• Urban Planning
    Fewer bright lights, fewer big cities . .

    Photograph by Laura Stanley, MyShot

    Your Ticket to Ride Really Pays Off!
    People who take public transit can save an average of $9,330 every year, or $778 per month. That's money they don't have to spend on gasoline or parking fees.

    Public Transit's Top 10
    The top 10 urban areas that use public transportation the most, in order:

    • New York-Newark
    • San Francisco-Oakland
    • Washington, D.C.
    • Boston
    • Chicago
    • Seattle
    • Portland
    • Philadelphia
    • Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana
    • Baltimore

    Getting the GIS of It
    Knowledge of geography is essential for an urban planner. With GIS, map data is coded in a variety of ways. Residential, commercial, or industrial parcels of land are assigned their own special code. The codes can be subdivided into more specific categories to show the city's physical features. Layers of information can be created with GIS, enabling city planners to find everything they need on one computerized map.

    For example, say a city wants to plan a community garden in an urban neighborhood. The city planner uses GIS to locate all residential property in the city. Next, the city planner decides to see only residential property next to vacant lots. The vacant lots must be at least a half-acre or larger. With GIS, city planners can click through layers of map data to find the areas they are looking for.

    By Mary Schons

    Monday, August 29, 2011

    Urban planners are people who direct the development of cities and towns. Urban planners are sometimes called city planners. Many urban planners work for local government, although some advise nonprofit and community groups on ways to best grow and develop their cities.

    Most cities, however, are not growing. Urban areas are losing population. The 2010 U.S. Census showed population growth slowed in 14 of the 15 largest urban centers. The challenge for many urban planners has become not how to plan for growth, but what should be done with vacant city land left behind when people or businesses move away.

    Urban planning got its start in the U.S. in the late 19th century. At the time, many cities were dirty, overcrowded places. Illnesses such as cholera, yellow fever, typhoid, and influenza spread rapidly. City planners at the time thought spreading people as far away as they could from industry, with its foul odors and air pollution, would make them healthier. City governments created laws called zoning ordinances to keep people, business, and industry separate from one another.

    Moving farther away from their jobs meant people relied more heavily on cars to get where they needed to go. Starting in the 1920s, increased dependency on cars led to more traffic and air pollution. Walking to do daily errands became more difficult when neighborhoods and shops were spread too far apart to visit in one trip.

    “Several recent studies have linked city planning to issues of obesity and public health,” said Jason Satori of Integrated Planning Consultants. “When we design cities in ways that require people to drive rather than walk, and when we design streets that make biking dangerous, we discourage people from engaging in physical activity.”

    Making Cities Bike-Friendly

    Today, cities around the world are making their streets friendlier to bikes and pedestrians by passing laws restricting car travel. Vienna, Austria; Munich, Germany; and Copenhagen, Denmark, are closing entire streets to car traffic. Barcelona, Spain, and Paris, France, have dedicated more of their streets to bike traffic. Drivers in London, England, and Stockholm, Sweden, pay a fee when they drive into the city. Making cities less friendly to cars makes people more likely to walk, ride a bicycle, or use public transportation.

    Chicago, Illinois, is one U.S. city that’s on its way to becoming more bike-friendly.
    •    The city is opening its first protected bike lane (on Kinzie Avenue). It will have soft plastic posts and a special lane to protect cyclists from heavy downtown traffic.
    •    Alderman Proco "Joe" Moreno, who represents Chicago’s First Ward, has proposed removing one lane of car traffic and devoting it to bike travel.
    •    The city's Bloomingdale Trail is transforming an abandoned rail line into a park and bike trail that will be ready for use by 2014.
    •    Mayor Rahm Emanuel has pledged to build 25 miles of bike lanes for each year he's in office.

    “We need to recognize that streets are public spaces too, and not merely channels for moving as many vehicles as quickly as possible,” said Tom Vanderbilt, the author of Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do. “The car will continue to exist, but should be treated as a ‘renter’ of the city, not its landlord.”

    Mixed-Use Communities

    Other cities are reducing the amount of time spent in cars by creating a mixture of shops, housing, and public transportation in the same neighborhood. These communities, called mixed-use communities, enable residents to live, work, and shop with less reliance on an automobile.

