Through the Eyes of an Urban Planner: The Challenges in Building Towards the Future

For decades, people were trying to move away from the big city and towards the unknown lands of Suburbia. Slowly, big cities are appealing to more people because of they offer access to necessities in a slightly more confined area. Downtown metropolises that have tended to be business oriented now also attract people who have always lived in “Small Town, USA” as permanent residents. Major cities such as Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago are predicting large increases in their populations over the next few decades:

  • Greater Los Angeles – 11.2 million people by 2040
  • Chicago – 11 million people by 2040
  • New York City – 9.1 million people by 2030

Along with the need to accommodate the influx of people now living in the city, urban planners are challenged with getting good use out of the least amount of resources available, and with taking on projects that enhance the city’s multi-functionality.


The urban sprawl of Los Angeles. Photo by Gabriel Guerra.

Designing a city that is socially beneficial for those who find themselves drawn to it is one of the biggest challenges for an urban planner. As singles ready to mingle, small families, and business men and women move to the city, they are giving up their cars, the peace and quiet they used to have, and their desire for a big house with a green lawn. They are moving into high-rise housing units in the heart of the city where they meet their new neighbors, Hustle who lives on the left, and Bustle who lives on the right of them. They live within walking distance of where they work, shop, eat, and play. Whether they realize it or not, these new city dwellers are establishing sustainable changes that will last them a lifetime. Changes that are exactly as the urban planner intended.

With an emphasis on less is more, urban planners are faced with the task of managing projects that require the use of less land, less materials, and less money. They are being asked to come up with ideas that transform parking lots into public parks, residential spaces, and high-rises in an attempt to utilize the less productive land. By embracing recycling and repurposing efforts, the request to use less materials is satisfied, while at the same time limiting the structure’s impact on the environment. The task of using less money becomes easier to achieve as urban planners find alternative techniques that aim to make the most out of what little they have been given. By capitalizing on the city’s potential to grow upward, urban planners have lived by the motto that, “The sky is the limit!”


Looking into the reflection of California Plaza. Photo by Gabriel Guerra.

Another challenge that urban planners face is the need to design a city of multi-functionality. In regards to agriculture, multi-functionality focuses on environmental protection and preservation as well as the economic benefits that stem from such efforts. By promoting projects that are oriented towards urban agriculture within the city, issues such as the Urban Heat Island Effect and global warming can greatly be combated. Since climate is the measure of weather patterns over time, establishing long-lasting solutions that will reduce the amount of heat that the city puts off will have the most profound impact on the environment. Urban planners battle high temperatures within the city through designs that integrate vegetation, increase circulation, and use cool roofs and other light colored surfaces to deflect heat. By incorporating these alternative practices, the surfaces of infrastructure can be up to 70° cooler, thus reducing the city’s carbon footprint, saving energy, and in turn saving money. With all of the efforts to save the planet, saving money will be one of the greatest outcomes of multi-functionality. The environment and climate changes are the urban planner’s biggest challenges, but then again, they are the biggest challenges for all of us.


The infusion of life into the buildings of Los Angeles. Photo by Gabriel Guerra.

The urban planner’s main challenges are the people, places, and purposes that can be found within the city, however, these are just a few of the things that make the work of the urban planner that much more complicated. With their strong attention to detail, their openness to public opinion, and their drive to showcase their artistry, the urban planner becomes one of the most essential contributors in building towards a better future and a more sustainable city.

“For our lives to be works of art, we need to allow a lifetime of work.”

–Erwin McManus, Author

Feature Image: Elements of a city building towards the future. Photo by Gabriel Guerra.
Home Slider Image: Urban Planning Freiham-Nord, Germany. Image via Emba.cat.

About The Author

As a recent transplant in the city of Los Angeles, I have a way of looking at the city that natives themselves have not been able to. My focus in school is urban planning, environmental science, sustainable design, and rooftop gardens. Follow me on my adventures throughout L.A. to see all that this sustainable city has to offer.