and respiratory infections.
  • Children living in homeless shelters have been found to suffer from depression, have a behavioral problem, or have severe academic delay.
  • Residential segregation is associated with teenage childbearing, tuberculosis, cardiovascular disease, availability of food establishments serving healthy foods, and exposure to toxic air pollutants.
  • Segregated neighborhoods have been shown to have fewer assets and resources, such as schools, public transportation, food retailers and libraries, than non segregated neighborhoods and a host of unwanted land uses such as power plants, solid and hazardous waste sites, and bus yards.
  • Substandard housing conditions can increase the risk of injury through exposed heating sources, unprotected upper-story windows and low sill heights, slippery surfaces, and breakable window glass in sites with a high likelihood of contact, and poorly designed stairs with inadequate lighting.

  • Living in proximity to high-traffic density or flow results in reduced lung function and increased asthma hospitalizations, asthma symptoms, bronchitis symptoms, and medical visits.
  • Sidewalk cleanliness and width, street design for pedestrian safety and speed control, and street lighting influence levels of pedestrian walkability and neighborhood crime and safety.
  • Walking or biking to work helps meet minimum requirements for physical activity.
  • People walk on average 70 minutes longer in pedestrian-oriented communities
  • Chronic noise exposure can adversely affect sleep, school and work performance, and cardiovascular disease.
  • Both the number of neighborhood parks in proximity to one's residence and the types of amenities at the park predict the duration of physical activity in children.
  • Living in proximity to green space is associated with reduced self-reported health symptoms, better self-rated health, and higher scores on general health questionnaires.

  • Vehicle miles traveled are directly proportional to air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Exposure to air pollution contributes to the development of cardiovascular diseases, heart disease, and stroke.
  • Areas with high levels of vehicle miles traveled per capita also tend to have higher accident and injury rates.
  • Compact areas with lower levels of vehicle miles traveled per capita tend to have lower accident and injury rates.
  • Proximity to transit links is associated with reduced vehicle trips and improved access to social, medical, employment-related, and recreational activities.

Communities have been urging developers to consider these elements.  The use of Health Impact Assessments (HIA) to measure the health impacts of land use projects are gaining traction (see this recent article for more information) in the United States.  San Francisco has led the way with HIAs.  San Francisco's Department of Public Health has developed a Healthy Development Measurement Tool to provide a comprehensive evaluation of health needs in urban development plans and projects.

While most agree that planning healthier communities is something we should strive for, how would we go about ensuring it is built into local power structures? Discuss strategies and practices communities could implement to consider the health impacts of land use decisions.   

New EPA Tool for Sustainable Urban Development

At the White House Urban Affairs sustainable communities forum, Administrator Jackson unveiled a new EPA tool to help local governments identify specific zoning code and land use ordinance fixes that would improve access to affordable housing, provide additional low-cost transportation options, preserve community character, and protect the local environment. This tool is available at

The EPA tool include 11 "essential fixes "

1. Allow or require mixed-use zones
2. Use urban dimensions in urban places
3. Rein in and reform the use of planned unit developments (PUDs)
4. Fix parking requirements
5. Increase density and intensity in town and city centers
6. Modernize street standards
7. Enact standards that foster walkable places
8. Designate and support preferred growth areas and development sites
9. Manage stormwater with green infrastructure
10. Adopt smart annexation policies
11. Encourage appropriate development densities on the edge

Please select at least one of the "essential fixes" and elaborate on how they can help us reach the heart of the sustainability prism and which type of conflicts the "fix(es)" may mitigate.  Please also point out caveats of your selected "fix(es)". 

No Blogging Request for the next class. 
Created by Our Guest Blogger Justin Dahlheimer

Did planners cause the housing bubble?  The Cato Institute's resident rabble rouser, Randal O'Toole, thinks so. In his latest of many shots at the discipline of planning, - "How Urban Planners Caused the Housing Bubble," (PDF Link Here) O'Toole blames a historically bad housing market solely on planners.

At the core of O'Toole's argument is a discussion over the impacts of growth management policies (i.e. Oregon's urban growth boundaries) on the supply of housing.  O' Toole argues that growth management policies restrict the supply of housing so much so that housing prices inflate.  Citing housing prices in states without growth management policies, he contends that housing bubbles were avoided because the supply of housing was able to respond to the housing demand.

O' Toole is able to focus sole blame on growth management by finding that nearly all housing bubble states (using questionable methodology, especially in the case of Nevada) have growth management policies. "Housing prices bubbled in 16 states, virtually all of which has some sort form of growth management," claims O'Toole.

