This chapter discusses the values that drive planners and the ethical principles that should govern planning practice.

Weblinks from Chapter


  1. What basic ethical principles guide your life? The Golden Rule? The Ten Commandments? What is the source of those ethical principles? Is it religious or civil? Do you and most of your classmates share some basic ethical beliefs, regardless of your backgrounds? Are there some ethical principles on which you disagree?
  2. What values that you hold are likely to influence you in a planning career? Are you strongly committed to environmental values, or to creating opportunities for people who are disadvantaged, or to creating opportunities for those who are aggressive and entrepreneurial to succeed? How do your values differ from those of other people in the class? How might they influence your approach to planning issues in your community?
  3. Contact your municipal or county clerk or another public official and find out what level of gift amounts to an unlawful gift in your state or community. What would that amount of money buy? Do you think that is a large enough amount to influence someone’s vote on an important public issue?
  4. Find out the policy of your local planning department on releasing staff reports on proposed developments to the developer, to the public and to the planning commission. Who gets it first? Is there a mailing list of interested groups that get advance copies (or at least notice) of such reports? Is this a reasonable process?

Discussion Question

  1. Assume that you live in an agricultural community in the Midwest. You know from growing up there that many of the farms in your state were once swamps and that the only reason the land can be farmed today is that farm families have installed and maintained drain tiles in the fields for more than one hundred years. You have now learned that the federal government is buying up some farmland to turn it back to wetlands, in part to help alleviate downstream flooding. Is this program in the “public interest”? Why or why not? How do your values influence your answer to this question?


Supplemental Resources

  • The American Planning Association provides a “Tool Kit” for conducting educational sessions on planning ethics; it is available for free download.
  • The Planning Commissioners Journal has an extensive collection of past articles on ethical issues for commissioners; they are available for purchase individually or as a collection.