Tools for Equitable Urban Intensification

About this issue

Issue number
Volume 39 – Number 4
118 pages


This special issue, which follow on from a Symposium held in Sydney in April 2013, showcased urban intensification planning tools and strategies.

Drawing on the neoliberal and equity planning literature as well as Tiesell et al.’s (2005) four categories of planning tools, this paper seeks to recast the instrumentality of planning tools by examining what opportunities exist to foster more transparent and inclusive management of the urban change process, both from theoretical and practical perspectives. Focusing specifically on urban intensification of existing larger cities, the paper introduces the tensions embodied in delivering planning outcomes equitably in a neo-liberal planning context, and the unique role that planning ‘tools’ can serve in ameliorating these challenges. The paper will serve to position the author contributions in this special issue, which follow on from a Symposium held in Sydney in April 2013, which showcased urban intensification planning tools and strategies. In this introductory article, the authors argue for a need to critically reflect on how planning ‘tools’ catalyse urban intensification and the challenges associated with striving for socially equitable planning outcomes, in a neo-liberalist reality, when relying on these tools.

Research in urban planning continues to emphasize, inter alia, the great challenges that lie ahead including: our encroachment upon ecosystems (Harman and Low Choy, 2011); coastal climate change development concerns (Sheehan, 2011); the desire to preserve cultural heritage sites (Leshinsky, 2007; Arnold, 1992); providing equal access to low-cost, low-carbon transport (Dodson and Sipe, 2008; Low, 2013); and the need for more affordable housing in cities (Gurran, 2008). Planning practice has been impacted by a changing and uncertain economic context (as Janssen-Jansen writes in this special issue), and over several decades, through the influence of neoliberalism (Rydin, 2013), raising questions on how planning might support broader policy imperatives, namely social equity. There is a unique opportunity to explore existing as well as new and innovative approaches that can reshape current planning praxis; in particular, bridging the demand for job growth and economic stimulus, infrastructure needs, and social outcomes. Planning practitioners and scholars need to contemplate innovative planning decision-making and implementation instruments to enable inclusive planning processes and outcomes that align with broader social imperatives and also serve citywide planning goals.

Planning tools, as we define them here, are the mechanisms that urban planning uses to achieve a desired end. As Fainstein (2005; 2010) argues, the desired end is to create a just city. However, the concern is that as cities become increasingly urbanized in an economically vulnerable post-global financial crisis climate, and as planning is a mechanism of neoliberalism (Rydin, 2013), addressing inequity in cities which takes the form of locational disadvantage – that is reduced access to jobs and services by virtue of where a household is located – is proving challenging. As the emergence of collaborative forms of planning have shown, equity planning also has a procedural dimension, that is more transparent and inclusive planning decision-making processes are considered to be more fair, delivering legitimate planning decisions, compared to the alternative rational comprehensive, top-down approach (Innes and Booher, 2010).

To understand the nuances of these challenges, we look to Tiesell and Allmendinger (2005, p. 58) who define planning tools as ‘the policy actions or initiatives intended to affect the decision environment (and, in turn, the behaviour) or market actors to achieve desirable societal outcomes’. These are not special tools to be employed in unique circumstances, rather, they are tools that may challenge how we practice planning on a day-to-day basis, and recast the instrumentality of planning, and its capacity and potential to shape more equitable and inclusive cities. These tools include, but are not limited to, policy tools, market tools, technological tools, and community engagement tools. As we strive to increase the functionality of planning tools to enable transparent decision-making and equitable planning outcomes, in this special issue the contributors highlight a range of international case studies, which provide an understanding of what an equitable approach could entail both in terms of the operation of planning tools, and the outcomes they can provide. This introductory paper is in three sections. Firstly, we introduce what we mean by equitable planning and reposition planning tools within this foundation point and within the context of neoliberalism. Secondly, we explore the instrumentality of planning tools and how they have the potential to address the challenges of social equity in the space of neoliberalism and the rapidly changing urban intensification of cities. Then we introduce the papers in this special issue.

