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The Rise Of Rational Planning Approach Environmental Sciences Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Sciences
Wordcount: 5085 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Pattern of urban development has been highly correlated with the evolution of transportation systems. History of transportation planning in the U.S. has been a rational comprehensive planning approach. Later Advocacy and Communicative action planning approaches also came into play to address environmental concerns, sprawl and equity issues caused by transportation. According to the U.S. Federal Law, metropolitan areas with a population of more than 50,000 must have a metropolitan transportation plan. This plan is a blueprint of long range multimodal comprehensive transportation planning. The purpose of such plan is to accommodate the future development and meet the mobility needs of a metropolitan area through the next 25 years from now. In this paper, I will focus on rational and advocacy planning approaches for Metropolitan Transportation Planning by comparing the relative drawbacks and merits of these two different approaches through the selected case studies.



Rational planning:

Circumstances for the Rise of Rational Planning Approach

In the history of the U.S., the early 50’s and 60’s saw a major change in the outlook of planning process. The rational process of planning and the system view of planning emerged in response to the 1960s physical planning due to social blindness, utopian planning and their blueprint nature. The early physical planning was criticized for not being aware of the reality of living space. It is criticized that planners did not comprehend the understanding of the relationship between social planning and physical planning. Thus there was a social blindness among planners. People were displaced from industrial places to suburbs. Planning spoke for the benefactors rather than speaking for the masses. Planning became the state’s function. Government took charge of managing lands. There was effort to manage economy through government investments.

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During the post World War II everything was viewed through the ideology of science. However, planning was considered as both science and researchable. People were more interested in the ‘process’ and ‘how’ so whole planning system was undergoing a change. As a result of these criticisms and public’s interest of knowing the process, new planning theories were developed. These new developed theories, one being the rational planning approach, were described to be technical, abstract and highly mathematical.

Rational Planning:

The rational theory, which embarked the marriage of science with policy both in national and local levels, made planners psychologically safe to enhance their qualitative research strategy to collect adequate information in understanding the contemporary issues, setting the goals to solve problems and justifying recommendations to reach the means. Rational planning approached problems from an integrated view point, using conceptual or mathematical models that relate objectives to resources and constraints with heavy reliance on numbers and quantitative analysis- Hudson. A general rational planning process involved the steps of defining a problem, identifying alternatives, evaluating alternatives, implementing plans and policies and monitoring their effects. The rational planning theory had a certain methodology that could be applied to smaller problems and in a modified form. It attempted to side step the issue of conflict by presuming a discernable public interest. This planning assumed that a community’s various collective goals can be measured in some effective way. The method strived to be objective, technical, and exclude subjective and emotional discussion sparked by divergent perception of problem.

Criticisms of Rational Planning

Rational planning, also known as procedural planning theory, was the dominant planning practice after the Second World War until it was criticized in the 1970s. Although rational planning is still widely used in the planning process, it has been criticized for its inability to authenticate the empirical analysis of social and economic objectives, test ‘good policy’ and justify ‘means and ends’ relationships. The criticisms of the rational planning theory are two folds. First of all, it was criticized for being ‘content less and empty’ because it specifies only thinking and acting procedures that underestimate human-beings and overestimate professional information and knowledge. Also, the rational planners analyze problems abstractly, narrowly and superficially leading to the exclusion of social conditions from planning process. Secondly, it was criticized for being a model of rational decision-making rather than a model of rational-action. The rational process actually gave little attention to the question of how plans and policies get implemented. Most planners lacked training, and practical skills to get their plans implemented. Rational comprehensive planning underscores the social diversity and reduces multiple public interests to the “single value hierarchy and a single program” (Friedmann, 1971). It is “merely ‘abstract’ or ‘formal’; that is why it was content less, empty, vacuous” (Taylor, 2007).

According to Friedman (1971), the rational process has linear stages where implementation comes in the later part of the planning process. It lacks communication and negotiation during the process. Plan implementation is always problematic and implementation problems are unpredictable. Whether implementation program is seen as preceding plan-making or proceeding to it, there has to be some policy or plan seeking to implement. Implementation requires communication skills and interpersonal relations .Therefore to overcome the gap between decision-making and implementation, there is a need of new planning approach that would incorporate interpersonal communication and negotiation in the plan-making and implementation process.

