Unit F3


Most villages or towns have developed slowly without much thought as to how they should be laid out or how they should grow. In one city, for instance, the main streets follow the cow paths that once crossed the pastures where the city was built. An unplanned community may find itself with many environmental problems and risks to the inhabitants, such as people living next to dangerous industries, neighbourhoods without effective means of waste disposal, poor traffic flows, inadequate provision for schools and recreation near populated areas, etc. A little advanced planning is much cheaper and easier than trying to correct mistakes after the town has already grown up.

The following are a few of the principles of environmental planning in town areas that may be helpful in avoiding or solving the problems of growing villages and towns.

Future growth

Most towns and villages are growing, either because more children are born, or because new families are moving in from rural areas. Using either government census information or more general observations, it should be possible to make some estimate of how many new people are added to the population each year. It can also help to calculate how many can be expected to be children, young adults, or older people.

Sometimes a new development is planned, like the opening of a new industry, hotel, school or other facility that will attract more people to the community. Knowing the number of jobs to be created, the size of the average worker's family, and the number of new workers to be attracted from outside the town, the additional growth from this development can also be estimated.

From the number of new people of different ages that are expected over perhaps the next 5 years, the need for new housing areas, roads, schools, water, electricity and other facilities can be projected. It takes time to plan and construct such facilities, but it is much easier to make provision for this growth early before the land is occupied and development patterns are fixed. If the need is already pressing, meeting it will cost more and often will be less satisfactory.

Town planning

The way in which a village or town is laid out can make a big difference in whether it is an agreeable or unpleasant place to live. There is no reason why communities in the islands need to lose a comfortable human scale and become large and impersonal like the big cities of developed countries.

Neighbourhoods can be organized so that primary schools and small stores are within walking distance of the homes. Such residential areas can be planned in advance with adequate basic facilities such as roads, water, electricity and waste disposal. Industry and large-scale commercial activities should be separated from housing areas, providing that convenient transport is arranged for the workers. Any particularly noisy or dangerous activities should also be kept away from residential neighbourhoods. This can be done through zoning or through health or other regulations.

Patterns of traffic flow should be carefully thought out, and adequate street widths provided for before the area is too built up. Just thinking about how many people will have to go where at what hours will help to avoid serious mistakes. Main roads in particular should be planned to accommodate long-term growth in the town.


There is no reason why human surroundings have to be ugly. It is not hard to take a little care in architectural styles, the choice of building materials, and the planting of trees and garden areas, but this can make a big difference in the appearance of a village or town. Works of art and sculpture and other cultural elements can be used to decorate buildings and public places, and can help people to identify with and feel pride in their own community. Parks that are readily accessible to the people both help to beautify a town and provide places for recreation. With the importance of tourism in island countries, urban beautification is not a luxury, but can have a significant economic impact as part of the overall tourist image of a country.

Another important aspect of beautification is to avoid ugly or damaging activities like littering streets and public places with cans, bottles and rubbish. Such litter can also be a significant health hazard. Making available adequate rubbish bins in public places, together with public education, can help to control this problem. Can or bottle control laws that put a monetary value on containers returned for reuse or disposal can also reduce the amount of litter. Bottles can often be reused locally, while aluminium cans are generally worth exporting as scrap.

Cultural factors

There are often cultural factors which should be included in planning a community. In some island cultures the orientation or arrangement of houses and other structures in a village had traditional significance. It may be possible to keep the essential features of such arrangements in a modern village or town lay-out. It is also necessary to provides spaces for important social and cultural activities or events such as traditional ceremonies and commemorations.

The goal in planning for human communities should be to create places where people can live comfortably and go about their business with a minimum of difficulty in agreeable surroundings in harmony with their cultural values and life-style.


What do you like most about the community where you live?

What do you like least in your community?

Is it easy to get from one place to another in your community?

Are there people who do not have access to clean water, electricity, or fuel for cooking?

Are there waste disposal problems resulting from poor planning?

What do you think could be done to make your community a better place to live?

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UN System-Wide Earthwatch Coordination, UNEP, Geneva
Updated 7 April 1998