Landscape planning

Landscape planning is a branch of landscape architecture. According to Erv Zube (1931–2002) landscape planning is defined as an activity concerned with developing landscaping amongst competing land uses while protecting natural processes and significant cultural and natural resources. Park systems and greenways of the type designed by Frederick Law Olmsted are key examples of landscape planning. Landscape designers tend to work for clients who wish to commission construction work. Landscape planners analyze broad issues as well as project characteristics which constrain design projects.

Landscape planners may work on projects which are of broad geographical scope, concern many land uses or many clients or are implemented over a long period of time. As an example, the damage caused by unplanned mineral extraction was one of the early reasons for a public demand for landscape planning.

In Asia

In India, the history of landscape planning can be traced to the Vedas and to the Vaastu Shastras. These ancient texts set forth principles for planning settlements, temples and other structures in relation to the natural landscape. Relationships with mountains (the home of the gods) and with rivers (regarded as goddesses) were of particular importance. A square form represented the earth and a circular form represented heaven. A mandala explained the relationship between heaven and earth. Square plans, for both secular and religious structures, were set out with their sides facing north, south, east and west. The earliest surviving stone temple set out in this way is Sanchi.

In China, landscape planning originated with Feng Shui, which is translated into English as 'wind and water' and is used to describe a set of general principles for the planning of development in relation to the natural landscape. The aim was to find the most auspicious environment possible, one sited in harmony with natural phenomena and the physical and psychological needs of man.[1]

In Europe

In Europe, the history of landscape planning can be traced to the work of Vitruvius.[2] In discussing the planning of towns, he wrote about site planning with regard to microclimate, about the planning of streets and about the role of metaphor in design. Vitruvius' theories were revived during the renaissance and came to influence the planning of towns throughout Europe and the Americas. Alberti wrote on the need for town squares for markets and specific implementations to make most use of the space.[3] In North Europe this developed into the idea that residential squares should planned around green spaces. The first space of this type was the Place des Vosges. Residential squares were also made in Britain and their planning developed into the idea of incorporating public open space (public parks within towns). Frederick Law Olmsted gave momentum to this idea with his proposal for a park systems in Boston - the famous Emerald Necklace. Patrick Abercrombie took up this idea and incorporated it in his great 1943-4 Open Space Plan for the County of London.

In the US

In the United States, landscape architects provide landscape planning services focused on the natural environment along with urban planners. But, unlike Canada and Europe, the US does not have a national land use planning system. Frederick Law Olmsted and Ian McHarg are two influential American landscape architects that also worked as planners. McHarg's work on overlay landscape planning contributed to the development of GIS and to the foundation of ESRI by Jack Dangermond.


The principles of landscape planning are now incorporated in various types of legislation and policy documents. In America, the National Environmental Policy Act was influenced by the work of Ian McHarg on Environmental impact assessment. In Germany, the Federal Nature Conservation Act requires the preparation of landscape plans. For the Europe Union as a whole, the European Landscape Convention has wide-ranging implications for the design and planning of relationships between development and the landscape. In Asia, major development projects are taking place and illustrating the need for good landscape planning. The Three Gorges Dam, for example, will have extensive impacts on the landscape. They have been planned to a degree but future monitoring of the project is likely to show that better landscape planning and design would have been possible.


Landscape planners are concerned with the 'health' of the landscape, just as doctors are concerned with bodily health. This analogy can be taken further. Medical doctors advise both on the health of individuals and on matters of public health. When individuals take actions injurious to their own health this is regarded as a private matter. But if they take actions injurious to public health, these actions are properly regulated by law. The collective landscape is a public good which should be protected and enhanced by legislation and public administration. If, for example, mineral extraction has a damaging impact on the landscape, this is a proper field for intervention. Negative impacts on the landscape could include visual impacts, ecological impacts, hydrological impacts and recreational impacts. As well as protecting existing public goods, societies are responsible for the creation of new public goods. This can be done by positive landscape planning. There are, for example, many former mineral workings (e.g. the Norfolk Broads) which have become important public goods. Medical doctors are trained in anatomy, physiology, biochemistry etc. before becoming practitioners. Landscape doctors are trained in geomorphology, hydrology, ecology etc. before becoming practitioners in design and planning. When qualified, they can specialize in areas of landscape planning:

