What exactly is Urban Planning?

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Urban comes from the Latin word urbs – meaning city. Currently, the term refers to a city, town, or populated area. Therefore, logically, urban planning aims to design, plan, and analyze a municipality to establish a framework for improving living and work conditions for the residents. The responsibilities to accomplish this goal are numerous. For example, planners must look at the utilities – will the current water and power meet a rising population’s demands? Where is affordable housing going to be most beneficial? What about parks for youth and family gatherings and activities? Does the city need bike lanes to alleviate traffic congestion and ease commuting in downtown regions? All of these are considerations for planners.

There is a high percentage of density in the larger cities as Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and Atlanta. Meaning the number of residents per square mile far exceeds rural and suburban areas. Government statistics from 2017 show that Union City, New Jersey, at the top of the list with 54,138 persons per square mile. Two other cities in New Jersey come in second and third: West New York (52,815) and Hoboken (42,484). Compare this to NYC at 28,211 and Los Angeles at 8,484.

These seemingly exorbitant numbers living within one square mile’s confines create a need for intelligent and resourceful planning. Cities with high density and population have an entire Department of City Planning devoted to handling the complexities of physical and socioeconomic environments.

Therefore, urban planning is multifaceted. It involves several aspects of day-to-day life. The following are examples of the different concentrations for city planners.

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Urban/City Design

Planners strive to design the city improvements or expansion to be a positive and attractive experience for city dwellers and visitors. People who live on the fringe of the city may work downtown or visit on the weekends. The design of the city should focus on both groups. The allure of the town or city for those in the suburbs will boost the economy as fringe residents visit to dine, shop, and attend events.

The planners may look at safety issues, foot traffic, access to public transportation, and places to rest, for example, benches on sidewalks. Attention to detail is vital.


A crucial component of the function of a city is its public transportation system. Planners examine bus routes, commuter rail, and traffic congestion at peak hours. Cities that have a commuter rail system alleviate the agony of rush-hour congestion. High-speed rail from the outlying areas also brings more people into the city quickly, which may encourage more individuals to work in the metropolis. Consequently, an efficient public transportation system can boost the city’s economy.

For the commuters, using buses and other public systems reduces their stress and improves air quality. Fewer vehicles on the road translate to fewer emissions. Many city officials have switched or advocated the switch to electric or hydrogen buses. A statistic that supports the demand for pollution-free public transport is this: 70% of the world’s carbon emissions come from cities – despite taking up only 2% of the land!


Urban planners analyze data on workers’ salaries, rents, cost of homes, work locations, degreed or not, and unemployment areas in their assessment of zoning. What and where are the highest paying and the lowest paying jobs in the city? The housing will need to be more affordable for lower-wage earners. Therefore, planners determine where lower-rent apartments are required to meet the income of those residents.

The planners may work with city or consulting architects to design housing that suits future residents’ income. Conversely, the zoning of upscale apartments and condominiums should be in neighborhoods that will entice the affluent. In conjunction with the scale of housing are the shopping establishments. The upper class will generate the necessity for designer stores. One complements the other.


This topic involves employment, labor force, land use, economic trends, commercial developments, and residential neighborhoods. Most cities are eager to attract new business, which will create new jobs, need for more housing, provide an influx of spending dollars into the city coffers, and boost sales in local shops and small businesses.

Businesses searching for a new location consider the tax structure, land costs, building costs, available employees, skilled and unskilled labor to draw from, and transportation requirements. For example, a manufacturing facility might want a nearby rail system to move products in and out of the plant. Planners could be involved in addressing the queries of the executives of a prospective new business.

During the Amazon search for a second headquarters, it chose Crystal City, Virginia, over New York City. There were many reasons for this choice. One being – Virginia was rated as America’s Top State for Business in 2019. The top slot was based on 64 metrics, including workforce, infrastructure, cost of doing business, quality of life, and the economy. Not all cities are vying for such a big catch as Amazon, but the example illustrates the influence that planners and city and state officials have on procuring impressive employers.

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