Urban Planner: A Day in the Life

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You're a planner for a midsize city, and, rather than filling the distant suburbs with minimansions, you're eager to redevelop faded urban areas. That approach will require fewer new roads and make better use of existing resources. So you've solicited proposals from developers and selected one. Now the real work begins. Today, you're reviewing geographic information system maps and other computer-based data to predict how many city services will be needed, from lampposts to libraries to fire hydrants. What mix of parking garages, additional bus service, and other transportation should be required? What about plug-in shared electric cars? You work with the mayor's office to figure out how to extract as many freebies from the developer as possible, things like subsidized low-income-housing units, wireless Internet for the community, and money for the local schools. You call the developer to float the proposal. He's furious and quickly turns the conversation to demanding variances in the building codes and zoning regulations. You knew that was coming.

You get off the phone and weigh the impact of the various proposals on all the people affected. You need to get out of the office, so you visit one of the proposed building sites to mull over the options firsthand. Finally, it's back to your office for a phone call with an economist, who can provide some figures to plug into the first-draft budget you'll start on tomorrow. The official workday ends at 5 p.m., but tonight, you need to attend a public hearing on the project. Everybody has a complaint. Environmentalists warn that wetlands will be destroyed. Preservationists worry that historic buildings might get torn down. Supporters insist that the community desperately needs redevelopment. Your job is simply to present the data. It's up to the politicians to decide whether to build or not.