    The Civano project in Tucson, Arizona, and the resort village of Loreto Bay in Baja California Sur, Mexico, are planned neighborhoods designed to use city space more wisely and reduce sprawl.

    Joanna Trotter is the community development director for the Metropolitan Planning Council, a nonprofit organization dedicated to shaping a more sustainable and prosperous Chicago region. She grew up in a mixed-use community in Portland, Oregon.

    “My mother never owned a car,” she says. “We used public transportation to get where we needed to go and lived in a neighborhood where people of different incomes lived on the same block. When I moved away from home, to Atlanta [Georgia], Los Angeles [California], and finally Chicago, I began to see how not typical my city was compared to the rest of the country.”

    Today, Trotter helps manage the Gary and Region Investment Project (GRIP), which works with communities in the greater Chicago area. Cities like Gary, Indiana, and Flint and Detroit, Michigan, “all were planned to be bigger than they actually were,” says Trotter. “Gary, Indiana, was originally planned for 200,000 people. The closest the city ever got to that number was in 1950 when it had 178,320 people. Today, Gary has 80,000 people—less than it did in 1930.

    “Planning includes better housing and transportation, as well as parks and rivers that are clean and available for use by the public,” says Trotter. “We are preparing Gary not for growth, but for stabilization. We were working with the city to find projects that will attract businesses and strengthen the urban core.”

    At a 2010 GRIP event, Northwest Indiana residents met to vote on a series of projects they feel would help the community the most. Expansion of the Gary/Chicago International Airport received the most votes. Another project high on the list was improvements along Gary’s metro rail stop.

    “Airports and train stations bring in a lot of people,” explains Trotter. “They also bring restaurants, hotels, cargo, and shipping companies. These are jobs not directly connected to airports or railroads but would come about because people need those services.”

    Community Gardens

    City planners are increasingly looking at growing food within city limits as a way to use vacant land. Urban agriculture and community gardens have gained popularity in recent years as people want to purchase food that's grown closer to where they live. Places like Flint and Chicago are leading the way in buying land that would normally be purchased by private owners.

    In the Haddington neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a nonprofit called the Urban Tree Connection bought two-thirds of an acre of derelict land in the 1990s. Today, the Neighborhood Food Central Production Farm grows potatoes, bok choy, collards, and cabbage.

    Growing Power Inc. has urban gardens in Chicago and in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. NeighborSpace works in partnership with the city of Chicago to allow community groups to grow gardens in the city.

    Kathy Dickhut is head of Chicago's Sustainable Development Division and a NeighborSpace board member. The Sustainable Development Division provides assistance to Chicago residents who want to grow plants and fish in hoop houses.

    Hoop houses are mini-greenhouses that protect plants from the elements. Plastic sheets cover half-circle hoops of metal or plastic tubing. The practice of raising fish and plants in a hoop house or greenhouse is called aquaponics.

    "In hoop houses, crops like kale can be grown 10 months out of the year, even in a Chicago climate," Dickhut says.

    Chicago Mayor Emanuel recently proposed an ordinance that would allow the city's 14,000 empty lots to be used in urban agriculture. The new ordinance would allow community gardens to expand to half an acre, would relax strict fencing and parking rules around urban gardens, and would allow food to be sold that was grown in an aquaponic environment.

    Some urban farming practices use even less land, allowing shrinking cities to be sustainable. Vertical farming is the practice of growing food in high-rise buildings. Dickson Despommier is a professor of environmental sciences and microbiology at Columbia University and an advocate of vertical farming.

    “By growing food hydroponically, or off the land grid, large tracts of farmland can then be abandoned, allowing them to revert to their ecological purpose,” he says.

    Hardwood forests would return, and high-rise buildings would take over the job of feeding the city, he says.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    abandoned Adjective


    air pollution Noun

    harmful chemicals in the atmosphere.

    Encyclopedic Entry: air pollution
    alderman Noun

    elected member of a local governing body, such as a city council.

    aquaponics Noun

    practice of raising and cultivating both fish and plants in a single environment, such as a greenhouse.

    assistance Noun

    help or aid.

    bok choy Noun

    plant, related to cabbage, whose stalks and leaves are eaten as a vegetable.

    cargo Noun

    goods carried by a ship, plane, or other vehicle.

    cholera Noun

    infectious, sometimes fatal disease that harms the intestines.

    climate Noun

    all weather conditions for a given location over a period of time.

