What Do Urban Planners Do?
The Mayan Indians of Mexico and Central America did it. The Romans did, too. Pierre L ’Enfant did it to Washington D.C. in 1791. Daniel Burnham did it in Chicago. Mary Kingsbury Simkhovitch did it in New York, and Rem Koolhaas still does. Jane Jacobs is famous for her contributions to the field even though she had no formal training.
Throughout history, many notable individuals and civilizations have engaged in planning. Urban planning addresses long and short term goals for a range of challenges from thinning cities to high growth areas. In the development of an urban plan, the planner assesses existing conditions and potential opportunities and challenges to inform recommendations regarding economic, environmental and social issues. Local governments employ great numbers of urban planners, who are sometimes called by other titles such as city planners, community planners, or regional planners. In undertaking these roles, urban planners work in collaboration with all stakeholders of a particular project.
Government Roles for Urban Planners
A majority of urban planners are employed by local and state governments. Because they are expected to collaborate with officials from various agencies and disciplines, there are many areas of specialization where they may hone their expertise. Understanding policy and regulatory issues pertaining to land use and development is a must. Urban planners also determine strategies to meet a community’s housing and transportation needs. They may veer towards economic development, including resource allocation and building incentives, but will also balance this with the needs of historic preservation to designate, maintain and restore buildings and sites that enrich the community’s cultural heritage.
Private-sector Jobs for Urban Planners
Urban planners can also be employed by private firms including architectural, engineering, and even management consulting. As contractors or consultants, they will likely be in contact with government agencies on a constant basis. In smaller organizations, they may be called on to handle entire projects with limited staffing, and work on various development concerns such as transportation and land use simultaneously. They do so without access to the resources a planner at a larger firm or governmental agency might have. While working at a small agency places a considerable amount of responsibility on the planner’s shoulders, it also provides access to a wider field of experience in direct project administration and execution than at a larger agency.
Consider a career in Urban Planning if you find that your interests and goals overlap with the many responsibilities that professional planners hold. No matter your area of specialization or your employer, as a planner you will be entering a dynamic field with many distinguished participants.