Urban planning is a branch of architecture that focuses on organizing metropolitan areas. Made up of several different fields, from engineering to social science, this practice was developed to correct problems caused by cities expanding spontaneously, without planning. At its core, city planning aims to provide a safe, organized, and enjoyable home and work life for residents of both new and established towns. Today, some of the largest concerns of urban planning are building locations, zoning, transportation, and how a town or city looks. Planners also try to eliminate run down areas and prevent their development, as well preserve the natural environment of the area.
Becoming an Urban Planner
While there are many professionals who specialize in either fixing issues in existing developments or designing new ones, urban planning is usually executed by a group of individuals with specific skills and backgrounds. Education systems all over the world offer courses specifically for certification in this field, however, and typically give students a background in the cultural, economic, legal, and other elements that go into the development of cities. Outside of this specific certification, architects and those in various divisions of engineering work in this field, as do those with business knowledge, social scientists, and environmentalists. In addition to this, people with degrees in botany and landscape design are also highly valued.
How the Field Developed
Like most disciplines, urban planning developed to solve a problem. Prior to the mid-19th century, metropolitan areas were created as existing towns spread out; London, Paris, and Tokyo started out as small towns and simply kept getting bigger as more people moved to them. The addresses and streets in the older sections of these cities can be confusing, even to natives, because they were established with little thought as to how the area might change and grow in the future. While people have always engaged in some type of town or city organization, whether settling near a body of water or on higher ground for self-defense, the late 19th century is when modern urban planning began to develop.
The lack of organization in housing areas, industrial sections, and the placement of hospitals and schools often created problems for the safety and health of residents in older cities. Architects and engineers, in partnership with their local government, began planning ways to solve these problems in existing urban areas, and to prevent them from developing in new areas. While finding solutions for existing situations in cities is often more complicated than planning a new city or urban area from scratch, both are equally important parts of the field.
Building Locations and Zoning
The location of buildings, coupled with designating certain areas of a city for specific purposes (i.e., residential zones, commercial areas, and industrial sections), is extremely important in urban planning. For example, the majority of parents do not want their children's playground right next to a water treatment plant, and having a hospital in a central location can literally save lives. In order for law enforcement personnel to be effective, they need to be able to get anywhere in the city within minutes. This means stations need to be both centrally located and scattered throughout the area, and that roads should be designed to make getting anywhere fast as easy as possible. Good urban planning takes all of these and many more factors into consideration when choosing the locations for buildings, and sets up appropriate zones accordingly.
Ensuring there are enough roads and highways, as well as easy-to-access public transportation, is also a priority in this field. Anticipating growth and traffic needs for a big city is important, and urban planners often consider how future growth will affect traffic flow. With this information, they often try to eliminate potential trouble spots before they become a problem. With new cities or expansions, planning for public transportation, whether under or above ground, is also important, especially as major metropolitan areas move more towards more environmentally friendly practices.
Appearance and Environmental Aspects
Urban planning is a branch of architecture and, as such, form and function are just as important in a city as they are when designing a new building. Outside of ensuring the health and safety of residents, urban planning also takes into account what the city looks like, from specific building designs to incorporating landscaping and green spaces into the area.
In many places, planners consider how to make expansion sustainable as well as practical. Developers may consider air quality and noise pollution when planning roads, and aim to create smaller housing developments to limit the impact residents have on their immediate environment. Newly planned cities often take the incorporation of green spaces and the use of environmentally friendly power sources and transportation seriously. Developers can keep this in mind when planning the expansion of existing cities as well.
A Note on Slums
Much of urban planning is based on a combined knowledge of architecture, economics, human relations, and engineering. For this reason, there are numerous theories on the development of slums and the occurrence of urban decay. Slums, defined as overcrowded, run down sections of a city occupied by people in the lowest socioeconomic bracket, are often at the forefront of the field.
Urban planners and other city officials often work to eliminate or improve existing slums and to ensure that new ones do not develop. This is a challenge, however, as many different social, political, and economic factors are involved not only in the development of such areas, but in their continued existence. As of 2012, the United Nations estimates that over one billion people live in these types of conditions.
A number of different measures have been tried to eliminate or improve areas of substandard housing. One method is to clear out the entire run down section of a city, demolishing the existing housing and replacing it with government or privately funded modern housing. Although this has been done in many parts of the world, some countries have issues with "squatter rights," which means law enforcement cannot force inhabitants of the slums to move out so that they can clear the area. In addition to this solution, urban planners often work to locate schools, hospitals, and other socially beneficial and job-producing establishments near the slums in order to improve the economic climate of the area.