City planning, sometimes called “urban planning,” focuses on the quality of life in cities, suburbs, towns and villages. Just like a doctor needs to know about the systems of the body in order to treat a patient, city planners need to know about the systems of the cities where they work.

When planning a city, planners must consider many factors, including the economy, the environment, and cultural and transportation needs. City planners also must understand current uses of existing buildings, roads and facilities in their city, as well as how these uses may affect the city in the future.

Anticipating future uses of space is critical. This includes thinking about problems that could arise and coming up with solutions to avoid them.

For example, it would be a very bad idea for a city planner to allow a toxic waste dump to be built next to a park. The dump could become a health threat to any residents or children who wanted to use the park. What good would the park serve if nobody could play there?

Another important job of city planners is creating “zones” in cities. Have you ever noticed that in many cities homes are clustered together in certain areas while businesses are clustered together in another? These different areas are called zones.

City planners work with engineers, architects and developers to create and plan buildings that follow the rules for each zone. Zones are important because they determine how different spaces can be used.

For example, if you live in a residential zone, it would be against the rules for a noisy factory to move next door. The factory would have to be built in an industrial zone instead.

In addition to planning zones, city planners also visualize the aesthetics of a city. This means they anticipate the way a city, neighborhood or zone will look as it develops.

For example, when city planners design an aesthetics plan for a retail zone, they may write a set of rules that must be followed. These rules might dictate what type of building materials can be used, such as brick or stucco.

An aesthetics plan can also include requirements for parking lot entrances, trees and green spaces, as well as the type of lettering and lighting used on signage.


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Have you ever wondered…

  • What is city planning?
  • What factors should be considered when planning a city?
  • Why do homes tend to be clustered in one area while businesses are in another?

Wonder Gallery

Try It Out

Pretend you’re a city planner and exercise your critical thinking skills. What would you do in this situation?

A company wants to build a chemical factory in your city. If you allow the company to build the factory, the company will have to pay a lot of money in tax dollars each year.

This money will help your city pay for essential services, such as schools and ambulances, as well as new roads and repairs to current roads. The factory will also bring 500 jobs to your city, which will provide new jobs for current residents and entice new people to move to your city.

The company wants special permission to build the factory on a site near a small lake. Many of your city’s residents enjoy spending time at the lake. It’s a place where families go to have picnics.

Several of your residents also enjoy fishing in the lake. Some of the fish that live in the lake are native to your region and do not live anywhere else.

What would you recommend? Should the company be allowed to build the factory in your city? Why or why not? Is there a solution that will make everyone happy?


Still Wondering

Now that you’re thinking like a city planner, get ready to plan your very own city! Planning a New Town is easy with this step-by-step lesson plan from National Geographic Xpeditions!


Wonder What’s Next?

Put your seat in the upright position and prepare for takeoff! Tomorrow’s wonder will take you up, up and away!

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