Being an Urban Planner Just Got Awesome

I’m here today at the Adaptive Metropolis conference at UC Berkeley, organized by ReBar.  Which, as I suspected it would be, is awesome.  The premise of the conference is how cities, and the way we plan, manage and engage with them, is changing — an in particular, how bottom-up, diy, adaptive, responsive, agile, and user-generated approaches to city making are exploding in their scale and impact.

What I realized today — which I suppose I have known for a little while now — is that now is an incredible time to be an urban planner. (And by urban planner, I suppose I really mean “urbanist”).

This is a gross generalization, but in the past, the options for urban planners were pretty limited.  Go work for a city (when I was in school I interned at San Jose redevelopment agency, and was wasn’t accepted for a job a the Santa Cruz planning department — a job I would have hated anyway had I gotten it), go work for a private sector planning firm, or maybe for a commercial real estate developer.

Those are all fine options — but my experience, at least, was that up close, all of those options felt a bit dry, and didn’t live up to the hopes and interests that brought me to the space.  And it certainly wasn’t clear to me what my other options were.

Contrast that to now, and there is no shortage of amazing and really interesting jobs for folks who understand how cities work.  For instance, ReBar is a new kind of planning firm, that’s activist and artist at its core.  

Most interesting of all (to me at least) are the businesses and jobs that blend urbanism, data and technology.  Governments are creating “chief innovation officer” and “chief data officer” positions left and right.  Urban analytics and data visualization is a rapidly growing and super interesting field.  Nonprofits like Code for America, OpenPlans and MySociety are doing awesome work at the intersection of cities and technology.  And innumerable startup businesses are touching on urban issues (just to name a few: airbnb, lyft, sidecar, relayrides, getaround, honest buildings, neighborland, nextdoor, citymapper, coUrbanize).

Put another way, cities have always been interesting.  Now they’re sexy.

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