Urban planner

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Urban planner


Did you ever wonder why cities are usually by lakes or rivers? How it is that downtown streets came to be laid out in grids? Why apartment buildings are rarely built in the middle of a public park? And who decides the parks are public, anyway?

Urban and regional planners, also known as community planners and city planners, are the masterminds behind it all. They work for governments, and help plan the development of growing cities. Depending on their training and position within the planning department, they can be involved in making decisions about everything from new highways to skateboard parks. They have a hand in each new building, road, and statue that enters a city.

They make decisions about proposals for new businesses, residential developments, and historic preservation. These can be put forward by city councilors, private businesses, or the city planning committees. The urban planners must decide whether to go ahead with the projects, or to put a stop to them before they begin.

They don't come to these decisions alone. Urban planners consult with government authorities, lawyers, land developers, civic leaders, social scientists, and the public. Urban planners are interested in preparing communities for bright, prosperous futures, and they think long and hard on the advice they get from everyone they consult. This means they may host public meetings or talk with city councils before making decisions.

They can stop a project if they feel the proposed change may damage the town in some way. Urban planners only want to implement and accept developments that will benefit the community, not detract from it. Even though a mini mall in a historic neighborhood would be economically successful, the urban planner also needs to ensure the beauty and style of a community is preserved for future citizens.

Not only do they reject proposals, but they can also establish guidelines for future developments. These guidelines are put in place to ensure the safety of the community's citizens, as well preserve the local environments and wildlife. This could mean they recommend no major developers be granted permission to build in an ecologically significant region, or may propose the town never permit highways to be established near schools.

Often, urban planners specialize. They might concentrate only on transportation, or business development, or the development of residential neighborhoods. But where ever they are focused, their job isn't easy. They have to use a variety of tools to make their decisions. Planners use computer design and mapping programs, data, and instincts when making decisions about city development. The city is a living, breathing organism that changes over time. The needs of the citizens are different over the years, and an urban planner must be flexible enough to allow the city to change with them.
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  Interests and Skills  
Urban and regional planners are analytical, with an aptitude for both technical and creative tasks. They have a good imagination, and the ability to envision alternatives to our physical and social world--they can see a brighter future for our cities. They are interested in the role of people, animals, and their respective habitats in communities. Urban and regional planners need good communication skills, and the ablility to explain complex ideas to everyone from the public to senior government officials, as well as write concise reports and persuasive proposals. They should be comfortable with computers, and be concerned with helping the public. An interest and knowledge of geography, anthropology, and economics, as well as architecture and environmental studies is helpful to those in this career. Urban and regional planners are able to work well independently and as part of a team.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Make designs and maps with computer programs
  • Meet with various people, including other planners, developers, and city councilors
  • Review proposals regarding development and amendments to by-laws
  • Present project ideas to city planning commission
  • Hold public inquiries on city development
  • Document decision-making process
  • Speak with members of the media regarding city development
  • A typical day will involve a lot of meetings to discuss changes and proposed developments; analysis of data, including surveys, polls, and maps; defending decisions to developers and/or citizens; and walking throughout neighborhoods or recreation areas to generate ideas or monitor initiatives. The job allows for some travel, especially to other cities to oversee developments, meet with other planners, or to conferences to discuss the future of American cities.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Urban planners work for municipal governments, focusing on transportation, engineering, and recreational needs of the city, or they may work in state governments.
  • They usually spend most days indoors, in offices. They will work regular hours, unless there is a late night meeting or impending deadline. They will occasionally head outdoors for tours of construction sites, parks, and areas of proposed development. They will spend a lot of time working in teams of planners and city representatives.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Urban planners can go on to management positions, or may choose to leave the city they are with and work with a smaller or larger community. They can get into park planning, rural development, or regional politics. There is also work in real estate, community outreach, and housing development for individuals with a lot of knowledge regarding their communities.

  Educational Paths  
The road to becoming an urban planner has many, many starting points. A bachelor's degree in urban and regional planning, social sciences, humanities, economics, geography, or architecture, along with some computer courses, is enough to get started in the field. Some entry-level positions are available to these grads.

However, advancment to supervisory or management positions requires the completion of a two- to three-year master's program in urban planning.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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