  • Landscape of roads - The landscape treatment of roads is concerned with the planning and design of roads and highways with regard to their environmental impact on the surrounding landscape. Sylvia Crowe wrote a pioneering book on the design of roads with regard to their impact on the landscape and Ian McHarg proposed an overlay system for highway route selection in his book on Design with nature. In addition, the role of landscape, natural and ecological features and values especially natural and man-made infrastructure networks is hence quite important when planning strategic and macro policies, given that urban and inter-urban access networks are amongst the most important infrastructures in regional national and international levels. From the landscape point of view, general highway landscape frameworks must be formulated with respect to environmental needs ecological conditions and visual attractions, and particularly road edges. This can underlie quality-oriented planning and landscape design in many highways in regional and national levels.[4]
  • Landscape of forestry - The landscape treatment of forests is concerned with the non-timber objectives which can be obtained by conserving and developing forests: scenic quality, water quality, recreation, wildlife conservation and other environmental goods. This work is done by foresters who also hold qualifications in landscape architecture and also by landscape architects and landscape planners with a specialization in forestry. The United States Forest Service, the UK Forestry Commission and other forest agencies are also employers of landscape architects. They have mitigated criticism of plantation forestry, monoculture, and clear-cutting.
  • Landscape of energy - The generation of energy has become a major land use with consequent environmental impacts upon the landscape. Landscape planning for energy is concerned with designs and plans to mitigate the impact of power generation upon the landscape. This includes landscape planning for:
  • Landscape of urbanization - Most of the world's cities are expanding into agricultural land. Landscape planning for urbanization is concerned with the conservation and development of landscape resources as urbanization takes place. Ian McHarg's approach to this problem was to prepare a series of overlay maps showing the different types of quality in the land around settlements: agricultural value, property value, hydrological value, scenic value, recreational value, ecological value etc. The maps of value were then overlaid to produce a composite map which looked like an X-Ray photograph - with the dark areas having the most value and the white areas the least value. His belief was that the 'white land' should be urbanized in preference to the 'black land'. The overlay mapping system which McHarg proposed is now carried out using a Geographic Information System. Other landscape planners have proposed greenways and green belts as a means of urban growth management.
  • Landscape Urbanism is a theory of urbanism arguing that landscape, rather than architecture, is more capable of organizing the city and enhancing the urban experience.
  • Landscape of recreation - Recreation has become a large-scale landuse. In the coastal regions of many countries (e.g. Spain and Denmark) it is the dominant land use and has had an enormous impact on the natural landscape. The landscape of recreation is concerned with mitigating the environmental impact of recreation on the landscape. Landscape architects and landscape planners work on the landscape of recreation to:
  • Landscape of mineral extraction - Mineral extraction has a long history of damaging the landscape. Harm has been caused to scenic quality, water quality, habitat quality and other environmental goods. The landscape treatment of mineral workings is concerned with:
  • Landscape of agriculture - The primary purpose of agriculture is food production but concern for other objectives (e.g. wildlife, conservation, biodiversity, recreation and scenery) have a long history and are of increasing importance in wealthy and urbanized countries. The European Union Set-Aside Policy was designed as a means of giving money to farmers to produce non-food environmental goods from farmland. Landscape planners are involved with the preparation of agricultural landscape plans for the achievement of non-food objectives from agricultural land.
  • Landscape of rivers - The construction of new buildings and new roads accelerates the discharge of surface water runoff and raises flood peaks in the lower reachers of river catchments. River banks therefore have to be raised and flood channels have to be constructed. The adoption of sustainable urban drainage systems facilitates the reclamation of rivers. When water is detained, infiltrated and transpired near to the where it falls, flood peaks are lowered and rivers can be reclaimed. The high concrete walls in which they were confined can be replaced by vegetated embankments. Water quality is improved and wildlife returns to the river. Projects to achieve these objectives are described as River Reclamation or River Restoration.
  • Landscape of archaeology - The landscape of archaeology is concerned with the landscape treatment of archaeological sites. This involves analysis, discussion, the formulation of policies and the preparation of landscape designs relating a number of issues. In Britain the former Ministry of Public Works and Buildings (MPBW) (now English Heritage, Cadw, Historic Scotland and Northern Ireland Environment and Heritage Service) had a policy of treating archaeological sites like highly manicured gardens. The grass was maintained almost to the quality of a bowling green. The standard of care was admirable but there was little or no regard to the former landscape character of the archaeological site. The development of the discipline of landscape archaeology has awakened interest in this question because the wider landscape is seen, correctly, as having archaeological value. Most historic societies earned their livelihood from working the land. Their buildings were an important accessory to the use of the land. In countries where the looting of archaeological sites is a problem, there is a tendency for them to be surrounded with chain links or other security fencing. This detracts from the relationship between the site and its landscape setting. In other countries, archaeological sites have become important visitor attractions and sources of revenue. This has led to the building of tourist facilities (visitor centres, hotels etc.) which can easily have a detrimental impact on the archaeological site and its landscape setting.

In each case, the aim is to take a specialist land use and make recommendations for what can be done to enhance its implact on the stock of environmental goods.


The conventional planning process is a linear progression of activities. The common steps are:

  • Identification of problems and opportunities.
  • Establishment of goals.
  • Inventory and analysis of the biophysical environment.
  • Human community inventory and analysis.
  • Development of concepts and the selection of options.
  • Adoption of a plan.
  • Community involvement and education.
  • Detailed design.
  • Plan implementation.
  • Plan administration.

Landscape planning not always means an ecological planning method, for that it must be considered that "planning is a process that uses the scientific and technical information for considering and reaching consensus on a range of choices. Ecology is the study of the relationship of all living things, including people, to their biological and physical environments. Ecological planning then may be defined as the use of biophysical and sociocultural information to suggest opportunities and constraints for decision making about the use of landscape". (Steiner, 1991)

See also


  • Landscape planning education in America: retrospect and prospect
  • Ecological design and planning George F. Thompson and Frederick R. Steiner, (Wiley, 1997)
  • Landscape planning : an introduction to theory and practice Hackett, Brian (Oriel, 1971)
  • Landscape planning and environmental impact design Tom Turner (2nd ed UCL Press, 1998)
  • Design with nature Ian L. McHarg ( Wiley, 1992)
  • The living landscape: an ecological approach to landscape planning Steiner, Frederick R. (McGraw-Hill College, 1991)


  1. Steinhardt, Nancy Shatzman; Fu, Xinian (2002-01-01). Chinese Architecture. Yale University Press. ISBN 0300095597.
  2. "Vitruvius Ten Books on Architecture, with regard to landscape and garden design". Retrieved 2015-12-28.
  3. Madanipour, Ali (2003-09-02). Public and Private Spaces of the City. Routledge. ISBN 1134519850.
  4. Taghvaei, S-Hassan "Importance of Highway and Expressway Landscape Design." Journal of The Urban Development and Organization: Haft Shahr, 4, No. 55-56. Autumn, 2016. 10–30. [ Accessed 10 February 2018]
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