    Encyclopedic Entry: climate
    collard Noun

    leafy green plant, related to kale, eaten as a vegetable.

    community garden Noun

    single piece of land cultivated and maintained by a group of people.

    derelict Adjective

    abandoned or neglected.

    development Noun

    construction or preparation of land for housing, industry, or agriculture.

    ecology Noun

    branch of biology that studies the relationship between living organisms and their environment.

    Encyclopedic Entry: ecology
    elements Plural Noun

    weather or climate.

    enable Verb

    to empower or allow.

    errand Noun

    small task or chore.

    fee Noun

    price or cost.

    food Noun

    material, usually of plant or animal origin, that living organisms use to obtain nutrients.

    Encyclopedic Entry: food
    government Noun

    system or order of a nation, state, or other political unit.

    greenhouse Noun

    building, often made of glass or other clear material, used to help plants grow.

    hardwood Noun

    the strong, dense wood, of flowering trees.

    hoop house Noun

    greenhouse with plastic sheets draped over half-circles of metal or plastic tubing.

    hydroponics Noun

    cultivation of plants by growing them in nutrient solutions instead of soil.

    industry Noun

    activity that produces goods and services.

    influenza Noun

    contagious disease, characterized by fever, exhaustion, and difficulty breathing. Also called the flu.

    kale Noun

    leafy green vegetable.

    land grid Noun

    method of dividing a specific area of land into smaller parcels by using a system of north-south and east-west lines.

    landlord Noun

    owner of an area of land where others occupy space and pay rent.

    metro noun, adjective

    subway or train used for public transportation.

    microbiology Noun

    study of the structure, function, and behavior of microscopic organisms.

    mixed-use community Noun

    development of an area for more than one purpose, such as housing (residential) and shopping (retail).

    neighborhood Noun

    an area within a larger city or town where people live and interact with one another.

    Encyclopedic Entry: neighborhood
    nonprofit organization Noun

    business that uses surplus funds to pursue its goals, not to make money.

    obesity Noun

    medical condition where excess body fat increases risk for disease and death.

    ordinance Noun

    law or rule.

    overcrowd Verb

    to fill an area with too many objects or organisms.

    pedestrian noun, adjective

    person who travels by walking.

    population Noun

    total number of people or organisms in a particular area.

    professor Noun

    highest-ranking teacher at a college or university.

    prosperous Adjective

    financially successful.

    public Adjective

    available to an entire community, not limited to paying members.

    public health Noun

    services that protect the health of an area, particularly sanitation, immunization, and environmental safety.

    Rahm Emanuel Noun

    (1959-present) American politician and current mayor of Chicago.

    rail line Noun

    railroad line, or a road having a permanent line of fixed rails for trains to use.

    rapidly Adverb


    reliance Noun


    restrict Verb

    to limit.

    revert Verb

    to return to a formar state of being or acting.

    shipping Noun

    transportation of goods, usually by large boat.

    sprawl Noun

    unregulated growth of an urban area.

    sustainable Adjective

    able to be continued at the same rate for a long period of time.

    sustainable development Noun

    human construction, growth, and consumption that can be maintained with minimal damage to the natural environment.

    town Noun

    human settlement larger than a village and smaller than a city.

    tract Noun

    area of land.

    traffic Noun

    movement of many things, often vehicles, in a specific area.

    transportation Noun

    movement of people or goods from one place to another.

    typhoid Noun

    infectious, sometimes fatal disease that harms the intestines. Also called typhoid fever.

    urban agriculture Noun

    process of growing, harvesting, processing, and distributing food in a city or town.

    urban planner Noun

    person who works to create or improve the natural, built, economic, and social environments of urban areas.

    U.S. Census Noun

    count of everyone in the U.S., conducted every 10 years.

    Encyclopedic Entry: U.S. Census
    vacant Adjective

    empty or abandoned.

    vertical farming Noun

    practice of cultivating crops in skyscrapers.

    village Noun

    small human settlement usually found in a rural setting.

    Encyclopedic Entry: village
    ward Noun

    neighborhood or political district in some large cities.

    yellow fever Noun

    infectious disease spread by mosquitoes, primarily affecting the liver.

    zoning Noun

    system of sectioning areas within cities, towns, and villages for specific land-use purposes through local laws.

Tell us what you think