Good Town Planning: A Lesson for Politics

Land use planning conceptually has the same characteristics and requirements as big governance. From the one we can learn for the other.

As I am working in land use planning, I like to show an example of proper planning in the place where I am currently based, a medium-size town in southern Portugal, and how this performance can help us in politics.

This town, Lagos, is a masterpiece of town planning. It is divided into different zones with well-defined uses:

  • There is the inner, authentic, historical part, attractive for visitors, very well maintained, with all the tourist attractions, nice and neat and clean, generating most of the communal revenues.
  • Around that are the newly developed areas, where most of the people live with all facilities, nice layout, excellent road planning, well thought through. There are hardly any uncontrolled, un-maintained structures.
  • In that zone, there are many communal institutions: Schools, sports grounds, hospitals, social clubs.

- Further out are the industrial zones in one direction,

  • ecologically protected areas and nature reserves in a different direction,
  • beaches, cultural and historical points attractive for the eye and mind and for tourists in another direction.

I can see sustainability consideration everywhere, such as efficient garbage collection and recycling, renewable energy generation nearby (wind), efficient mass transport system (train), flood control (flood retention areas).

All this was properly planned and implemented by a future-oriented town administration, well known for no-corruption and no-nepotism.

I was told, it was not easy, to implement many of the structures, particularly the space-demanding road schemes (including modern 4-lane highways), also to demolish structures not fitting to the planning scheme. Land had to be expropriated. But obviously, there was a strong intention, backed by legal and political forces, overruling individuals’ selfish interests and complaints.

Money had to be allocated. But this money works like a good, high-rates, long-term investment. It returns good yields. I can see all the big and small investors and businesses pouring in.

BTW, only 50 km from here is another town, just the opposite. Poorly planned, investors and politicians were going for fast money, no proper regulatory control, most likely corruption and now — after some 20 years — already in the stage of run-down, dirty.

I would not post this rather technical observation of superb town development without conclusion and lessons-learned for a broader perspective.

Here are the 5 ingredients:
- Professionals at the steering wheel ,
- Rigid implementation carried out by un-selfish politicians,even at the expense or disagreement of some individuals ,
- Strict control & maintenance after implementation, 
- Money made available (with the help of investors) for construction and maintenance,
- Support of education, low-income classes, young and old.

Why can’t we transfer this lesson of ‘5 ingredients’ to other aspects of life, such as governance, technology implementations, improvement of infrastructure and political systems, medical health care?

It is possible. I can see it in this Portuguese town. The whole world should copy it.