Current Scenario:

Despite many criticisms and evolution of other planning approaches, the practice of rational planning is still prevalent in the planning arena. The benefit-cost analysis which is widely used for the execution of various projects is a major part of the procedural rational planning process. There are experts who have knowledge of quantitative analysis, skill of technical problem-solving, and other analytical skills, work as rational planners. Due to the availability of specialized consultants practicing planning, the rational planning is still out there in the market.

Advocacy planning

Circumstances for the Rise of Advocacy Planning

Rise of advocacy planning was to some extent a failure of rational planning in addressing the planning problems. Also some of the contextual circumstances of 1960s and 70s such as civil rights movement’ students movement for black power, free speech, Vietnam War, Urban Renewal, Uniozation for equal rights, the Great Society Movement for welfare, Women’s Movement and entry of women into the workforce, exclusion of poor people from American Dream also created a platform for the rise of advocacy planning. The rational planning theory which switched planning from ends-oriented to means-oriented became a part of government functions. It claimed to be scientific, positivist, value free, with no personal interest and free from politics. The rational planners who claimed themselves as social-servants and work in the public-sphere focused on goal formulation through plan evaluation to get the right answer. These rational planners served as the techno-professionals and used their personal knowledge and skills in planning. The use of cost-benefit analysis and Lichfield’s planning balance sheet determined the most optimal outcome. In the 1960s, the highways in urban areas were built with ‘cost-benefit analysis,’ which measured social values that determined places of poor people as suitable areas to build the highways. The value measurement was in favor of certain social groups’ interests. This shows that planning decisions were politically influenced neglecting the most disadvantaged. According to Paul Davidoff (2003) “planners should be able to engage in the political process as advocates of the interests both of government and of such other groups, organizations, or individuals who are concerned with proposing policies for the future development of the community.” As a result, these rational experts failed to provide prescriptive planning to solve the social problems. Therefore, the notion of rational planning being merely scientific and free of politics and values neither justified nor gave the right answer. As a result, the need of planners who are well-educated and trained leaders and advocates of plans of the majority interest-groups and play dynamic role in creating an environment for powerful public participation gave rise to advocacy planning.

For advocacy planner public interest are ‘plural’ rather than ‘unitary’. Advocacy planners involve in public participation and consultation throughout the planning process. They also practice inclusive pluralism which includes any racial groups, low income groups and minorities in society and value-laden judgment as part of the decision making and planning process.

Criticisms of Advocacy Planning

The major criticism of advocacy planning was that planners shifted their concerns and planning preference from one group of people to another while practicing inclusive pluralism. This planning approach was also criticized for being top-down approach for the involvement of outside experts in public participation and consultation. Even though advocacy planning favored the disadvantaged group, it totally was considered to be not concerned with the other groups. According to Donald F. Mazziotti (1974), a community is a stratum of different groups with varied interests and there is “disequilibrium in the relative distribution of power among interest groups” (Mazziotti, 1974). It does not get into the underlying cause of the poverty, but just provides some kind of quick-fix or band-aid.

Case study 1: The Chicago Area Transportation Study: A Case Study of Rational Planning: This case study illustrates execution of the rational planning model during the late 1950s and early 1960s for Chicago Metropolitan Area. The study model outlined in ten steps shows the rational ways of planning and its effectiveness in influencing decisions.

Location and Background:

Fifty five years ago, the largest transportation survey ever was conducted in the study area. The purpose of the survey was to provide data for the newly-created Chicago Area Transportation Study. The region was not only growing, but was changing as well. This case study of Chicago area Transportation Study (CATS) followed the rational model closely and has been a standard for all transportation studies performed after. Up to this time highway planning was done on corridor level. Started in 1953 Detroit Metropolirtan Area traffic study, is considered to be first comprehensive metropolitan area transportation study. As a second metropolitan study CATS was formed in 1955 as an ad hoc public agency, it pioneered in the use of computer, trip distribution, traffic assignment, and cost benefit analysis. CATS had to recommend a plan and had no implementation responsibilities. It took seven years to finish and total $3,500,000 was spent in this process.

The Ten Step Rational Model: According to Alan black the whole study can be categorized in ten linear steps in which two or more steps can be performed concurrently. Any error in later step result could be corrected by reworking the earlier step.

