Sunday, 2 February 2014

BIBLICAL VALUES IN PLANNING (2,589 words)

The Challenge 

A friend of mine, a man of great wisdom and faith as well as business experience, asked me, how do Gospel values relate to my work as a planner? I have expanded my response to include the entire Bible.

My belief is that everything we do should relate to biblical values, including my professional work as a city and regional planner. 

Colossians 3:23-24 "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward." *

Ecclesiastes 3:22 “And I saw that there is nothing better for a man than to rejoice in his work.”
*(All biblical quotes in this paper are from The New American Bible, World Catholic Press, 

November 2000)

Biblical Context for Planning 

I believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God, a living document which reflects actual events, persons and places. Though not a literal history in all details, the Bible shows that the word of God is unceasingly transmitted from one generation to another, from the creation of the universe to the present time. The gospels and epistles are living words which demand fresh responses by each individual and each generation. 

What does the Bible tell us about our relationship with God? In the broadest sense, this is made clear in the New Testament.

Mark 12: 29-31 “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and all your strength. The second is this: you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Romans 8:38-39 “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, not powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord.”

The Bible shows that God has had a loving presence with mankind throughout all time. His covenant of the new and everlasting testament provides mankind with intimate access to him through Jesus, his only begotten son. We must manifest our living in God’s active presence, cooperating with his love, by respecting his creation and attending to the needs of our fellow human beings. 

The first chapter of the Bible, the book of Genesis, describes God’s creation of the universe, and his satisfaction with his work, as reflected in the following excerpts.

GENESIS 1: 11-12 “Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth vegetation: every kind of plant that bears seed and every kind of fruit tree on earth that bears fruit with its seed in it. 

And so it happened: the earth brought forth every kind of plant that bears seed and every kind of fruit tree on earth that bears fruit with its seed in it. God saw how good it was.”

GENESIS 1: 26 Then God said: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and the cattle, and over 
all the wild animals and all the creatures that crawl on the ground.” 

GENESIS 2: 15-17 “The Lord God then took the man and settled him in the Garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it.”

Therefore, God created everything in the natural world and man is charged with responsible stewardship! People should respect and share the resources of the earth, since we are all part of the community of creation. By our work we are co-creators in the continuing development of the earth. 

We also have guidance on how we should treat other human beings from both the Old Testament (Isaiah 58: 6-14) and in Jesus’ judgment of the nations in the New Testament which recounts the corporal works of mercy. These needs can be met through the work of a planner by providing for food, shelter, water, jobs and access to essential services such as education and health care. As God’s stewards we are to exercise care and responsibility for God’s domain particularly in the interest of those who are poor and marginalized.

MATTHEW 5: 34-40 “Then the king will say to those on his right, Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me. Then the righteous will answer him and say, Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or 

in prison, and visit you? And the king will say to them in reply, Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.” I believe that we are to apply this guidance in every aspect of our life to help bring God’s kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven”. This belief is to be reflected in our stewardship of God’s creation and our deeds of service to others. As John F. Kennedy said, “on this 
earth God’s work must truly be our own”.

How Human Actions are Impacting God’s Creation

There is ample evidence of the environmental crisis created by human activity. Decisions by governments, businesses and individuals are destroying and polluting the natural world, greatly decreasing its ability to sustain human beings and provide a high quality of life. The book “Land Use in America” by Henry L. Diamond and Patrick F. Noonan makes the point that “A nation deprived of its liberty may win it, a nation divided may unite, but a nation whose natural resources are destroyed must inevitably pay the penalty of poverty, degradation, and decay.” Serious words to ponder. Some of the environmental consequences we face as a society and a planet are described below.

• Soil – depletion and degradation of productive soils in regions with a climate suitable for food production. This is caused by conversion of prime agricultural land to urban uses; wind and water erosion; over-use of the land with a loss 
of fertility; salinity due salt water intrusion from draw down of ground water for irrigation and human consumption; and, contamination from chemical applications.

• Water – problems of flooding and accessibility of fresh drinkable water due to: pollution of surface and ground water from point and non-point sources; waste from domestic and agricultural uses; and the rising level of the oceans and drought brought about by climate change.

• Air – health impacts of pollution, especially from carbon emissions of power plants, vehicle use and production of oil based products, all of which also impact global warming, the rise of sea levels and public health.

• Flora – reduction of our laboratories of discovery in God’s creation due to depletion of genetic diversity related to; habitat loss; reduced photosynthesis; loss of unique landscapes and open space; introduction of chemicals and anti-biotics into the food chain via agricultural produce; loss of unique cosystems such as rain forests, old growth timber, coral reefs and wetlands; introduction of exotic species; and, increases in wind and water erosion.

• Fauna – reduction of our laboratories of discovery in God’s creation due to depletion of genetic diversity; over exploitation of the oceans for food and other human uses; use of chemicals (fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides) which get 
introduced into the food chain; introduction of exotic species that displace species more useful to humans; and, habitat destruction. 

• Non-renewable Resources – all resources necessary for human life are threatened by: depletion due to excessive exploitation; pollution from solid and hazardous waste; unsustainable consumption patterns; waste and pollution 
resulting from the exploitation, processing, production and distribution of agricultural, fishery and manufactured products. 

• Destruction of cultural and scenic resources.

Prosperous nations also exhibit unhealthy lifestyles reflected in obesity, physical inactivity, poor diet and addictions that contribute to many debilitating and fatal diseases. 

An overly materialistic and consumptive lifestyle is responsible for the environmental consequences noted above. There are also great inequities in the distribution of 
resources and access to opportunities for people to support themselves and their families. Many of these are the consequence of political instability, discrimination, cultural and religious conflicts and historical events. Some of these can be addressed through land use policies and development based on the biblical principles of environmental stewardship and service to our fellow human beings. 

