What the @!?**#! Is An Urban Planner?

The Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center
A model showcase at the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center – Shanghai, China
Source: Michael Jentsch (Flickr)

I get this question a lot (without the cursing but the facial expressions convey the blue language).  A few months ago, a Primerica “salesman” approached me in the produce section of my neighborhood Safeway attempting to get me to sign up for his MLM scheme and he asked what I did for a living (wow how brazen to ask someone you don’t know this question!).  I told him, I am an urban planner.  Primerica man’s eyes glazed over and we stood in a 5 second uncomfortable silence.  He finally decided to ask what is an urban planner.  My stock answer for the everyday man or woman is this  — “I help design cities.”  Four words.  Sometimes I swap the word ‘cities’ with ‘neighborhoods’ or ‘towns.’ He went on to ask did I make good money in my profession.  Errr, well enough to not have to go around soliciting people in a grocery store to get them to waste their time and resources on a scheme.

It’s a bit more complicated than that definition but it works when I get the glazed over look.  But if you are curious to know what an urban planner, here is the definition courtesy of Wikipedia:

An urban planner is a professional who works in the field of urban planning for the purpose of optimizing the effectiveness of a community’s land use and infrastructure. They formulate plans for the development and management of urban and suburban areas, typically analyzing land use compatibility as well as economic, environmental and social trends. In developing their plan for a community (whether commercial, residential, agricultural, natural or recreational), urban planners must also consider a wide array of issues such as sustainability, air pollution, traffic congestion, crime, land values, legislation and zoning codes.

In other words urban planners design cities (and towns, and the suburbs).   Sometimes the job is routine like many others but most of the time is great in a frustrating complex way. The sheer amount of meetings with community residents, developers, architects, engineers, politicians and bureaucrats would probably drive most people batty.  You have to master the art of negotiation having to deal with all of these groups. One thing I really do like about the profession is that I get to set policy in what is good for a community.    At this moment, I am working on two plans that will guide the growth of  two communities for the next 15 to 20 years. Power trip anyone? Ha!

In my profession the use of the word ‘urban’ is sometimes controversial because not all work in urban areas – yep someone out there is planning rural areas and farmland folks.  Some have taken to saying they are ‘planners’ but I have learned this causes so much more confusion than is necessary.  I tried it once at an event and everyone thought I was a party planner.  Seriously.  So no thank you, tacking the word urban on the title at least gets people’s minds working and wanting to know more.

In conclusion, I help design cities and I am proud to say so.

By the way, the photo above is great! Shanghai is teaching its people about the benefits of urban planning.  Where is the U.S. is this happening?  If you know of any, please send the details my way.


My Favorite Urban Blogs & Websites

I watched Oprah Winfrey’s new network OWN over the holiday weekend on and off and decided to do a ‘favorite things’ blog post that highlights interesting urban/city-focused blogs and websites (if you have never watched Oprah you will not get the ‘favorite things’ reference). This list is not in any particular order.

1. Harlem Bespoke (@HarlemBespoke)

Back in the early part of the 2000s, I had a boyfriend/college sweetheart who was from NYC, Harlem to be exact.  And I liked visiting him during school breaks in large part because I would get visit Harlem (shhh don’t repeat that).  Harlem Bespoke is a lovely blog that transports me back to all that walking – around the corner to  the subway station at 145th Street, to all the stores on the Avenue, walking around one of the City College campuses (I don’t remember which one).  For that, Harlem Bespoke, thank you for keeping me up to date on  the Harlem happenings.

2. Car Free Baltimore (@CarFreeBaltimore)

One man’s tale of living in Baltimore without four wheels.  Being from Baltimore, I did not think living car free was possible before I found this blog.  Will I ever get this hardcore, who knows but it’s a great first-person account of living in Charm City car free.

3. Rebuilding Space in the Urban Place

I heart this blog for a couple of reasons.  First it provides an in-depth analysis on the issues taking place in the DC area in  the areas of urban planning, development and politics.   Second, though the blog author, Richard Layman, may not remember, gave my first blog Urban Ethnic Focus a big shout out on Rebuilding Space, which drove up the site traffic considerably.

4. Miamism (@Ines)

While this is a website that focuses on real estate I have to give it the thumbs up.  Those beautiful photos of Miami architecture, of the sun, the beaches, the people.  You would be crazy not to like this blog.  Oh, and Ines’ (the author) tweets and reviews on mojitos will make you want a mojito!

5.  Urbanophile (@urbanophile)

Providing great analysis and discussion on urban issues in  Mid-West, Urbanophile is where it’s at.  I check on the happenings at this blog at least once a week.

6.  Montreal State of Mind (@JeanAymeri)

I want to go to the Montreal International Jazz Festival this year so I decided to start checking on local blogs  to get a feel for life in Montreal.  This blog is visually appealing and has lots of good information.

7.  StreetsBLOG

This blog covers urban/city issues on both coasts – specifically NYC, LA, San Francisco, and DC.  An enjoyable read for us urban-loving types.

8.  Spotted by Locals (@spottedbylocals)

A treasure trove of information on Euro locales.  A heavy focus on urbanism and related issues which makes me giddy!

9.  The Pop-Up City

Wicked Urbanity wants to be like The Pop-Up City when it grows up.  It’s that good.

10.  BLDGBLOG (@bldgblog)

A photograph-heavy blog on urbanscapes and buildings.  I could star that this blog for hours.  Seriously.

Off-Topic Friday – WordPress Surfing

Off-topic Friday fell off for the last few weeks but its back (no excuses). Over the past few days, I’ve been exploring other WordPress blogs and found a ton of wonderful content.  Check out the links below to learn about what is going on in the WordPress-sphere:

France – Where vegetarianism meets the world’s most sophisticated cuisine, or not – Going Bright Green

Top ten things NOT to do with your press release – Brendon’s Blog

A Day Spent Without My Arm – I Mean My Phone – GigaOM

Lessons from Cáncun – Eurobee

The architecture photo picks this week are inspired by the movie “Inception.”  I watched the movie last night (my second viewing) and paid more attention to the cityscapes.  The first time I saw the movie, I was just attempting to keep up with the plot!

Shinjuku skyline at night, Tokyo Source: PFC (Flickr)

Tangier, Morocco (served as a stand in for Mombasa in the movie)

Tangier Skyline Source:  eric.gilbertsen (Flickr)

Los Angeles


Source: Eric 5D Mark II (Flickr)

Finding a good skyview of Paris began to grate on my nerves during my photo search so no Paris photos this time around.