Data Collection: This was the largest phase of the study in which 368 staffs were involved and cost more than one million dollar. The study area had area of 1236 square miles and 5.2 million populations. Personal interview based survey was done for 50,000 households with a ratio of one in thirty samples. Using Arial imaging, land use in whole Chicago was determined and categorized in six categories residential, manufacturing, transportation, commercial, public buildings and public open space. Those areas which were covered under Sunborn Company maps, floor area was measured and classified into ninety categories based on Standard Industrial classification (Hamburg and Sharkey 1960). Inventories of existing highway and public transit routes were used for transportation system survey.

Analysis of data: This phase took more time than estimated by CATS. Some new discovery thrilled everyone like measurement of relationship between trip generated and landuse was a new area to explore.

Forecasting the future context: CATS devoted major effort in Land use projection, Forecast for future trip making, mode of travel for target year 1980 and it developed a forecast of economic activity by 50 sectors input output model. CATS predicted a 50% increase in population and a doubling of passenger cars to accommodate an 80% increase in vehicle miles traveled by 1980. and transit was about 25% of total person trips, but if the number of transit trips was held constant for 1980 they would contribute only 14% of the total person movements. This received criticism for its land use forecast since it was not a plan but an extrapolation of future trends.

Establishing goals: Dr Carroll and Creigton (director of CATS) drafted and discussed these six goals with advising committee.

Greater Speed

Increased Safety

Lower operation cost

Economy in new construction

Minimizing disruption

Promoting better land development

Design Alternatives: in this step alternate ways to achieve goals are device by planner. CATS tested dozens of alternatives for each traffic components. Grid iron was favoured over radial-circumferential (or cobweb) pattern as it disperse the traffic where as radial-circumferential pattern concentrates the traffic and cause congestion at the center. Similarly dozens of transit networks and alternative highway networks were designed and tested.

Testing Alternatives: This process is also known as estimating impacts and often utilizes mathematical and computational models. CATS developed a methodology known as four step travel demand forecasting. These steps were carried out in following order:

Trip Generation: A relationship formed on the basic of linear regression between land use and trip generation in 1956 survey was used to estimate 1980 trip generation from each zones.

Modal Split: Trips in each zone was divided in ratio of people using public transport and private car for base year and the ratio was used for projected year calculation.

Trip Distribution: This was a type of aggregated model where it is considered all the trips are starting or ending at centroid of that zone. An origins and destinations table was prepared using gravity model or opportunity model.

Traffic Assignment: this step estimated route of each route using “minimum path algorithms” calculating an optimal route from origin to destination which minimize total travel cost. By this way peak time traffic volume were estimated in each route.

Evaluation of alternatives: four type of cost were estimated for the purpose of benefit cost analysis (Travel time, accident, operation and construction cost). All these cost were measured in dollars.

Selection of one alternative: This step depends on the decision makers as planners roles are advisory. The policy committee approved plan L-3 and transit plan. Plan L-3 contained 520 miles of expressway and transit plan recommended construction of one new rail line and extension of three of three existing lines, construction of parking garages of outer terminal of rail transit.

Implementation: CATS had no implementation power and was advising body to its sponsoring agencies the city, county, state and federal government.

Monitoring: also known as feedback step CATS performed this step very well. Time to time it produced reports comparing original forecast with updated trends. Due to political reasons very little of plan L-3 was implemented but three out of four proposals in the transit plan were implemented.

Case Study 2:

Case Study II: “Fruitvale Transit Village Project the Unity Council, Bay Area Rapid Transit District, City of Oakland”

The Fruitvale community in Oakland is a primarily low-income Latino neighborhood with sizable African-American and Asian populations. Construction of a multi-level parking facility adjacent to the Fruitvale Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) station was proposed by BART in 1991. In the community meeting held by BART, many people were worried that the parking facility would not do much to promote economic development in the area. They wanted a more pedestrian-friendly atmosphere between the station and the nearby commercial district which encourage BART users to support local businesses. Due to pressure from community BART abandoned the parking garage proposal and agreed to work with a local community development corporation (Unity Council). It supported the proposal to create a pedestrian plaza connecting the station and the nearby commercial district. The Unity Council with partnership with BART is engaged in various efforts to involve community members in project planning and design.


