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What is City Planning?

By O. Wallace
Updated May 23, 2024
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City planning is a profession in which planners work to guide the present and future growth of a city by striking a careful balance between residential, commercial, recreational, and institutional needs. A planner makes the best use of a community’s resources, solves current community problems, and protects important physical and geographical landmarks, all while considering how the future needs of a city will fit in. A city planner in the US should be certified by the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP).

The process of planning usually begins with planners collecting and analyzing data about every aspect of a city. Important aspects of their study include problems like traffic congestion; air, water, and soil pollution; ecological preservation; and infrastructure. Planners must analyze street and highway capacity, location and capacity of water and sewer lines, public schools, libraries, cultural sites, and so on. The use of computers has made this much easier and more efficient.

Once all the data has been collected and analyzed, city planners work with neighborhood groups, business leaders, law enforcement agencies, and government officials to determine the needs of the community. They deal with zoning and building codes and environmental regulations to ensure that the plan is legal and will work within existing codes. An important aspect of city planning is what type of industry exists in the community, and how that industry will best be served. Geographical landmarks are also a key factor in how a community is planned. A beach or lake community may have an entirely different plan than river, mountain, or landlocked cities.

Suburban sprawl can be a nightmare for city planners. Many plans that were conceived decades ago were not progressive enough to accommodate the inevitable sprawl that has developed in cities across the nation. As populations grow, many cities are stretched beyond their infrastructure.

City planners must allow for growth by planning cities where highways can be enlarged, schools can be added, and the citizenry can be served by government agencies. Some city planners are finding new ways to limit sprawl and to make suburban communities more self-contained. As suburbs take workers further from city centers and jobs, planners must also find ways to help the city foster new business development in the suburbs to create jobs for the growing population.

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Discussion Comments

By FrameMaker — On Sep 30, 2010

@ Babalaas- I would have to agree with you that cities like Phoenix lack resiliency and are poorly planned. I grew up on the East Coast, and surprisingly the eastern cities are some of the most sustainable in the country. This is partly because the cities are old though, and planners are forced to incorporate efficiency into the cities design.

One of my favorite Western Cities is Santa Monica California. They have a great sustainability plan and they involve all stakeholders in the city to create their sustainability indicators (markers used to measure the sustainability of a city). Santa Monica City Planners also think of sustainability on the basis of human dignity and equality, economic development, and environmental stewardship. The result of their plan has been a livable wage, a city that uses resources like water and electricity more efficiently than the rest of the country, and a bright, vibrant city that has maintained its beautiful natural spaces.

By Babalaas — On Sep 30, 2010

Sometimes I have to wonder about the methods of city planners. Urban planners did a horrible job in places like Phoenix. The city is a sprawling metropolis that is very resource intensive. The sprawl is all and well when the city is growing, and resources are plentiful, but as soon as the cost of resources rises, or an economic downturn occurs, a lifeless city is all that is left. Poorly planned cities lack resiliency, and are sure to suffer down the road.

I have always thought that the best-planned urban areas are those that are compact, but still provide access to open spaces. A well-planned city has a public transportation system that is efficient and far reaching, and it is zoned to reduce sprawl. This makes the city desirable, and keeps the cost of living in line with the wages in that city. The best cities also have some sort of sustainability plan since, allowing them to plan for the future rather than thinking about the short-term.

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