Understanding the limitations of planning

Time to focus on what planning CANNOT do!

After having read number of topics about what “planning” can help people achieve, we thought of listing a few things which are outside the control of planners. Town Planners are indeed important and plays a vital role in development of any town, city or country but it comes with its own limitations as with any other profession.
It is often seen that “Planners” and largely the complete “Urban Planning” profession is blamed for many mishap. But what people and concerned agencies tend to forget or overlook is the limitations of the profession and professionals. Criticizing is a part of improvement and evolution but only if done with reasonable grounds. Constrictive criticism is good but useless and senseless criticism tarnish the reputation of profession and thus should be avoided.
Limitations of planners

Please Note:

No attempt is being made to blame any department and this is no blame game. The only point of concern is that Planners can and do have a positive impact in everyday, reducing struggle and providing better experience bit this cannot be done alone by planners. It can only be achieved as a joint efforts of concerned departments. Planners have a major role but largely act as catalyst for bringing the change by identifying the problems and proposing the solutions. Not all planning professionals are decision makers.
To provide a better understanding of the limitations faced by planners we have listed a few simple examples. These examples will try to highlight the various functions of planners and their limitations in doing that work effectively or as thought of.

Water supply:

You may expect planners to solve your water requirement related problems by better water network but they cannot provide you with more water. The distribution of water for a particular area is not under the domain of planners and it is more of a political and need based assessment. However efficiency of existing infrastructure can be improved if planners are appointed.


Let it be air, water, soil, noise or light pollution, these can only be minimised to a certain extent within geographical boundaries or area. Environmental education needs to be improved & its importance needs to be realized. Pollution of different type occurs because of number of factors which are not restricted to the geographical boundaries of an area. For example pollution over Seattle can be because of surrounding areas in addition to the vehicular, industrial and other sources of pollution within Seattle. Similarly pollution in any city surrounded by agricultural areas will be affected because of the nature of activities taking place in the fields. Such activities include practice of slash and burn, burning of fossil fuels in farm machinery, use of pesticides etc.
This is applicable for both urban and rural areas. Rural areas suffer from the industrial, vehicular, chemical, noise pollution coming from urban areas.

Capital flow:

The world which we know today is a capitalist economy with money behind almost any policy. All counties try their best to gain economic advantage over one another. This often results in imbalance in development and concentration of money in limited cities or areas. Planners can have a significant impact in attracting the funding for an area but these decisions are more politically influenced. So expecting only  planners to bring investment to an area will be very childish.

Better social infrastructure:

This is one of the focus area of planning profession. Providing adequate schools, hospitals, colleges, medical facilities, post offices, banquet halls, health centres etc is a must for an efficient and good city but the difference between proposals and the actual implementation is not under the control of planners. Turning proposals into reality requires availability of funds, willingness to use the fund for given proposal, getting various permissions from several departments with different priorities. Planners can be seen largely as a proposal giver, proposals which are bound to have a positive impact. The are not always the implementors and the final authority doesn’t rest with them. Educational and health facilities proposed are mere infrastructures at convenient locations but the quality of education and medical facilities being provided are concerns of a separate department.

Damage control/ Disaster Management:

Planners are engaged in making cities disaster resilient by making policies and incorporating them in statutory documents like master and regional plans. The policies and suggestions help in preventing losses if any disaster strikes but the actual implementation of those policies is outside the control of planners. The role of planners is more or less related to mitigating the impact of disaster, immediate assistance and actions required at such time remains with the disaster management agencies, facilities and relief funds provided by government.

Energy requirements (Fuel & Electricity)

Fuel and electricity forms the invisible and neglected backbone of an urban areas. Without energy cities will come to standstill. A better road network, smarter technology deployment, use of public transport are the focus and priority of planners. This will help in saving million gallons of fuels and electricity units but fulfillment of the required energy requirements is not the task of planners.


Having a reliable & adequate road network is a must for any place. Fair assessment and planning for such network require expertise which is available with urban planners and thus they play a significant role in transportation by planning for the current as well as future needs. They do focus on the use of public transport by people of income groups so as to achieve higher efficiency and time-saving for everyone along with various other benefits. The final decision of shifting to public transport remains with the end-user. Considering the choice of private vehicle over public transport is well understood by planners, safety, comfort, reliability, accessibility forms some of those reasons. Such reasons can only be partially be overcome by inputs provided by planners. For a successful and desired outcome many more concerned departments need to come together.
Bus Terminal

Related: Why political Agendas will never solve your problems but Planners CAN! 

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