Fruitvale Transit Village is the result of broad partnership among public, private and nonprofit organizations working together to revitalize a community using transit oriented development. In 1999, a $ 100 million mixed use development conceptualized adjacent to Fruitvale Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) station in Oakland, California. Fruitvale, one of the Oakland seven communities is predominantly minority community with low income, experiencing economic stress. Community development corporation (CDC) formed in 1964 which works on issues important to Fruitvale’s Latino community, come up with the idea of Fruitvale Transit Village.


In June, 1991 BART announced plans to construct a multi level parking facility adjacent to Fruitvale BART station. The community agreed that new parking was necessary, but the design and location of the facility did not sit well with Fruitvale residents and business owners. Members of community were concerned that proposed structure would increase traffic and pollution and further separate Fruitvale neighborhood from BART station.

Stake holders:

In this particular case study, the stakeholders were Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART), Community development corporation (CDC) known as Unity council, and community members of Fruitvale.

Process and Role of Stakeholders:

The Unity council galvanized the neighborhood’s opposition to the parking structure design and location, arguing that any development around BART station should be guided by broad based community planning process. Faced with strong community opposition BART withdrew its proposal and agreed to work with the Unity Council on plan for the area. In February 1992, City of Oakland awarded Unity Council $ 185,000 in Community Block Grant (CBDG) funds to initiate community planning process for revitalizing the area around Fruitvale BART station. During next couple of years Unity Council engaged local stakeholders in comprehensive visioning and planning process that laid out the parameters for Fruitvale Transit Village. Impressed with Unity Council community involvement strategy, the US DOT awarded agency a $470,000 FTA planning grant in 1993 for Fruitvale Transit Village. The vocal and sometimes contentious meetings between BART and community representatives gave birth to idea for Fruitvale Transit Village.

Identified Issues

The project is consider reducing traffic and pollution in and around the community as residents of neighborhood would have easy access to goods and services within waling distance of transit station.

Public Involvement in plan making

Unity council organized workshops to help community reach on consensus and to identify both positive and negative qualities of Fruitvale Community and to indicate their development preferences. There were about 30 people who participated in this workshop. Participants identified crime, lack of retail business and community services, the area’s negative image, and lack of connection between BART station and community as issues of concern. Plan included mixture of housing, shops, office, library, a child care facility, pedestrian plaza and other community services all surrounding BART station. This project had strong commitment to public involvement by lead agencies involved. Series of workshop were conducted and they showed increased number of participation. Normally residents are usually in position of responding to plans that are initiated by others. Whereas here during third workshop, participants were asked to provide feedback on two alternative land use plans prepared by the project design team. In this case under Unity Council who represented the community, played leader role in the project. It helped and ensured community’s own vision for transit station and its surrounding area served as guiding principles for planning and design.


The final project components of Fruitvale Transit Village were to locate village on the existing BART station parking lot, a nine acre site adjacent to station. The centerpiece of project would be an elegant, tree lined pedestrian plaza connecting BART station entrance with 12th street business district one block away. The plaza would be lined with restaurants and shops and serve as venue for neighborhood festivals and concerts. The surrounding would include a mixture of retail development, housing and social service agencies, all easily accessible by foot from BART station.

Implementation and challenges:

By mid 1990’s, considerable progress had been made on planning and designing of Fruitvale Transit village, yet the project faced number of significant hurdles. Chief among these were issues of land assembly, that is need to assemble all parcels of land within the development site under single ownership. BART still owned much of development site and due to long standing policy requiring the agency to retain ownership of land around transit stations for effective long term planning, it could not easily part with the property. The challenge for Unity Council was to persuade BART to make an exception to this policy and accept a fair market price for the property. Hence once again BART exhibited considerable flexibility. There was land swap by Fruitvale Policy committee, which awarded the FDC a 96 year lease on the property and in turn BART received parcel behind the transit station owned by Unity council and several nearby vacant parcels owned by City of Oakland. Second hurdle was issue of BART parking facility at station. BART policy required that every parking spot removed for a project replaced elsewhere. Ultimately Unity council helped to negotiate an agreement allowing BART to construct parking garage on property owned by Union Pacific Railroad west of station. Finally, in order to maintain the pedestrian oriented character of Transit Village and to support community preferences of less traffic congestion and better air quality, Unity council petitioned the City of Oakland for zoning ordinance that would ban construction of any additional parking spaces within the area of Transit Village which was finally passed by the city. Fruitvale Transit Village has set an example of transit oriented development in lower income inner city community when transit oriented development has been successful in affluent suburban locations.

