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Chapter 1 - Introduction

Richard E. Saunier and Richard A. Meganck

The new regional planning

Two major challenges have faced the human species since it became established on planet Earth. The first of these challenges is to survive and improve our life quality without destroying the support capacity of the ecosystems we are a part of. And the second is to appropriate the services these systems provide without conflicting with others who wish to use these and other services from the same systems for different purposes. Though these challenges are little different from the ones confronting all species, mankind can respond with forethought, analysis, and conscious adjustment of behavior to a larger degree than most others.

Despite such advantages, human history abounds with examples of our failure to fully meet these challenges. Civilizations have vanished from the face of the earth leaving little except the remnants of opulence gained from the mismanagement of resources and the stories of wars fought over lands and waters that, in the end, apparently could provide neither the material nor the spiritual sustenance required by all the opposing groups.

We are, however, still here. Though civilizations have vanished, the human species survives and a greater number, perhaps even a greater percentage, of its members now have a better life than ever before. A continuing process of invention, adaptation, and discovery has allowed us to endure, expand, adapt, and conquer. Despite the many conflicts now under way, ethical constructs have evolved that save more of us from ourselves than before. Technologies have been invented that notably increase the carrying capacity of many of the ecosystems we use. And, however imperfectly, methods have been designed to manage more of these systems so that they provide more of what we require. One of these methods, which shows up in a variety of ways, is planning. And, although it pains some to hear this, perhaps the most successful of these is economic development planning.

The "success" of economic development confronts those who are interested in the conservation of biodiversity with a choice. Economic development can be rejected, perhaps, but if this is done, meaningful dialogue with those thought to be the opposition will be cut off and the full set of hoped-for conservation objectives will remain unrealized. Or we can attempt to understand and deal with the pervasiveness of economic development and its planning. After all, the words "economic development planning" are not necessarily bad. Development defined as a "process that attempts to improve life quality" is a positive thing. Economics, at its base, is a word that represents the concept of managing our home. And planning, though never making things perfect, is an honest attempt to make them better.

The new regional planning

There are, of course, many kinds of economic development and one of these takes place at the regional level. The world in which we find ourselves is complex, and we spend a great deal of time looking for ways to make it less so. We divide it politically, for example, in an effort to make it more governable. In the minds of many, sustainable development divides it temporally to somehow account for the future. Scientists partition its study into more specific disciplines in order to keep track of burgeoning amounts of information. Planners and users of its resources divide its manipulation into development sectors. Regional planning is a variation on this theme in which the cut is made spatially instead of sectorally (OAS, 1984).

Beyond saying that the "new regional planning" builds on the "old regional planning" and generally leaves aside the more traditional characteristics of regional planning like growth poles, centralized authority, and inflexible recommendations, figuring out the real differences between them is an interesting and necessary exercise. Doing so will help us to arrive at a workable definition of the new regional planning.

One might think for example, that the new, as opposed to old, is planning that includes "conservation areas" as one of the land-use categories of the final "regional plan." However, a major proposal of one of the early planning exercises of the Organization of American States in the rain forest of Peru looked toward the establishment of the Cutiribeni National Park (OEA, 1967b). Cutibireni only recently became an official addition to Peru's system of conservation areas; yet that study was done over 25 years ago.

Perhaps the new regional planning deals with integrated analysis and conservation of natural resources. But integrated natural resource surveys have been done for nearly 30 years (OEA, 1967a) and regional conservation efforts were undertaken long before that, in 1933, through the Tennessee Valley Authority (Allen, 1955). Possibly, the new employs high-powered computers and geographic information systems (GIS) that allow sophisticated manipulation of data, but, again, what is new here is the technology and not the method or objectives; that method was being used in the 1960s (McHarg, 1967). No, the differences do not lie in these kinds of things. They lie elsewhere, and to find them we need to look at economic development planning, see what it is about, and then look at a fundamental difference between that paradigm and the emergence of a new paradigm--the new regional planning. To summarize the first part of that exercise, there are three fundamental questions that form the bases for economic development planning: (1) What are the resources available for improving life quality? (2) How are they to be manipulated? and (3) For whom? (Samuelson, 1976).

Under what is normally thought of as economic planning, these resources are the classic natural resources: forests and other vegetation, water, soil, wildlife, minerals, atmosphere, etc. Governed by this arrangement, the development sectors decide how to manipulate the individual resource of interest to them in response to the needs of their own constituencies. For regional planning, the constituencies are the whole range of resource users in the region. Resource manipulation, however, remains in the hands of the development sectors where resources continue to be thought of as the ones listed above. Again, the differences are not significant.