Equity in Planning

City planning and planners – as tools and actors that guide urban change and management – are positioned within a difficult arena where decisions must be made to affect economic growth while still advocating for social outcomes. This requires trade-offs to be made or, as this special issue proposes, innovations in planning practice to emerge. While, urban planning’s relationship with neoliberalism is now well documented (Gleeson and Low, 2000; Sager, 2011), it was earlier work by Hall (1980, p. 267) that examined the different planning methods that combined efficiency of resource allocation – a paradigm of neoliberalism – and planning’s capacity to achieve broader policy imperatives, including social equity and ecological sustainability. The rise of neoliberalism in the domain of urban studies and planning has fostered an ideological division within planning scholarship on how urban goals may be achieved. Either through market-driven or central government-led change, planning practice has observed an increasingly complex and competitive environment from which to plan cities, leading some urban theorists to dismiss the dichotomous tension that positions market rationalism against more collective, and thus government-led, forms of decision-making (Barnett, 2005).

Despite a move by Brenner et al. (2010) to argue that a counter-neoliberal pathway could be possible, in light of the 2008–2009 global financial crisis, no plausible alternative vision for neoliberalism has been devised. For the foreseeable future, the twenty-first city will remain embedded within a neoliberal context where less government intervention – and therefore liberation from overly bureaucratic and restrictive government processes – assumes that some broad social needs, for instance, affordable housing, are met through market-based (and often voluntary) instruments of growth management (Cheshire and Sheppard, 2005). However, as time has shown, the promise of social impacts trickling down through socio-economic strata and geographical locations has proved untenable, denying large sections of society the benefits brought about through new development (Rydin, 2013, p. 17).

In responding to this failed promise, planning looks to leadership from central governments to regulate the market and planning instruments, such as land-use zoning, to steer market outcomes. As Sager (2011, p. 148) argues, planning operating within neoliberalism favours conditions that allow the private sector to build and develop and to be the instruments of implementation, while governments provide the conditions to facilitate growth:

[Neoliberalism] takes a clear stand against public intervention in the markets where actors in urban development do business … yet … Neo-liberalism mobilises urban space as an arena for market-oriented growth and elite consumption practices, and in so doing it transforms the politico-economic setting in which public plans and projects are implemented.

In the context of urban renewal – a form of urban intensification that focuses development in underutilized tracts of inner city land – Krumholz (2013, p. 124) argues that the trickle down policies formed as part of urban renewal programmes in the United States produced few benefits for ‘increasingly destitute residents’ who were displaced and often divide whole metropolitan regions geographically into wealthy suburbs and low-income suburbs – those with access to amenity and those without. Equity-oriented planning (Krumholz, 2013) means that inequity has a real spatial dimension. Problems of social disadvantage brought about through industrial capitalism led to a redistributive reform agenda that saw the rise of the New Deal in the 1930s and later, planning movements such as advocacy planning of the 1960s (Davidoff, 1965) and a reform of planning practice to include communicative styles of planning that would create a more ‘just and democratic society’ (Krumholz, 2013, p. 126). Underpinning these movements has been a deep regard for planning for and with people and an equitable distribution of costs and benefits arising from economic development, including that which occurs around urban intensification (Krumholz, 1996 [2003]). An equitable planning outcome may arise through a community benefit or betterment scheme where developers deliver public amenities, and do so in return for public subsidies or some form of regulatory relief (Fainstein and Fainstein, 2013, p. 40). Addressing social disadvantage and locational disadvantage through planning provisions and intervention became the ethical standard for planning practice.

