Definition of Development for Urban Planners

Since the 1950s and 1960s, development is understood as an economic concept that applies economic and technical measures to efficiently use resources to provide economic growth and improve peoples’ living conditions (Rabie, 2016). Amartya Sen hints development as “capabilities in having the freedom to choose between different ways of living”. So is the consensus on development in between multiple facets of our economy. 

Development as an economic term

Development theories that are being discussed today either support this economically progressive definition of development, or to an extent, consider other parameters to. For example, modernisation theory focusses on self-sustenance, by ‘evolving’ from traditional to modern societies. W. W. Rostow argues that during this process, societies would transform from their traditional status to economically prosperous cities with the help of monetary growth, investment in infrastructure and shift from primary to secondary and tertiary forms of economy. Neo-liberalisation admirers and capitalists believe that optimally efficient resource management and quality of life to the people can be only achieved through an economy where the government has few, if any, controls on economic factors and markets. Dependency theory signified the relation (or difference) between dependent and dominant countries. It explained that developed nations can help third world countries by supplying them with materials and other necessary goods, so as to allow them to grow economically faster. Flying Geese pattern of development also provided the poorer countries to ‘catch up industrially’ by means of interactions within a hierarchy of closely integrated economies, so as to economically upgrade themselves.

Development meaning for Urban Planners

Human development theory talks about shifting the focus of development from seeing humans as capital generating instruments, or utility maximisers, to seeing humans as entities that require welfare and ability enhancement. It says that by providing every human with better and deserved amenities like healthcare, education, food, water, sanitation, and housing, welfare can be established. 

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Developed countries are not so ‘developed’

The above theories and their efforts of being implemented have still not proved to be completely fruitful, and this can be observed from the issues within growth and development throughout the globe. ‘Developed countries’ still have issues that are detrimental to overall quality of life. India is 5th most economically developed country (based on GDP, $2.94 trillion nominal), and at the same time, is home to one of the largest slums in the world, Dharavi. Our country also has only a 0.64 HDI rating (UNDP, 2019). We see a showcase of poor quality infrastructure, including poor roads, inadequate power supply, inaccessible water and sanitation facilities, and even clogged roads and drains. Apart from being ranked low in HDI indicators, we also have issues of adverse poverty, societal and communal disparities, population explosion and unusually high densities, unemployment and lack of proper governance.

Here is exactly where planners come into the picture. And we can begin by quoting Andreas Faludi’s words, that “planning is a rational thought process and an action which aims at human growth”. We as planners know that planning is a multi-faceted paradigm, whose main focus is to contribute towards growth in all aspects, be it human, economic, or even environmental. Planners are (the only) professionals that can find solutions to economic, social and environmental issues at the same time. The theories discussed above lack some form of social or environmental concerns, and planners can fill these gaps. Development planning theories were aimed at attaining the best quality of life for people. Similarly, planners consider all alternatives and consequences, and provide bias-free, and empirical solutions that aim at an overall growth of the nation. 

Planners can ensure the above by providing inputs in terms of plans and policies. Since our understanding of development is more broad, we can ensure concepts like sustainability, equity, human development, city resilience and life quality, and also economic development through planning documents at various levels like master plans for cities, local area plans and neighbourhood plans. These planning documents, and other guidelines can address issues related to development and can act was tools for ensuring growth in all aspects. Taking the positives of the above theories and merging them with our extended view on development can help newer policies to ensure an overall progress from our current problems.

In conclusion, we can redefine development from the perspective of planners, as 

‘that form of human advancement, which ensures sustainable development, inclusive growth, and an equitable quality of life to a nation or to a group of nations, keeping in mind city safety and resilience, environmental health, and ecological sustenance.’

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Rabie, M. (2016). A theory of sustainable sociocultural and economic development. Springer.

Human Development Report, 2019, UNDP

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