Extensive urban and suburban growth have characterized much of the latter half of the twentieth century in the United States. Accordingly, urban geography and urban and regional planning have grown as key areas of geography, with geographers contributing significantly to the broader planning field. At the dawn of the twenty-first century, as American urban areas become increasingly congested and populated, the need for planners will only grow.
Urban geography focuses on the spatial organization of activities and land use within cities as well as the connections between cities in larger urban networks. Urban geographers also study the processes and forces that effect change in urban areas, including population growth and distribution, ethnic makeup, political movements, and industrial patterns. Urban geographers focus both on the unique or distinctive characteristics of individual cities and on the similarities that exist between many urban centers.
"Urban and regional planning is a systematic, creative approach and method used to address and resolve social, physical, and economic problems of neighborhoods, cities, suburbs, and metropolitan regions." -- American Planning Association, 1981
Geographic education and training promote the kind of understanding of society's complex use of urban and rural land necessary for successful planning, for providing possible solutions to problems arising from conflicting land uses within regions. The powerful tools of geography--namely GIS, cartography, and remote sensing--further bolster the geographer's ability to plan effectively for the future.
Ideally, planners are able to prepare master plans that will benefit the economy and social fabric of neighborhoods, communities, cities, and regions. They work to make cities efficient, but attractive places to live and work by considering zoning regulations, traffic flows, building density, hydrology, population distribution, and recreational needs. To gain these skills, planners study population geography, transportation, social service, utilities, and solid-waste-disposal systems.
Some planners concentrate almost exclusively on transportation planning. Traffic congestion--and its associated noise and air pollution--has become a major problem in many American cities, especially since American's have resisted most mass transit initiatives and insisted on private automobiles as their preferred means of transportation. This puts a tremendous strain on cities' street networks; it also creates the need for skilled planners. With their well-developed spatial analysis skills, geographers can assist in this planning endeavor.
Many planners today work for city, county, or regional planning agencies. Employment is also available in private sector planning firms. Students should pursue an internship with a local planning agency or government for the best chance at finding employment with a bachelor's degree. Most planners hold masters' degrees in planning. This concentration will prepare you for entry into a master's-level program in planning by combining some planning training with skills in GIS, economic and political geography, economics, political science, and sociology.
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Recommended Complementary Courses
Many minors and/or second majors complement this concentration, including computer science, economics, ethnic studies, history, liberal arts business, political science, social work, and sociology. Students should also try to participate in the Chicago Urban Semester and earn an Urban Studies Minor.
This concentration is intended for students interested in graduate work or employment in urban, regional, or community planning or development, in transportation or health services planning, in urban studies, in public affairs, or with the Department of Housing and Urban Development or the Census Bureau. While jobs in planning are available to students with a degree in geography, students who pursue graduate work in Urban Planning will have enhanced employment opportunities. Students who do not plan to do graduate study in urban planning should seek out internship opportunities in order to gain experience and contacts.
For more information on careers in geography and on internships, visit the home page of the Association of American Geographers (AAG) and follow the Careers link. For more information on careers in Planning, visit the home page of the American Planning Association. The Planning Accreditation Board also maintains a list of accredited master's degree programs in planning.