“Urban planning seeks to direct and control the course of urban affairs and events in the interests of the society as a whole. The nature of the planning contribution is to identify needs and issues, to anticipate challenges, to identify goals and objectives, to formulate policies and to prepare strategies for the future which resolve problems, not separately, but with the means available and within their total urban and regional contexts.”
--John N. Jackson, “The Urban Future: A Choice Between Alternatives”.
The complexity of the conditions in the urban setting make the urban planning very complicated. Every community is composed of different individuals and groups with varying needs. Each town and city has their own distinctive attributes, emerging through time as a result of a complex interplay of many factors. The complexity is exacerbated by the fact that these diverse needs further evolve and vary from place to place. There are a number of factors cited by Hall (1989) which trigger these changes. Among others, are (a) changes in economic trends such as privatization, deregulation and globalization of economies; (b) advent of new information and communications technologies; and, (c) conceptualization of new ideas in managing the society and environment.
These factors can significantly affect people's patterns of living. The way humanity uses spaces and structures changes with needs pressures and demands. It changes in response to new circumstances such as the invention of the lift, the institutionalization of public transportation, the increasing need for recreational space as cities grow, and the changes in demographic characteristics and socio-economic attributes as a result of in-migration and out-migration (Jackson, 1972). The industrial revolution in Europe, for instance, essentially changed the way businesses were conducted and the travel and settlement patterns of the European society. Now, in almost every corner of the globe, the recent economic trends of globalization of cities and trade liberalization are changing people's lives anew. Consequently, needs are changing as well.
Amidst these changing needs of the populace, the context and approaches to planning are changing too. More and more fields of expertise are becoming involved in the planning arena. According to Healey (1988), what used to be the realm for architects, engineers and urban design planners now has likewise become the realm for economists, sociologists, community development experts, environmentalists and even theoreticians. Healey (1988) accepted that all the fields now involved have legitimate roles to play in the planning process.
But the difficulty lies on achieving a high degree of interaction and understanding not only between planners and clients (the community) but also between and among the planners themselves. As emphasized by Udy (1994), Planners need to "know how to get behind the facelessness of other planners and find the human beings who are there...the key to the success of the planning process is a high and constant degree of interaction".
Another development in urban planning amidst the changing urban setting is the increasing popularity of people's participation as an accepted approach and an essential part of the whole planning exercise. Many planners had realized that the people can not be separated and is an integral part of the built environment. Participatory methods were then included specially in the critical areas of planning.