By and large the virtues of the planning I was taught were orderliness and convenience, efficiency and economy. The first set contains minor virtues, and the second set contains less than noble ones. These virtues have little to do with survival or success of plants, animals, and men in evolutionary time.
A fallacy is that planners plan for people. Actually this is not an assumption at all; it is a presumption. The planner who comes from out of town and is prepared to solve problems is a menace.
I prefer to think of planners as catalysts. The planner suppresses his own ego and becomes an agent for outlining available options. He offers predictability that science gives him about the consequences of different courses of action. He helps the community make its values explicit. He identifies alternative solutions with attendant costs and benefits. These vary with different constituencies, as do their needs and values.
This sort of planning might be called ecological. It is based on an understanding of both biophysical and social systems. Ecological planners operate within the framework of a biophysical culture.
Ian McHarg et alt., Master Plan of The Woodlands (1973)
Since the late 1960s, suburban development in the United States has been criticized for causing ecological damage and environmental degradation. Various community development alternatives were put forth, including a noteworthy one that is an ecology-based land use planning approach, proposed in Ian McHarg’s Design with Nature. For more than four decades, ecological planners have been using ecology as the basis for planning and design in projects of various scales and focuses. Among these projects, The Woodlands, Texas (a 29,000-acre town development) is an excellent example of ecological planning that followed McHarg’s nature-led design approach. McHarg, himself, considered The Woodlands as “the best example of ecologically based new town planning in the United States during the 1970s”.
This 29,000-acre new town was created at the peak of the 1970s environmental movement as an alternative development model in lieu of suburban sprawl. Located 50 km north of Houston, The Woodlands currently has eight subdivision residential villages. Its population in 2009 exceeded 90,000 and the project is expected to be completed by 2015.
The Woodlands received numerous awards, with a particularly significant award from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that championed the new town’s great success in environmental planning. A number of studies have documented The Woodlands development history and evaluated McHarg’s planning approach. McHarg and Sutton (1975) first featured The Woodlands ecological planning concept, with a focus on stormwater management.