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What Is Sustainable Urban Planning?

Importance of sustainable urban planning

Concerns over climate change, clean air and water, renewable energy and land use continue to draw attention to sustainability, particularly sustainable urban planning — the developmental strategies and practices that ensure livable, self-sustaining communities over the long term. According to a 1987 United Nations report, sustainability is “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

Sustainable urban planning involves many disciplines, including architecture, engineering, biology, environmental science, materials science, law, transportation, technology, economic development, accounting and finance, and government, among others. This kind of planning also develops innovative and practical approaches to land use and its impact on natural resources.

New sustainable solutions for urban planning problems can include green buildings and housing, mixed-use developments, walkability, greenways and open spaces, alternative energy sources such as solar and wind, and transportation options. Good sustainable land use planning helps improve the welfare of people and their communities, shaping their urban areas and neighborhoods into healthier, more efficient spaces.

The Importance of Urban Planners in Sustainability

Creating sustainable communities — including the physical, economic, political, social and environmental aspects — involves many challenges. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), “The environmental aspect of sustainability focuses on the goals of protecting the environment and the conservation of natural resources for current and future generations.” To accomplish these goals, sustainability professionals, in particular urban and regional planners, create solutions and implement policies to help businesses and communities manage their resources, lower their consumption of natural resources and reduce their overall impact on the environment.

Bringing Data to Sustainability

Professional planners rely on a collaborative process that includes community officials and business leaders, along with citizens. Urban and regional planners gather community input on land use and sustainability and, relying on data and expert analysis, develop, implement and monitor long-term sustainability.

SustainAbility, a think tank and strategic advisory firm working to catalyze business leadership on sustainability, says that while sustainability is about the future of society, for today’s industries and businesses it is also about commercial success: “The mandate to transform businesses to respect environmental limits while fulfilling social wants and needs has become an unparalleled platform for innovation on strategy, design, manufacturing and brand, offering massive opportunities to compete and to adapt to a rapidly evolving world.”

Guiding Change

Urban and regional planners are important in making a region more livable for its residents and more attractive to new businesses. As cities, suburban areas and municipalities change demographically and environmentally, urban planning professionals must create revitalization projects and address population growth, environmental degradation, and resource scarcity (BLS). Planners are also necessary in new and existing communities, which require extensive development and improved infrastructure, including housing, roads and highways, water and sewer systems, schools, health care facilities, and parks.

Urban Planning Master’s Programs

Typically, urban and regional planners hold degrees from accredited urban planning master’s programs. According to the BLS, most of these degree programs include seminars, workshops and laboratory courses that teach students to analyze and solve planning problems.

Graduates of an urban planning master’s program understand the structure and function of urban developments, the history and theory of planning processes and practices, urban design, legal and political aspects of planning and policy implementation, and analysis and application of research data.

Learn more about the UT Arlington online MPA program. 


BLS: Is a Sustainability Career on Your Green Horizon?

American Society of Landscape Architects: SUSTAINABLE URBAN DEVELOPMENT

American Planning Association: APA Policy Guides The 10 Cities That Are Leading The Way In Urban Sustainability What Is Urban Sustainability?

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