Compare and contrast:

Both of the case studies are centered in the issue of transportation planning. But, two different planning paradigms are used to achieve the goal of better planning in two different locations. First case study demonstrates transportation planning through a rational way for a metropolitan area, and the second in Santa Ana, California, and the second case study examines community benefit in transportation planning in Fruitvale, Oakland, California.

Project Definition:

Project definition in the first case study of Chicago Area Transportation Study is to prepare Transportation Plan for future. It was started in 1955 and took seven years to complete. The objective was to prepare plan for future growth and transit facilities to achieve goal of Greater Speed, Increased Safety, Lower operation cost, Economy in new construction, Minimizing disruption, and Promoting better land development. Where as in another case study of Fruitvale Transit village project the project definition was economic development of community by transit oriented development with a vision to uplift the economically weak and minority neighborhood adjacent to BART station.

Planning Process:

In the first case study, CATS uses full rationality in planning and demonstrates that rational model is workable. According to Plummer the core survey was an effort that involved home interviews of 1 out of every 30 households in the study area. The 57,000 interviews provided a comprehensive single day log of travel for these households. Another major travel survey involved roadside interviews conducted on the perimeter of the study area to determine the travel in, out and through the area. Separate truck and taxi surveys were completed, along with a unique survey of the public and private transit travel.

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They produced a guide which was used by policy makers for several years. CATS was a large planning agency with ample of resources and was independent of bureaucracy. There was no public involvement involved at any stage of process. Not many planning agencies get such type of opportunity. So this was comprehensive approach where they looked at metropolitan area as system whole. Planners were the ultimate decision makers during the process. In this process they looked at the past trends to project the further developments and type of urban form which would be determined by transportation network. The process of planning is technical and quantitative and it involved past trends and data analysis for predicting future land use and traffic projection.

Second case study of Fruitvale Transit Village was advocacy planning process at the neighborhood or community level. This is a good example of public involvement, the creation of partnerships to overcome legal, financial, and regulatory hurdles; and the use of mass transit as a lever for revitalizing an urban community. Fruitvale is primarily low income minority community who are underprivileged group where BART proposed multi level parking adjacent to BART station based on their long range plan to accommodate the parking demand. CDC opposed the proposal of multilevel parking and advocated for the vision of more pedestrian-friendly atmosphere of the Fruitvale community. The whole planning process was a political and full of community participation at every level. By series of workshops CDC helped community to set their goals and objectives. There was strong participation during this process of planning and that is reflected from the number of participants during the workshops.


In case of Chicago Area Transportation Study based on the ten step rational approach, given several alternatives for highway and transit networks in which one was selected by the sponsoring agencies and decision makers. CATS status was advisory and had nothing to do with implementation. In case of Fruitvale Transit Village, during the implementation process CDC played important role in coordination and creation of partnerships to overcome legal, financial, and regulatory hurdles to see the community vision come true. Fruitvale was converted into the real project for the residents of this neighborhood as the first low income neighborhood to having transit oriented development. With the help of Unity council BART constructed parking garage on property of Union Pacific Rail road west of station.


The papers mainly discuss two case studies for two different approaches Rational comprehensive approach and Advocacy Planning. The case studies are done in different approach following different paradigms which came up in different eras. The case study of CATS is done in rational comprehensive approach. According to Black, rationality in planning which continues to be matter of debate. Critic of rational model does not suggest that planner should be irrational, but they question about rationality of model and compare it with utopian fantasy. Also it is easier to carry out rational planning process if the agency is autonomous and have ample of funds, but to affect the decision making planners they may have to involve in politics and sacrifice rationality to some degree.

Rationalism might produce a conservative mindset, which accepts the world the it is and tries to explain it, but doesn’t tries to change it. The attempt to be rational may lead planners to assume constraints that don’t exist. (Black) Rational planners keeps their mind open and recognize that there are opportunities to guide the future.

Advocacy planning which arouse from the criticism of the Rational comprehensive planning involved the citizens, community of neighborhood residents into the process of planning, reduces the chances of process getting political. In second case study of Fruitvale Transit village CDC advocated for the community requirements, goals and objectives. It helped the community to oppose the location of parking lot adjacent to BART station and supported underrepresented community. CDC also helped community to organize themselves and also helped them to get grants and funds for successful completion of the Transit oriented development.


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