Through the Eyes of an Urban Planner: Waiting on the World to Change

It’s hard for us to wait for the changes in our lives to begin, especially when companies are trying to put their products in our hands as quickly as possible. Amazon offers next day shipping, McDonald’s distributes the most fast food in the least amount of time, and our Keurig coffeemakers turn on with the flip of a switch. We have grown so accustomed to getting what we want, when we want it, that we have forgotten how to be patient and wait to see what the future has in store for us.

For an urban planner, waiting for the city that they have envisioned to come to fruition is like being a kid waiting to open their presents on Christmas morning. Child and urban planner alike can see all of the potential in front of them, but they have to wait for everyone else to wake up and smell the coffee.

Many of a city’s goals and plans that help them in building towards the future are often decades away from being completed. So what does the urban planner do in the meantime? The urban planner practices patience and passes time by gradually changing the ways of the world, one sustainable city at a time.

The big cities of America- New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago- are committed to establishing city-wide plans by a certain year in order to promote three major goals. Within the city they want to battle global warming and climate change as a collective whole. They want to increase their green infrastructure among their buildings and transportation hubs. Additionally, the cities want to use less resources and lessen their impact on their immediate environment. Although these are only a few of the main goals that the cities are taking on in order to attain the status of being a city of sustainability, they are some of the most important.


Plants grow on a rooftop farm in Greenpoint, New York. Photo by Mike Di Paola/Getty Images.

New York City

PlaNYC is the initiative that New York City has put support behind in its attempt at reducing its environmental impact by the year 2030. As the city tries to battle global warming and rising sea levels, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg gathered funds to help build sea walls and create other preventative measures that protect the city’s 520 miles of coastline. Being a city that is designed to grow higher as opposed to wider, it’s important that the buildings promote healthier lifestyles by comfortably housing a growing population, utilizing alternative design practices, and by being close in proximity to transportation, parks, and other public spaces. One of the city’s most admirable goals is their plan to reduce its carbon emissions by 30% before 2030, something that the city is well on its way to achieving as carbon output is currently 13% below 2005 levels. New York City’s urban planners and leaders like Amanda Burden are attempting to bring sustainability to the city sooner than projected and in ways that will benefit everyone in the long run.


Los Angeles

Los Angeles has yet to enforce a city-wide plan on sustainability, however students at the University of California, Los Angeles have created an agenda that they hope will encourage Mayor Eric Garcetti to adopt one. Vision 2021 LA is a proposal that’s based on attainable measures that can be taken by the mayor for the length of his terms. The plan aims to combat climate change by encouraging laws that limit carbon emissions, primarily through the implementation of alternative modes of transportation, whether it be zero emission vehicles and providing ample resources for them, to increasing access to public transit. The city is already focused on promoting the integration of vegetation and other green initiatives into buildings which are the most important design practices as they will stand the test of time for years to come. Currently, one of Los Angeles’s biggest challenges is access to clean water which Vision 2021 hopes to change by being able to obtain 32% of the city’s water from repurposing efforts. By getting urban planners on board with the initiatives, we can rest assured that the city will be designed with everyone’s best interests in mind.


Millennium Park, Chicago. Image via


Go To 2040 is Chicago’s sustainability plan that aims to overcome environmental issues while ensuring the quality of life for its residents is enhanced in the same manner. Being one of the most comprehensive plans in the nation, it focuses on combatting global warming and climate changes by being oriented towards the steps that residents can take to improve the overall health of the city. Mayor Rahm Emanuel is making sure that Chicago is integrating parkland and vegetation into multiple aspects of what city life looks like in order to increase its green infrastructure. The plan is mainly focused on how lifestyle changes will benefit the community by inviting new business, providing innovative transportation practices, and encouraging water conservation. Urban planners know that people are the driving forces behind the city’s sustainability success, and hope to capitalize on their potential.

Although these plans are decades away from being adopted by all residents within these large cities, such goal-oriented efforts will have a tremendous effect on other cities that are striving to build a better future for all of their residents. By growing at their own pace, cities have the opportunity to learn from the mistakes of others and see all of the measures that paid off over time, but they have to be careful not to wait too long and run the risk of being left in the dust.

“Ants create colonies, bees create hives, and humans create futures.”- Erwin McManus, Author

Feature Image: Stepping out into sustainability. Painting by Annie Lapin.

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.