How Can a Land Use Planner Apply Biblical Values?

A city planner has a unique opportunity to apply biblical values in their work. The role of the city planner is to guide the development and implementation of plans for the use of land and human activities. These include the use of land for open space, agriculture and natural preserves as well as housing, education, employment, health care, and worship. 

Development must also be sustainable. Sustainability is a concept broadly defined. 

It can apply to plans, programs, and designs and should be a goal at all scales of planning. It is a concept that relates to the social, economic, natural and man-made environments. The United Nations’ Bruntland Commission defined sustainability as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” The concept of sustainability is an important goal that can be applied at all scales of planning from global through municipal and down to corridors and individual sites. 

Sustainability is critical to the improvement of global quality of life. It requires the implementation of change that ensures every person a life of dignity, life in a society that respects and helps realize all human rights and helps each individual to develop their own potential. These changes must include the alleviation of widespread conditions of poverty, unemployment, and inequitable social conditions. 

How does land use impact the environment and people? It is a key factor influencing:

1. The quality, safety and character of life in residential neighborhoods;

2. The opportunities for, and convenience with which we can travel to – recreation and open space, schools, shopping, jobs, personal services, churches and other public facilities;

3. The amount of congestion on our streets;

4. The taxes we pay for public facilities and services;

5. The quality of our air and water;

6. The character and identity of our communities;

7. The preservation of open space, natural areas, prime farmland and threatened and endangered species habitat; and,

8. Our quality of life.

A major tool for planning is a comprehensive plan. It is a document that recommends the type, pattern, density, quality and timing of development for various land uses within a given area. The purpose of a comprehensive plan is to guide growth and change in order to solve and avoid problems, meet future needs, and realize new potentials that nourish the human spirit. It provides a framework for incremental decision making to realize an overall vision of the future reflecting the values and priorities contained in statements of goals and objectives. There are many elements of planning where biblical values can be applied. These include: the process for developing the plan; the statement of goals and objectives; the inclusiveness and breadth of the plan’s coverage – that is 
its inclusion of all related and relevant factors including social justice issues; the time frame of the plan considering both short and long term implications; and, the policies, programs, projects, tools and process for implementation of the plan.

There are also many other types of more narrowly focused plans. Their formulation and implementation can relate directly to stewardship of God’s creation and the service of human needs. Examples are plans for energy conservation, site development, affordable housing, transportation, utilities, resource management etc. 

Principles of Planning that Reflect Biblical Values

If we are to reflect biblical values I suggest that each task in which we partake consider the degree to which we can reflect the following principles.

1. Sustainability should be considered in all planning approaches, processes, programs and projects – socially, economically and environmentally 

2. The process of planning should be participatory and open, actively involving all interested and affected parties

3. An interdisciplinary planning approach should be employed to assure competent consideration of the interaction of all relevant factors, human, natural and man made

4. Alternatives evaluation should be based upon consideration of both short term feasibility and long term consequences for the human community, the environment and future generations

5. Implementation policies, projects and programs should be just, equitable and protect the rights of individuals, groups and society

6. Land uses should create access to opportunity for all segments of the population relative to education, housing, jobs, potable water, sanitary facilities, clean air, food, recreation and natural areas 

7. Land use development should create beautiful and humanly scaled environments that are inspirational and nourish life and the human spirit

8. Implementation policies, programs and projects should enhance freedom of movement, thought, speech and religion

9. Planning proposals should respect life in all its diversity, the rights, needs and opinions of all persons, regardless of race, creed, nationality or religion, as well as the ecology and resources of the natural world

10.Planning should help educate society to change lifestyles so they are oriented according to the principles of sustainability, social justice, and self-discipline, encouraging people to escape from the consumer mentality and promote methods of production and living that respect, protect and use wisely all creation

Concluding Thoughts:

First, change is the only constant in life. We should apply our intellect and will to guide and shape change to realize our desired vision of the future and not be victims of inaction, apathy, greed or ignorance. 

Secondly, all planning solutions involve trade-offs and there are no perfect or permanent solutions. Our decisions, and the allocation of our resources, should therefore reflect values which take into account a long term perspective, the well being of the whole community and produce nourishing human communities which are efficient, orderly, beautiful and sustainable. 

Third, the degree to which we make our communities more livable and sustainable is important. There is always something positive you can do in any situation. As the Christopher’s motto states, “Better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.

Colossians 3:23-24 "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward." 

For a more rigorous intellectual treatment of the subject see the following:

 “A Theology of the Built Environment: Justice, Empowerment, Redemption”, by T. J. Gorringe, Professor of Theology, University of Exeter, Cambrige University Press. 

“Compendium Of The Social Doctrine Of The Church”, (Catholic) Pontifical Council 

For Justice And Peace, Copyright 2004 Libreria Editrice Vaticana 

For more on the professional practice of planning:

“Planning Connections – Human Natural and Man Made” by N.J.”Pete” Pointner, 

Author House, October 23, 2008. 

A list of publications and papers on environmentally based planning, available without charge from the author, may be obtained by a request via njp@petepointner.com.

My thanks to John Pimenta who was an invaluable help to me in the development of this paper through his encouragement, positive criticism and contribution of ideas and references.

N.J. “Pete” Pointner FAICP, ALA, ITE

www.petepointner.com

1-20-12 HL

AMDG



For related articles see “Readings in Urban Planning and Design”, a compendium of 25 published and 4 unpublished papers I have authored with 115 illustrations. This compendium is available free via



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“Pete” Pointner FAICP, ALA, ITE