While this is not the first (and last) time someone has argued growth management leads to increased housing prices, it is a novel attempt to pin the blame of the housing bubble and foreclosure crisis on planning. Most other explanations of the housing bubble and subsequent foreclosure crisis point toward lax mortgage lending standards and an over-speculative real estate market.  

Keeping in mind that O'Toole is specifically criticizing growth management, not land use regulation in general, answer the following question: Is O'Toole's optimal scenario (no limits on growth) the best way to keep housing affordable and prevent communities from foreclosures resulting from volatile housing prices?  

In your response, you may want to consider some elements O'Toole does not discuss in his article:

  • Rental prices have remained stable, and are even falling in cities
  • The fiscal impacts of sprawl
  • Many urban areas, specifically in the Southwest (with and without growth management policies), over built their housing stock, leaving numerous developments empty
  • Whether the housing market is a perfect market absent growth management policies
  • Homeownership rates in growth management states vs non-growth management states (Go here)

No Blogging Request in Week #6

In Week #6, each group will deliver a powerpoint presentation on plan evaluation.  Good luck!

Plans verus the Planning Process


Neuman (1998) warned us that since the 1960s the plan has not occupied the center stage and that more attention has been given to the planning process.  The emphasis on process is not without merit because cities were no longer thought of as simply as artifact to be shaped by physical design but were viewed as a mechanism of interrelated systems. Thus, how to plan, not what to plan, became to occupy planners' imaginations.  Consequently, planners tend to deliberately omit the land use element and the accompanying criteria for maps and diagrams when making plans, and prefer a verbal set of policies organized according to functional systems. Such practices have advantages. For example, they offer geographic flexibility, lead to better understanding of urban cause-effect relationships, and increase planning's legitimacy as they emphasize a participatory or advocacy process. However, such practices also have many shortcomings.


Please point out one shortcoming that you deem to be the most critical and discuss why it is the most critical one.

No Blogging Request in Week #4

In Week #4, each of you will deliver a poster presentation on the state of your hypo city.  Good luck!

Land use planning has always been a discrete or lumpy process, in part because land use decisions are interdependent, costly to reverse, and often involve large, indivisible investments in public infrastructure. In this context, planning support systems (PSS) are essential for the success of land use planning. One of the popular PSSs is land monitoring systems (see textbook, page 203) that contain an inventory of existing land use and an inventory of land available for future development.

Imagine that a region will use urban growth boundaries (UGBs) as a development control instrument. Planners could implement such development control in two types of land monitoring systems:

  1. Time-driven system: this system has been used by the State of Oregon. Under this system, UGBs must contain enough developable land to accommodate urban growth for a 20-year (or 10-year) period and must be re-examined, as part of process of periodic review, every 4 to 7 years. Urban area growth projections must be based on existing densities or the density of development that occurred since the last periodic review. This means the UGBs could be expanded every 4 to 7 years.
  1. Event-driven system: Under this system, UGBs are expanded not at predetermined times, but when the number of developable acres inside the UGB reaches a predetermined level of inventory-the reorder trigger level. For example, planners could set the reorder trigger level at 30,000 acres. This means that UGBs will be expanded when the area size of developable land within the UGBs falls below 30,000 acres.

So the questions are:

  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of each approach? Do you think one of them is better than the other?
  • For event-driven systems, the determination of the reorder trigger level is a tricky task. What are the factors you would consider if you are asked to set the level?

Market adjusts future needs, why making land use plans?


Apparent order can emerge in systems without intentional directions.  Economists often argue that planned actions disrupt the behavior of a free-market system that would naturally arrive at a predictable, stable, and desirable equilibrium if just left alone. There is a famous quote from Bernard Siegan, which says "the least fallible of city planners is the free market." A recent article by Samuel Staley also suggests that Houston's non-zoning, market-driven land use approach helped housing weather the subprime mortgage storm.

You could also find heated discussion of land use regulations vs. libertarianism at the Cyburbia Forums - the oldest and most active English language urban planning message board on the Internet. See links below for more information on the debate.

 APA: not open to conservative planners?

What would be the role of urban planners in a libertarian society?

What is "conservative" urban planning?

So the questions are: If you are asked about the conflicts between urban planning and the free-market system, will you defend the planning profession? If yes, how? And if no, why? 

FYI: Response must be posted at least six hours prior to the next class (i.e., by Tuesday noon)

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