It is argued that markets are in the best position to manage the complex city (Webster and Wai-Chuing, 2003). This de-politicization of planning has had the unintended consequence of repositioning urban management and change back into a political arena (Inch, 2012; Porter, 2011, 2013). Sandercock and Friedmann (2000) have long argued that planning is a political exercise as well as a mechanism to tame the market. Conversely, neoliberalism is considered a depoliticizing force that removes planning from the impacts of political ideology into a fully private and demand-led exercise (Brown, 2006). By de-politicizing planning – that is, removing it from contestation in support of building consensus around growth (Raco and Lin, 2012) – has promulgated support for a market-led growth agenda that is quicker and more efficient. Purcell (2009) notes, as have others (Fainstein and Fainstein, 2013, p. 40), that communicative planning theory and practice accompanied the rise of neoliberalism. While a communicative or deliberative approach to planning offers a more open and inclusive opportunity for engagement with the outcome seen as a more legitimate one (Legacy, 2012), citizens are at will to accept the outcome as legitimate and reasonable if it emerges from ‘a fair and open process’ (Campbell, 2006, p. 97). ‘Whatever compromise resulted [between the public sector, business, politicians and the affected community] would be legitimated by participation’ (Fainstein and Fainstain, 2013, p. 41).

It could be argued that the outcome itself is equitable because it emerged through a process where citizens were given the opportunity to make decisions based on choices presented to it. But, as Sager (2013, p. 133) argues, in these discussions, the underlying goal is to achieve a development outcome – sometimes at the cost of achieving social benefits for the sake of enabling growth and giving greater development certainty to developers. Here, the planner is a facilitator of growth delivered through market processes:

Planning authorities are compelled to adopt a positive view of market-led development, and simplification of the planning process and relaxation of planning control as key objectives. The planner has become more of an enabler of development and therefore runs the risk of being less preoccupied with community impact or environmental quality.

Relying on communicative processes to build consensus around growth has had its consequences.  Outside of these formal government engagement processes, communities are leading advocacy campaigns where the aim is to influence economic development and to intervene in the political process to lobby for maximize social outcomes (Inch, 2012; Raco and Lin, 2012). Professing that planning has become too reliant on consensus politics, Porter (2011, p. 478) notes:

The dominance of these consensus-based approaches is stifling our ability to collectively think through, and act within, the political in planning… In focusing on ‘getting to yes’ and the process that entails, we miss the question of what alternatives might be possible, of how the decision could be otherwise.

However, imaging what could be if planning were to occur in a post-neoliberal utopian world whereby the pursuit of growth and economic gain does not dominate and the process of planning extends well beyond a consensus building exercise around growth, misses the nuanced way in which the processes of planning have evolved in parallel with the market. An alternative view is that governance networks in planning have sought to unite both private and public sectors through improved collaborative planning and management practices (Margerum, 2011). Other research has shown that the governance of planning has developed into hybrid systems giving agency to both public and private sector bodies in planning. For instance, in the context of metropolitan planning in Sydney, where McGuirk (2005, p. 67) situates her analysis, the state retains central control and therefore agency through hybrid relationships with the market. Following on from this earlier work, McGuirk and Dowler (2009, p. 184) argue that an ‘urban neoliberalism’ exists that removes the bounded determinations of public versus private and state versus the market supporting new conceptions of urban governance.

Where the market and government planning practices collide most sharply is in government’s strategic efforts to build more compact cities through urban intensification, a process that usually requires participation from the private sector. Whether it is through land-use intensification around transport nodes (Curtis et al., 2009), development along main streets or greyfield redevelopment (Newton, 2010; Glackin and Newton, this issue), a typical outcome is a rise in land values. Those willing and able to pay are arguably in the best position to benefit from the neoliberal urban policies that often attract developer investment to allow the development to occur in the first instance (Sager, 2013, p. 153). The gentrification that results often sees low-income residents cast out of these areas as changes to the compositional nature and diversity of the community become inevitable without direct government intervention (Rydin, 2013, p. 83). Even with a hybrid governance arrangement, to confront planning’s growth agenda specific regard must be given to the institutions, ideology and motivations shaping planning decisions. In doing so we question whose interests are being served, who is winning and losing, and is the distribution of resources enabling just outcomes? (Porter, 2011, p. 479).

