Yet Another Urban Blog

Do Comprehensive Land-Use Plans Have any Real Meaning?

The Israeli planning system deserves a few posts on its problems and challenges. Today, we’ll deal with a study that attempts to evaluate the effectiveness of district master plans with regards to the actual implementation. This post is based on an academic paper written by Dr. Nurit Alfasi, Mr. Jonathan Almagor and Prof. Itzhak Benenson, and which can be found here. This paper was published in Land Use Policy Journal under the title: “The actual impact of comprehensive land-use plans: Insights from high resolution observations.” The researchers have made an attempt to estimate how much does actual construction conform to the actual plans by comparing aerial photographs to district master plans. The results of this study shed light on the ineffectiveness of the urban planning in Israel and should signal to the Minstry of Internal Affairs (that is responsible for most of the actual planning) that it is time to change the way in which the system operates.

First, we must clarify what is meant by district master plans. Israel is divided into six different administrative districts. This division was first created during the British Mandate period and was slightly changed after the establishment of the state of Israel, but is no longer relevant. For example, the Tel Aviv District includes the contiguous urban area that was already built in 1948 (Tel Aviv and its inner suburbs from Hertzliya in the north to Bat Yam in the south). The Central District includes what used to be the agricultural hinterland of Tel Aviv and is now part of the suburban sprawl from Natanya to Rishon Letziyon. Even the Southern District includes part of Tel Aviv Metropolitan area, especially the large suburb of Ashdod. So, after understanding this anachronistic districts division we need to deal with the actual district master plan. This is a comprehensive plan that describes the entire land-use specifications (built and planned) for the whole district. Each district has such a plan and this plan is supposed to set the expected development in the district and has to be updated once all of its planned development have been built. In theory, most of the construction should follow the district master plan, and the discussions in the district planning comittee should ensure that all roads, buildings and parks are built according to the approved plan.

The study dealt with the Central District for its area of reserach. This is the district with the most intense real estate activity in Israel and includes all the growing suburbs of Tel Aviv outside of the inner ring. The study focused on the district master plan also knows as DOP 3 (District Ouline Plan no. 3), which was approved back in 1982. In order to compare the actual construction to the plan aerial photographs from the years 1980, 1990, 2000 and 2006 were used – all in all 26 years of development. DOP 3 itself has undergone an update process in 2002 and became DOP 3/21. Twelve different areas inside the Central Districty were sampled, constituting about ten percent of the entire district area.

Several key findings are revealed when examining the plan compared to the actual development. During the years 1980-1990 more that 50% of the areas developed did not conform to the plan land use map. Yep, you got it – 50 perecnt of the development did not conform to the plan. During the years 1990-2000 the plan was getting even further from reality and more than 60 percent of the areas developed did not conform to the district master plan. It can be concluded that only a small part of land development actually occurs in accordance with the plan itself. It should be added that almost all of the non-conforming land developement was approved by the planning committees themselves, meaning that the planners themselves completely ignore the plan that they have approved to much fanfare. We need to remember that the district master plan is a public plan that costs a lot of time and effort. Additionally, this plan is used for countless comittee discussions wasting even more time. In light of the plan irrelavance it would actually be better to work without such a plan that only wastes resources and does not contribute to the actual planning and developement. The reserchers have also checked whether there was so much developement that the plan allotted areas for development were just insufficient. In a thorough examination it appears not to be the case. There remained enough approved land for development that was not devloped, while the actual construction took place on land that was not slated for development. In the words of the authors themselves:

It appears that despite the vast effort and time invested in preparing and authorizing district land-use maps, this is not an efficient planning tool in terms of restricting development in specific locations

Of all the anecdotes that come out from this study, the most ridiculous case is illustrated in the case of a newly established suburb in the 1980s titled Shoham. Shoham was founded entirely on and area defined as a future public park,  meant to be kept open for its unique environmental values (in sharp contrast to the area defined as farmland, which are easy to run over with urban development.) DOP 3 was approved in 1982 and just a few years down the line, the National Planning Council made the decision to build Shoham. But the problems do not relate just to the 1980s and 1990s. In 2002, a new DOP 3 was approved under the name DOP 3/21 which paractically approved almost all the deviations that occured in the preceding years. Over the four years that were checked after the new DOP was approved, non-conforming development has already started to be prevalent and reached 30 percent in a number of the sampled areas.

At the conclusion of the study, the reserachers elaborate on effective planning methods to replace the current system. These methods do not include rigid and meaningless land-use maps, but a defined set of planning principles by which to evaluate local plans before their approval and execution. Such an action can guarantee a faster and more flexible design that also gives better results. I hope that theserecommedations will not remain only on paper.

The complete paper can be found here.