One of the urban and regional planner roles is the development of open land surrounding existing cities. Planners need to assess the landscape’s best use, whether it is for residential or commercial properties. To accomplish this task, planners collect data, population growth, taxes, transportation routes, and more. The analysis and forecasting help the city planners determine what suits the area’s economic, social, and cultural frameworks.
The importance of prudent urban/regional planning becomes more evident with the increasing percentage of American residents living in cities. According to U.S. Census statistics published in March 2015, cities in this country were home to 62.7% of the population. Whereas, the city-dwellers occupied only 3.5% of the land area. Between 2010 and 2013, population density increased by over 700 people per square mile in New York City and Washington, D.C.
The density can drop or level off when municipal boundaries expand due to annexation. This practice occurred in Caliente, Nevada, and Kirkland, Washington, a suburb of Seattle.
According to Worldometer, as of 2019, the percentage of city residents escalated to 82.5%. With a mere 17.5% or about 57 million people living in rural communities, the need for astute urban and regional planning is crucial. To attain this goal, planners analyze computer data concerning density, landmass, utility costs, infrastructure, and more.
As in so many industries, computer technology is paramount and has a myriad of applications and functions to complement the day-to-day operations of any company or organization. Managing a city is no different. Although urban planners may not have majored in computer science, it is advantageous to be familiar with how and when to use technology.
The following are examples of computer technologies that benefit urban/regional planning.
Geographic Information Science (GIS)
A sub-specialty of geography, GIS gathers, manages, and analyzes spatial locations, organizing many layers of information into maps and 3D scenes. It can illuminate population density as geographic patterns to reveal a specific area where most people live or work. The planners can then link the GIS data to spreadsheets and tables or graphs. The use of GIS allows planners to manage and respond to current events and perform forecasting.
Cities have used GIS to predict changing traffic patterns as land-use changes because of population growth. Planners can analyze trends in commuting on surrounding highways and roads as the population increased over a specific time. Subsequently, the city planners convene with elected officials to review and report their future congestion predictions.
Internet of Things (IoT)
Managing infrastructure is one of the responsibilities of urban planning. IoT is a tool used to transfer data and perform functions without human interaction. Initially, there is human involvement via computer devices that enables the systems to function as desired. A familiar example is the smart home’s pervasive concept, wherein residents can set lighting to turn on at the programmed time.
For planners, an understanding of IoT technology facilitates discussions with city engineers responsible for city lighting, CCTV cameras, energy management, and water usage. Another application is the use of sensors for environmental monitoring. In this case, IoT detects air or water quality and atmospheric conditions. Many cities respond to air quality analysis by posting alerts for this with a compromised respiratory system.
Virtual Reality (VR)
The technology of VR has become synonymous with gaming since the advent of devices like the Oculus. A standalone device often used with PC VR games creates computer-generated 3D simulations. These simulations immerse the gamer or participant in a setting that mimics the real world. The same technology enables the planner to simulate conditions, such as how the increase in residents in a particular area will affect traffic or the sewer and water systems. Computers generate the 3D environment to illustrate precisely how an expanded residential area will tax the existing utilities, travel/commute routes, and the environment. From this VR representation, planners, engineers, officials can assess what changes will be required to meet residential and/or commercial expansion.
Despite the universal application of computers with urban planning, college undergraduate degrees do not focus on the topic. Some programs do include GIS and planning Applications and Visual Methods. The University of Southern California’s Urban Planning track, for example. Arizona State University’s online bachelor’s degree in urban planning devotes three hours to GIS. However, students may take an elective in Spatial Optimization that teaches spatial analysis, GIS, visualization techniques, and math-based methods. Therefore, these examples provide the need to understand computer technology for future urban and regional planners.