Although, as Rydin (2013, p. 205) reminds us, planning cannot address all issues surrounding social inequality, it does play a key role in delivering equitable outcomes. This involves recasting planning as an instrument that can deliver greater equality in cities. This remains one of the most challenging aspects of urban intensification and it is here that engagement with the planning system, particularly in the area of generating more affordable housing, has led to the evaluation and need for effective management of different planning policy and instruments (Gurran, 2008; Beer et al., 2007) as well as alternative economic development strategies (Krumholz, [1996] 2003).

City planning managers are faced with a difficult challenge: to plan a socially equitable future for citizens, and to do so in uncertain global economic markets. Governments, and in particular, local governments, are no longer capable of simply steering developments by relying on strategic and statutory planning processes in the same manner as they did in the past (Spaans et al., 2011; Minton, 2009). Rather, the recent decades have seen a retreat of government control in favour of free market competition (Harvey, 2005). The challenges associated with urban planning practice within a neoliberal context has led Tiesdell and Allmendinger (2005) to argue that consideration needs to be given to the relationship between planning instruments and markets to enable policy-makers, at the state and local levels, to know how best to work with markets to achieve desired outcomes in terms of increased economic efficiency but also socially equitable processes and ecologically and socially sustainable outcomes too. This is where the papers in this special issue make their contribution.

Operational Planning Tools

Planning tools are instruments which can assist planners and developers in their formulation of policy and, subsequently, in implementing, evaluating and monitoring its impact. Change resulting from policy implementation can occur in numerous ways. Market-driven change can take an ad hoc trajectory, while government-led change can be more structured and more aligned to public and urban policy goals. The tools highlighted in this special issue tackle both government-led and market-led influences on cities and recognize that change rarely occurs so innocently. Even if the agent of change is more unintentional and lacking strategic focus, for instance, market-led change, that is in itself at times fragmented (Pinnegar et al., 2010; Legacy et al., 2013), there is still an envelope provided through planning controls that allows this development to occur. Overall, change is manufactured through a set of concrete and intentional decisions about urban form and structures, the products of which are put into practice through planning policies and planning laws. Well thought out and beneficial planning tools should be developed in line with these decisions.

Tiesell and Allmendinger (2005) describe four planning tool types. These are: shaping tools, regulation tools, stimulation tools, and capacity building tools. Shaping tools include regulatory plans, implementation plans and other guiding documents that provide an overarching context within which planning decisions and market transactions take place. Regulatory tools are a form of negative planning which serve to control market actions by restricting choices and setting parameters around transactions. In contrast, stimulation tools include subsidies and tax breaks that seek to encourage the market to produce better outcomes. Finally, capacity building tools enable actors to build relationships and partnerships to deliver more effective strategies and outcomes (Tiesell and Allmendinger, 2005).

Shaping Tools

Shaping tools find themselves within the framework of existing cities but then help to move cities forward to accommodate broader political, economic and social influences which impact on cities. Such tools include regulatory plans, implementation plans and other guiding documents that provide an overarching context within which planning decisions and market transactions take place. It is not uncommon over a period of a decade for cities to experience a number of such plans that shape segments of the city in both a macro and more micro sense. The City of Melbourne, Australia’s second largest capital city, for instance, has experienced change over the past decade in terms of how planners conceptualize growth management through a lens of urban intensification by a number of strategic plans: Melbourne 2030 (Government of Victoria, 2002); Melbourne @ 5 Million (Government of Victoria, 2008) and the more recent proposed plan, Plan Melbourne (Government of Victoria, 2013). For Sandercock and Friedman (2000) such strategic plans are nothing more than political plans.

The plan-making process is often used by a newly elected government as a tool to legitimize their planning mandate and, when that party loses power, the new incumbent is inclined to embark on a new plan-making process to mark its ideological footprint on planning (history). This has been seen not only in Melbourne but also in Sydney and Perth, as in many other cities across the globe. The cycle of partisan planning continues and is exacerbated even further in cities where the election cycles are short (2–3 years), giving these plans little time to be implemented. However, the recent experience in Australia is not echoed everywhere. In Vancouver (as this special issue highlights) experience in the celebrated CityPlan (City of Vancouver, 1995) survived changes in government for over 15 years. In an effort to meet this challenge, cities look to these plans to steer decision-making over a period of 20 to 30 years and so overcome short sightedness by accommodating the likely scenarios including a carbon constraint future (Friedmann, 2004).

