The Environment Is Now Front and Center in Planning

When I started teaching environmental planning in the late 1990s, I quickly discovered that there were no up-to-date texts on the subject. So, I proposed to write The Environmental Planning Handbook for Sustainable Communities and Regions. My goal was not to produce a book aimed solely at graduate students, but to compile a source of information that would also be useful to practicing planners.

The first edition of The Environmental Planning Handbook was released in 2003. The central theme was the negative impact of sprawling development on air and water quality, wildlife habitat, farm and forest land, and the built environment. I did mention climate change, but, ironically, my first editor at APA asked me if I thought that climate change was just a fad! “Well, no,” I replied.

Eight years later, Sylvia Lewis at APA suggested that I write a second edition, and I readily agreed. Many things had happened to call for a second edition.

Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was an enormous wake-up call about the need for disaster planning and the likelihood of disasters resulting from climate change. Superstorm Sandy in 2012 further heightened the need to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

Although federal environmental legislation was stuck in the political gridlock of Washington, cities and states were taking a variety of actions:  installing green infrastructure to manage stormwater runoff, adopting renewable portfolio standards to promote renewable energy, creating climate action plans, emphasizing multi-modal transportation, drafting hazard mitigation plans, and implementing new zoning and subdivision regulations and capital improvements programs.

Climate change is now the leading threat to the planet, and this theme — including a new chapter dedicated to climate change — weaves together the second edition. The second edition involved a major overhaul in the facts and figures, graphics, and writing, but the structure remains the same.

I begin each chapter by identifying the leading problems, the federal response, and some state actions. Then, I focus on what can be done at the city, county, or township level through the comprehensive plan, zoning, subdivision regulations, and capital improvements program.

Though the day-to-day decisions about development and environmental protection are made at the local level, most local governments have traditionally paid little attention to the environment in their comprehensive plans and ordinance implementation.

Fortunately, this is changing. Cities in particular are recognizing that environmental quality translates into a healthy economy, happier residents, and a safer, more resilient community.

The U.S. environment has improved considerably since the early 1970s. The air is cleaner, the water is cleaner, and we are consuming less water and less energy per person. However, many challenges remain.

Some places, especially in the West, are experiencing severe water shortages. More than one-third of Americans live in areas with poor air quality. We still rely on old, dirty coal-fired power plants for a significant amount of our electricity. And, of course, there are the climate change deniers.

The environment is now front and center in planning. These are exciting times for environmental planners who can combine a knowledge of science, economics, and planning to help solve our environmental challenges.

My ultimate aim was always to produce something valuable to emerging planners in school and planners out in the field, so I am honored that The Environmental Planning Handbook has been selected as one of the main resources for planners studying for both the AICP exam and the advanced AICP exam in environmental planning, and that it remains one of the best-selling planning books from APA.

About the Author

Tom Daniels is a professor in the Department of City and Regional Planning at the University of Pennsylvania. He directs the concentration in land use and environmental planning and administers the land preservation certificate program.

Top image: Cracked ground and cornfield near Fulton, Illinois. Photo by Flickr user Judd McCullum (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

August 29, 2016

By Thomas Daniels