A 4-step plan for spatial planning

Aerial view of the landscape around Halimun Salak National Park in West Java, Indonesia. Kate Evans, CIFOR

Spatial plans, which organize people and activities within a certain area, are often developed by government planners with little or no input from those living and working in the landscape in question. Moreover, there tends to be strict divisions between planning for rural, urban and conservation areas, and planning related to climate change policy might fall under a separate government agency altogether.

Challenges related to rural development, urbanization, nature conservation and climate change are closely interrelated, and finding solutions requires collaboration and coordination of people with many different positions within a landscape. This means that the way spatial planning is organized will need to undergo some drastic changes.

During the most recent Global Landscapes Forum in Bonn, Germany, speakers at two separate sessions, organized by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) respectively, made a plea for a new approach to spatial planning.

This isn’t out of reach. Participants also shared examples from Tanzania, Zambia and Angola, where government planning agencies are working closely with civil society organizations and local communities to draw up maps more inclusively and effectively. Below are the four main takeaways for how this is best done.

  • Develop a common vision for the future: Farmers, urban dwellers, commercial companies and nature organizations all depend on the same natural resources, but their short-term interests might conflict. The challenge is to define a perspective for a landscape’s evolution that is shared by everyone. This will help identify synergies between various interests and provide a basis for planning.
  • Promote multi-functionality: Landscapes provide multiple goods (such as agricultural commodities, timber and minerals) and services (such as biodiversity conservation, water retention and carbon sequestration). Spatial planning needs to maintain and strengthen this multi-functionality. Conservation and climate objectives run the risk of being overridden by short-term economic interests and should therefore be mainstreamed into spatial planning law, so they become legal responsibilities for spatial planning offices.
  • Ensure participation, and lots of it: When spatial plans are developed by experts in government offices and implemented in a top-down fashion, they are unlikely to fit local needs and find much support with local people. From leaders of farmer organizations to business representatives, all stakeholders need to be actively involved in planning, especially marginalized groups that traditionally have had little say in decision-making processes.
  • Stay open to change: People’s needs and demands change over time, and the planning of landscapes should accordingly be seen as a dynamic, living process. It is about mediating landscapes, which are ever-changing, rather than fixing certain land-use configurations in place. This makes spatial planning an ongoing governance process that is continually subject to discussions and negotiations between stakeholders.


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