Regulatory Tools

Law and more particularly, regulation, strive to provide order, certainty and consistency (Stein, 2008; Gunningham and Grabosky, 1998). This accords with the underlying tenets of the rule of law (Lane and Young, 2007), based on the expectation that all parties who come before the courts and the law will be treated equally. Regulatory controls, such as land-use codes and planning schemes, dictate the manner in which a parcel of land can be used and developed by its owner (Stein, 2008, p. 1). Regulation can, at times, hinder a more liberal approach, by providing restrictions on what an individual household can reasonably build on their parcel of land, for instance restrict the colour of a front wooden residential fence to heritage colours, and to city planning more broadly – setting height controls along main streets. Government-imposed regulation of this kind should not be too restrictive and should allow for an equitable outcome to be attainable which is inclusive of all stakeholders.

However a highly regulatory approach towards town planning may not always provide the best or speediest solutions or outcomes in the most effective and just manner (Stein, 2008), nor is the market best placed to deliver such equitable outcomes. There is an opportunity to consider other strategies that somehow bridge the collective wisdom that regulation offers and the efficiency the market offers, but without compromising what is just and fair. There are endless opportunities for planning instruments that could be trialled. While the transferability of planning practice must proceed with a degree of caution as contexts may differ (Hillier, 2013; Healey, 2011), it is still possible to learn from and share comparative experiences and mistakes in planning law and praxis. Planning agreements, for example, could be used in a new form, even allowing for a fresh expression of zoning, which are more private and contractual in nature, rather than quasi-regulatory contracts, as many are today (Stein, 2008; Leshinsky, 2012).

Stimulation Tools

Stimulation tools seek to spark the economy and to steer consolidation towards designated growth areas. However this incentivization needs to occur in combination with stricter development controls (Woodcock et al., 2011, p. 360). Market based tools, such as density bonuses, inclusionary zoning and development contributions, may be used to deliver a social outcome (e.g. more affordable housing). Other tools such as tax incentives and subsidies may encourage development in areas not considered before by developers. Important to all of this, is that in cities, where the market plays a significant and important role in urban intensification programmes, markets should not be ‘relied upon to make judgements about fairness and equity’ (Beer et al., 2007, pp. 18–19), but rather there may need to be some regulatory involvement to ensure that the process to change the built form is kept as equitable and inclusionary as is possible.

One way in which governments may stimulate growth and coordinate urban regeneration through working with the market is through the use of land development agencies. Their remit is to attract private investment and create an environment that is conducive to growth. These agencies have the potential to ensure affordable housing is delivered on these tracts of land. However, as recent research has shown (Davison, 2011) land development agencies have acquired a more commercial existence, whereby they must return a profit, which compromises their ability to deliver on broader social and environmental imperatives. Furthermore, critical appraisal of the land development agency’s role in urban redevelopment has shown that these processes lack sufficient transparency and inclusive governance arrangements (Gordon, 1997). This raises questions about how inclusive recently renewed places are, and the extent to which they embrace diversity, particularly where developers’ and land agencies’ main focus may be on selling properties at the best possible prices or even market rate.

Capacity Building Tools

To accommodate growth and the changing demographics in cities, urban managers continue to look to urban intensification policies to meet the growing need for housing and infrastructure. Developing cities more intensely has consequences for the residents (current and future). Tensions may arise from existing residents about how development might meet their current and future needs and the needs of future residents (e.g. providing access to jobs, social services, low-cost transport, affordable housing, parks, and other infrastructure) and engaging them in the process. This in itself is a huge challenge in precincts which are undergoing re-zoning where the new community has yet to move to the ‘new’ area.

