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Major Issues in Designing Programmes to Improve Environmental Quality in Cities

The recent emergence of urban environmental planning is not limited to making a choice between a sectoral or an integrated approach in dealing with various forms of environmental problems and their impacts. Efforts are underway in many countries to resolve environmental conflicts in urban areas, each in their own way and influenced by the planning history of each country. However, a number of themes and issues which cut across national differences can be idetified. These issues are addressed in terms of distinctions, some of which are original and others are new applications of earlier concepts.
Negative versus positive spillovers
Negative spillovers (or neighborhood effects, or externalities) are undesirable impacts generated by the behavior of one party on other parties, for which the impacted parties are not compensated, as in the case of air or water pollution. This concept is widely used by environmental quality programs and, being a non-market effect, is the basis of public sector regulation. Positive spillovers, on the other hand, refer to desirable effects generated by one party and enjoyed by other parties, such as the amenity provided by parks and enjoyed by surrounding residents. Positive externalities have not been widely recognized by environmental quality programs, yet they importantly contribute to quality of life, and can in some cases be designed as an element of a mitigation program to offset some negative effects. Since they are non-market goods, positive neighborhood effects will seldom be provided by the private sector unless they are required by the public sector as part of a comprehensive mitigation program or are publicly subsidized.

Top-down versus bottom-up organizational responsibility
This distinction focuses on whether subordinate or superordinate levels of government have the major responsibility for designing environmental quality improvement policies and programs, to set standards, and to control implementation. In most cases presented at the Seattle symposium, national governments directed local governments to carry out programs and to employ methods set at the higher level to assure that all members of society enjoy a healthy and desirable environment. However, a number of the papers that follow identify difficulties which local governments have in taking locally appropriate action because of the lack of flexibility allowed by the central government. This has resulted in reducing creativity at the local level, inefficient use of resources including overly costly mitigation programs, and threats to the competitiveness of local firms with consequences for economic development. An important area of inquiry is to seek an effective balance between the authority of the local and central levels of government.

Source versus effect oriented strategies
Source oriented strategies seek to reduce pollution and other hazards by regulating the performance of those activities, such as manufacturing, which are generating environmental impacts, This is the conventional approach used in environmental management programs, and is the simplest means to place responsibility on the polluter, that is to cause firms to internalize their externalities. Effect oriented strategies seek either to shield environmentally sensitive activities from impacts, such as insulating housing from highway or airport noise, or to spatially separate sensitive activities from sources of pollution. Land use planning in the past has primarily focused on effect oriented strategies, often using distance to mitigate externalities which can not be limited to the site at which they are generated,

Sophistication versus practical applicability
This is not a new distinction, but an important consideration and sometimes poses a dilemma in designing an effective strategy for improving environmental quality in urban areas. While it is important that both the analysis and program design be well informed, that is that it be both reliable and valid, evidence from some of the contributions in this book point out that methodological sophistication sometimes results in very expensive data collection and analysis, and in analytical frameworks that only experts understand and appreciate, making these schemes difficult to apply. Effective environmental improvement programs require a balance between information richness and simplicity, and we currently know little about what this balance should be.

Market based versus regulatory approaches
These two categories of methods for implementing programs to improve environmental quality are widely known, However regulation is the most commonly employed method. Market based methods seek economic incentives for desired behavior, such as reducing pollution emissions. These inducements are an effort to 'pull' parties into compliance, and may include a range of tactics from public recognition and improved good will among consumers and others, to tax reduction and other financial incentives, in a manner similar to the use of bonus zoning. In contrast, regulations stipulate required performance, usually enforced through fines or other punitive action. This enforcement involves 'pushing' the parties to comply with, for example, emission standards.

Technical versus perceptual methods
Technical methods rely on scientific knowledge, and include measuring the levels of environmental impact on a neighborhood as well as translating these impacts into their effects on the health and well being of the residents. Perceptual methods involve how people regard these impacts and how much they are distressed by them. While the former implies objective reasoning, the latter recognizes the social and psychological importance of what is often regarded as subjective valuation. Perceptual concerns are especially important in instances in which impacts are a source of annoyance and lowered quality of life, while technical methods may be most appropriate where impacts are health threatening and may be inconspicuous to the casual observer. While more work needs to be done on this issue, impacts that cause annoyance may be negotiable in environmental programs, while regulation of health or life threatening effects should be non-negotiable.

Strategic versus operational approaches
A widely recognized problem in planning both in the public and private sectors is how to link abstract goals and policy with practical measures to implement these ends. Strategic planning is a recent development which employs a process for designing goals and mission statements, and integrating this activity with tactical planning which includes operational management activities. The value of applying this integrative approach for dealing with 'big picture' issues and related specific actions and programs to improve and protect urban environmental quality appears to be promising, although it has not yet been tested by research or widely by practice. Some contributions discuss beginning efforts to employ approaches combining strategic planning and operational management, and suggest the value of additional experimentation with this model.

Participation versus prescription
Agenda 21, the Green Paper on the Urban Environment, and most other recent international declarations on environmental issues recognize the need and value of participation in defining problems and finding solutions to them. Participation is facilitated by decentralizing decision making to the local level to the extent possible, and includes all impacted parties: all residents, managers of intrusive activities, politicians, and those responsible for managing the implementation of programs. The purposes served by participation include the principle of democracy, that people with immediate experience with the causes and effects of pollution have information that is invaluable to designing an effective program, and that participation not only builds knowledge and competence on the part of those participating but develops a political constituency for the program. These are the reasons that participation and a bottom-up approach are major principles in strategic planning, discussed earlier. Prescription, on the other hand, is used to convey that standards and procedures are technically determined and specified as required features of programs. Not uncommonly, prescription appears to be less a function of better information based on scientific analysis than a function of conserving and enhancing the power of those doing the prescribing.

Integration versus separation of urban activities
Spatial or physical planning has emphasized a strategy of minimizing the effects of environmental spillovers from one land use on other land uses by separating these activities within urban areas, thus using distance as a means of reducing these effects. More recently, and especially with increasing interest in the compact city concept, planners have sought ways of spatially integrating various urban functions, or at least bringing them much nearer to each other. The major purpose of this strategy is to reduce the number and length of trips, not only from home to work but for shopping and other activities, and to encourage use of public transit and walking instead of the private automobile. Questions are now being raised whether urban form has much effect on reducing automobile trips, and whether other programs are not more cost-effective in accomplishing this objective. As integration of urban land uses is considered by various localities, urban environmental planning will need to assess the evidence on whether and how much this approach will result in reduced vehicle emissions.

Abstracted from Proceedings, Second International Symposium on Urban Planning and Environment - Strategies and Methods for Improving Environmental Quality in Compact Cities. 11-14 March, 1997, Groningen, The Netherlands.
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