What is different, however, is that a fourth economic question has been added: Who is to decide what the resource is, what we do with it, and for whom? "Who is to decide?" is a question that added a whole new dimension to classical economic development. How that question is answered is one of the main issues separating the old regional planning from the new. The differences exist largely because of the environmental movement and its success in advancing at least four major considerations:

Conservation is a development activity. That conservation should be accepted as a development activity is the first of these. The environmental movement, of course, clarified and promoted the fact that the success of the development enterprise depends, in large part, on activities of conservation (IUCN et al., 1980). And, in doing so, it discovered that the reverse is also true: the success of conservation efforts also hinges on a balanced and equitable process of development (WCED, 1987). These, of course, are what make up the common elements of the many definitions of sustainable development. As a consequence, conservation activities are as much a part of the development scenario as are building a dam or constructing a utilities network.

Neighbors are important. Secondly, the environmental movement insisted that the affected populations of any development activity be included in the formulation and execution of that activity. This suggests how regional planning must deal with the neighbors of the region being planned as well as with its inhabitants. It is not enough to have all the individuals and groups that hold lands within the region involved in how the area and its resources are to be used. There are many other "neighbors" out there who have a great deal to say about how resources are managed. These include, of course, the nearby populations who have historically made use of the area or who may be forced to use it in the future. It may include, for example, municipalities that, with the establishment of a conservation area, lose the basis for tax revenues. Or it may include the workers in an agroindustry surrounding a reserve who someday may find themselves without work or income for no fault of their own, or of the agroindustry, and who find the reserve the most convenient place to settle down.

Neighbors are not only those who live nearby; they include many sectors of society that may live far from the region in question, but depend on its resources to satisfy actual and future needs: for hydroelectric energy and building materials, for example, or medicines and genes for crop improvement. Often several sectors at a time will have specific mandates from government that influence what goes on in a region. It does not take very long to find out that without such institutions playing an active part in the debate on the region's future, conservation would easily lose. Rather than skirting around these issues, the new regional planning invites the participation of these other user groups. Thus, regional economics maintains its important role but with a twist brought on by the next success of the environmental movement.

A broadened development agenda. Broadening the agenda of development by introducing a long list of "new" participants in the development process is a third accomplishment of the environmental movement. This list includes, in our minds at least, the emphasis now given to the physical, social, cultural, and spiritual needs of local populations in general, and of indigenous or other traditionally resident populations in particular. It also includes biodiversity conservation. The list of things to include gets longer as new needs are encountered and as other, older needs gain political support for their solution.

Even with all of these successes, however, some very difficult development problems remain. These problems include formidable land-tenure conflicts and sectoral proposals for large, almost overwhelming, projects of the kind that sweep away everything else in their path. And they include a lack of small viable projects that tend to keep humans healthy and interested and conflicts small and manageable.

Systems thinking. The fourth achievement was to clarify the value of systems thinking in the development process. What this means is that an understanding of the importance of system interactions demands that development planning be integrated. Development, as we have defined it, is always of urgent priority and the strategies formulated through the new regional planning carry along with them a package of projects that fit both the needs of the people and the realities of the place. Such projects must be formulated through a process of integration that will help public and private agencies and interests overcome the problems brought about by their having to live and act in shared systems. For the new regional planning, the process is as important as the product. It incorporates the only sustainable development criteria and standards that have so far been successful: integration, transparency, public participation, and search for consensus.

By its iterative and integrated nature, the new regional planning looks at the needs of those who share the system in question; it understands the limits of the resources available to solve those needs; and it reflects broad agreement over the use of those resources. Thus, in short, the new regional planning looks towards cooperation and coordination, it is integrated and integrative, it is developmental, and, within that category, it is conservationist.


Allen, S. 1955. Conserving Natural Resources: Principles and Practices in a Democracy. New York. McGraw-Hill.

IUCN/UNEP/WWF. 1980. World Conservation Strategy: Living Resource Conservation for Sustainable Development. Gland, Switzerland. International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.

McHarg, Ian L. 1971. Design with Nature. Garden City, New York. Doubleday.

OEA. 1967a. Reconocimiento y Evaluación de los Recursos Naturales de la República Dominicana. Washington, D.C. Secretaría General, Organización de los Estados Americanos.

OEA. 1967b. El Parque Nacional del Cutibireni: Proyecto Piloto en la Selva del Perú. Washington, D.C. Secretaría General, Organización de los Estados Americanos.

OAS. 1984. Integrated Regional Development Planning: Guidelines and Case Studies from OAS Experience. Washington, D.C. General Secretariat, Organization of American States.

Samuelson, P.S. 1976. Economics. 10th ed. New York. McGraw-Hill.

Saunier, R.E. 1992. "People: Key Players in Rain Forest Drama." Forum for Applied Research and Public Policy, vol. 7, no. 4. pp. 16-19.

USDA. 1937. Soil Survey Manual. Washington, D.C. United States Department of Agriculture. (USDA Misc. Pub. 274)

WCED. 1987. Our Common Future: The Report of the World Commission on Development and Environment. World Commission on Environment and Development. New York. Oxford University Press.

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