There are some planning jurisdictions, such as the situation in the State of Victoria, Australia and in Ontario, Canada, which allow for highly inclusive (though not necessarily deliberative) engagement through a form of third party involvement in the planning process (Eccles and Byrant, 2011; Leshinsky, 2012). As a planning tool, the process does not provide for unrestricted involvement from the public, but rather, it is limited to those who will suffer a ‘material detriment’ from the proposal. In other words, a strong nexus is required, at the forefront, by an affected – and already present – party that the proposed use or development of land will materially affect them. Such detriment, as we know from Australian legal precedent, cannot be based on an economic advantage (Kentucky Fried Chicken Pty Ltd v Gantidis (1979)). This process is also reflected in the procedures municipalities must take to inform citizens about a planning proposal. Only those parties deemed to have a material interest will be notified. Only if you suffer a material interest can you lodge an ‘objection’ to a proposal, thereby excluding the rest of the world from a say in the merits of that planning proposal.

The lessons drawn from third party appeals are that a more inclusive and equitable method of engagement might be more appealing and be more possible through engagement tools such as large one-day stakeholder engagement events, where the focus is on face-to-face engagement facilitated around multiple small tables connected through computer technology. This innovation has allowed large numbers of stakeholders to participate in discussions about the future of cities (for example, this technique was used to bring 4,500 stakeholders together to discuss the redevelopment of the New York World Trade Centre in 2002) (Woods, 2012). Both the larger stakeholder and community exercises and smaller citizen’s juries are an adaptation of traditional forms of decision-making: the former of the local government public meeting, the latter derived from the jury used in legal proceedings. Their ascendance has been followed by a growth in the use of geographical information systems (GIS) as a tool to convey complex planning challenges and solutions both visually and spatially (see Glackin and Newton; Curtis et al., this issue).

Even more recently, the concept of a ‘smart city’ has seen how planning tools can empower the public to engage in a more robust fashion with planning matters that affect them on a day-to-day basis (Evans-Cowley, 2012; Wasik, 2013). Emerging in light of the prominence of information technology, smart cities are [a] fusion of ideas about how information and communications technologies might improve the functioning of cities, enhancing their efficiency, improving their competiveness, and providing new ways in which problems of poverty, social deprivation, and poor environment might be addressed. (Harrison et al., 2010)

The pervasive reach of electronic data and media (Walters, 2011) has enabled the development of planning tools using mobile applications and social media such as Twitter and Facebook to inform citizens about planning projects. These tools can also be used to encourage citizen/developer debates on planning proposals. But, alas, the complex challenge of engaging future citizens remains a perennial concern across planning practice.

There is no hard and fast rule as to what planning tools should be or how they should operate. Rather, there is the on-going opportunity for such tools to work together not merely to shape, regulate, stimulate or build capacity, but also to address the challenges of urban intensification for cities, albeit, within a just, equitable and political context. One motivation for this special issue is to open the discussion globally to share knowledge on the use of innovative tools and to showcase how some of these tools have been implemented in other planning jurisdictions. It is anticipated that through such shared learning, planners and other change management actors can draw on the experiences highlighted in this issue to contemplate further how innovative planning tools can be used equitably to accommodate urban intensification.

Tools for Equitable Urban Intensification

In drawing together the papers for this special issue, it has been our objective to share experiences of urban planning tools (new and established) and the strategies, procedures, policy considerations and constraints these tools encounter. Throughout the special issue ‘equitable’ planning takes on a dual meaning. It means a decision-making process that is transparent and inclusive, and planning outcomes that help to close widening gaps in cities between those who have access to affordable housing, to transport, to social services, to parks, etc and those who do not (Fincher and Iveson, 2008). In engaging with the terms ‘equity planning’ and ‘just planning’ (Campbell, 2006), the theme for this special issue ‘Tools for equitable urban intensification’ addresses a key planning paradox: planning as a practice that allows individuals to express a desire and indeed the market to meet those desires, and planning as a practice that meets the needs of the collective. The special issue puts a deliberate focus on equity at the local level where urban intensification is focused. This is not to dismiss the importance of justice and equity beyond these smaller borders (Campbell, 2006), rather it brings to the fore the nuanced ways in which planning tools have sought to deliver broader equitable outcomes for the end-users and key stakeholders affected.

In the first paper in the special issue, Leonie Janssen-Jansen uses the case of the Netherlands to explore how contemporary changes in the macro- and micro-economic context affect the application of existing planning tools to facilitate urban intensification. She discusses what policy responses and policy innovations have been inspired by the new conditions and to what extent these responses have been implemented in urban-development arenas (i.e. by governments, citizens, politicians and market players). To intensify cities often requires huge expenditure at the start to stimulate investment, but when market demand diminishes, it becomes increasingly difficult to secure investments into areas such as affordable housing. Janssen-Jansen offers practical advice from the Netherlands experiences to other jurisdictions facing similar circumstances where there is a need to reconceptualize the delivery of urban intensification programmes. Such a planning paradigm shift is taking place in many European countries which is why her paper offers important and insightful lessons for the long-term futures of these regions as well as to other international planning systems.

Ann McAfee, as a practitioner who worked with the City of Vancouver during its vast transformation in the 1990s into one of the world’s most liveable city, illustrates the use of choice making through public engagement as a planning tool that delivered Vancouver’s CityPlan (1995). She describes how stakeholder inclusiveness provided a more equitable city planning process. As a capacity building tool, the CityPlan process illustrates how a public engagement is able deliver a plan that can then play a valuable role in shaping and guiding change which is supported by regulation: the policy plans and first neighbourhood centres which were enshrined in zoning and funding contributed to city change. CityPlan also illustrates how support can be compromised if limited staff resources lead to delayed implementation; the phased planning process took too long resulting in loss of confidence by politicians and consequent loss of community support. The paper also provides a comprehensive list of engagement tools which are transferrable elsewhere.

Carey Curtis, Jan Scheurer and Matthew Burke, in their paper, share their findings on the application of two new accessibility public transit tools: SNAMUTS, which was applied in Perth, Australia, to evaluate metropolitan growth and public transport infrastructure provision, and MULUTT, which was used in Brisbane to evaluate the location of a major sports stadium. Their paper describes how these new accessibility tools have been used in the two cities to build knowledge that may be used to assist in decision-making, where the objective is to achieve more sustainable urban travel. The application of each tool has intersected with transport and land-use decision-making, and through their study, the authors sought to reveal insights that would influence decision-makers and build capacity to consider alternative transport futures. The two case studies highlight the benefits of these tools in a deliberation process where stakeholders were provided with the opportunity to consider how to guide and manage urban development framed around improved and equitable access to public transport. While these accessibility tools, like traditional transport models, sit within a positivist framework, findings from the authors’ research contributes to the field of positivist analysis in new directions and this is partly because the tools were allowed to interact with practitioners and the wider community through community engagement strategies, which in themselves, are planning tools. Hence, the lessons for us are not only on the operational side but also on the strategies and techniques which allow the tools to contribute to more effective outcomes. Accordingly, the possibility to weigh up outputs from a range of different tools provides a contribution to decision-making. Further, the new tools and their processes, provide the opportunity for practitioners to guide policy innovation, rather than being constrained by decades of past practice.
In their innovative paper, Peter Newton and Stephen Glackin explore the role of stakeholder engagement in metropolitan planning in liberal democracies, such as Australia, through the use of the new ENVISION toolset. In their research, they illustrate how geo-spatial technologies can be exploited to bring broad-spectrum data together in a way that enables key stakeholders in city development (planners and designers, property developers, community residents and representatives of both local and state government) to use their knowledge to better inform discussions on neighbourhood change and redevelopment in the established suburbs of major cities. Here, a planning tool and techniques for engaging with the tool are discussed. The rationale behind this approach is that, with wider stakeholder engagement, there is greater potential to achieve a consensus plan for redevelopment which may overcome the community resistance often associated with traditional ‘top down’ urban planning. ENVISION is indicative of a twenty-first century planning tool that demonstrates how technology, data sharing agreements and participatory design and development discussions at a neighbourhood scale can be used to deliver more effective stakeholder engagement than is currently available. The paper does not shy away from asking hard questions about how existing policies, legislation and financial models, as well as different redevelopment priorities among different stakeholders (profit, conservation, sustainability etc), affect the development of planning tools and strategies for engagement and whether reliance on these can in fact lead to more effective and equitable planning.

In the final paper, Rick Pruetz, a highly experienced practitioner in the field of Transfer Development Credits (TDC), provides us with a practical and critical analysis of this stimulation planning tool. TDC have been in operation for many years in the United States and Pruetz’s critically reflects on their use. As a market based planning implementation tool, TDC allows for additional development in areas where growth is desired through the transfer of development potential from important sending areas. Effectively used, TDC can achieve urban intensification goals including the protection of water supplies, food sources and other systems that support urban growth, the preservation of landmarks, parks, affordable housing and urban amenities that create vibrant cities, and the conservation of open space and greenbelts that curb sprawl and encourage compact communities. Instead of the winners and losers often produced by traditional regulations, TDC offers a more equitable outcome in which developers are allowed additional development when they contribute a portion of the extra profit toward community benefits such as land preservation, affordable housing and other urban amenities. Despite its conceptual appeal, Pruetz correctly points out that TDC programmes need to be understood in their local context of how they can assist in particular situations and so, this must take account of how they can operate within other planning jurisdictions, where property right laws and traditions differ from those in the USA.


As we progress further into the twenty-first century, with changing financial, environmental and social conditions such as that experienced by the 2008–2009 global financial crises; extreme weather events such as the vast floods in Queensland in 2011 and Katrina in New Orleans in 2005 and changing social demographics – the built environment is becoming increasingly more complex and the challenges for planners and governments more taxing (Innes and Booher, 2010). Cities today are more connected and borderless than ever before (Steele et al., 2013). The global financial crisis of recent years has demonstrated the extent to which cities are no longer masters of their own domain, but part of a broad, seamless and knitted global community of commerce and trade. On a more local scale, city planners are responding to an ever increasing number of people choosing to move to cities, either by choice or circumstance, to gain greater access to employment, social services (hospitals, schools) and infrastructure. City managers have the challenging task of planning while continually adapting and responding to current and forecasted global, as well as local, evolutions. To accommodate growing populations and changing demographics to enhance a city’s productivity and global competitiveness, city managers have embraced compact city orthodoxy and urban consolidation policies (Forster, 2006). Furthermore, cities in Canada, Australia, the United States and Europe have turned to urban intensification strategies to deliver a more compact city and this is presenting new challenges as well as further opportunities for urban planning.

The model put forward by Tiesell and Allmendinger in relation to the purpose and function of planning tools is an important directional approach. It is hoped that the papers in this special issue help to enliven their ideas about planning tools, and show how they can be implemented. The papers serve a further function of sparking fresh discussion on how planning tools can be used to strive for more equitable planning and contribute to just and inclusive cities, where coping with the impacts and consequences of urban intensification is a modern reality. While this special issue does not address ethics or values associated with planning directly, it should not be forgotten, as Campbell (2006) warns, the outcomes produced are subject to value systems both at the individual level and also in the collective sense (e.g. we value job growth, which may perpetuate a growth agenda over more intangible values). In part, the analysis in this special issue embraces a much more modest goal. Through an ‘equity planning lens’ (Krumholz, [1996] 2003, 2013), the discussion further problematizes the growth agenda, as others have done recently (Rydin, 2013), and further contemplates how planning instruments, used by planners and developers to manage and even promote growth, can do so while delivering social outcomes that go some way to planning more equitably. We hope that through knowledge sharing from the planning tools and strategies discussed in the special issue, there will be further opportunities for reciprocal learning, particularly where planning systems have specific legal constraints on the use of certain planning tools.


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