As urbanisation keeps rising annually, the pressure on cities and the urban infrastructure increases proportionately. This is where urban planning and city management assumes significance. Indeed, the importance of urban planning was first recognised in ancient Rome, where the population is estimated to have reached one million people.
But modern urban planning originated in a social movement seeking urban reforms in the second half of the 19th century to counter the disorder in industrial cities, worsened by increasing overpopulation and dwindling resources. Today, with city populations soaring globally, urban planning offers a slew of employment and entrepreneurial opportunities. A career in urban planning calls for finding solutions in using land and resources, such as water and electricity, more judiciously. Moreover, managing infrastructure and supply networks as well as ensuring pollution control and environmental protection are all necessary for making a city fully functional.
Contemporary urban planners must balance conflicting needs of aesthetic appeal, economic growth, social equity and environmental sensitivities. The planning process could be achieved through a formal master plan covering an entire city or specific areas only. Typically, successful implementation of such plans involves entrepreneurship skills plus political wisdom in ensuring contradictory interests are skilfully managed.
Urban planners can ascertain that city life becomes more liveable for residents by controlling the use of resources, keeping pollution levels low and ensuring road traffic and other transport systems are operating seamlessly. In this manner, urban planning boosts the liveability index of cities.
To elaborate, a career in this field will involve developing buildings and other structures, streets, parks and landscaping, understanding and planning the various resources, procuring planning permissions, etc. Simultaneously, urban planners will need to keep fire, safety, environment and other norms in mind while planning urban areas.
Besides, planning for proper development of urban areas and suburban zones will be done as per their population densities, resource availability and other variables such as specific settlements and diverse communities in these regions. Naturally, this covers research and analysis, strategic thinking as well as architectural and designing elements, among others. Note that a one-size-fits-all approach does not work in urban planning since each region throws up its own challenges.
The overall responsibilities include:
*Meeting government officials, city residents and private stakeholders in deciding the usage of land and resources.
*Conducting regular field visits and other on-ground activities for obtaining an adequate understanding of specific issues and hurdles in the area.
*Keeping one’s ear to the ground in knowing the changing demands of consumers, companies and other stakeholders.
*Reviewing plans with other officials and departments for improving and making the necessary changes in the urban plan.
*Devising relevant or practical solutions in resolving city-centric problems, including annual flooding, low water reserves, inadequate drainage systems, etc.
Key Skills Required
Aspiring students should be good at strategic thinking, designing, research and analysis and architecture, including legal issues linked to urban planning. Since urban planning involves engineering plus social and political concerns, in some ways it is a technical profession and an academic discipline too. Consequently, aspirants must be adept at managing political opinion and public participation.
Candidates should also be technology savvy because GIS (geographic information systems) is now deployed in mapping existing urban infrastructure and projecting the outcomes of changes in the present system while planning future goals.
There are other essential qualities too for urban planners such as soft skills, which is important for handling the challenge of dealing with bureaucrats and government officials. Securing environment, planning and other relevant permissions requires tremendous proactivity, patience and perseverance. Therefore, urban planners are required to be flexible in their approach and realistic in setting deadlines, taking into account variables that could be outside their control.
Students aspiring to become urban planners must clear their Class 12 or an equivalent exam scoring minimum 50% marks, with Maths and English being mandatory.
A few of the leading institutions in India offering a course in Urban Planning include:
*School of Planning and Architecture Delhi
*Sir JJ College of Architecture, Mumbai
*Guru Ram Das School of Planning, Punjab
*Birla Institute of Technology, Mesra, Ranchi
*Maulana Azad National Institute of Technology, Bhopal
*Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology, Ahmedabad
Remuneration and Scope of Work
At the entry level, an urban planner can expect a minimum salary of Rs35,000 per month. The average salary of experienced urban planners could be around Rs80,000 to Rs90,000 p.m. But skilled and experienced urban planners draw much higher salaries, depending on the company they are working for and the role they play.
Urban planners have to first identify the requirements of specific communities. Thereafter, short-term and long-term plans are devised in building, expanding and/or revitalising specific areas, infrastructure and systems, as necessary. Their scope of work could also involve implementing plans devised by community members, overseeing ongoing/upcoming projects and executing the directives of diverse groups.
In other words, urban planning is akin to societal development work. As a result, urban planning students should possess a sound understanding of both urban and regional planning.
Finally, urban planning is perhaps one of the most critical roles in a city today. As the ravages of global warming lead to annual flooding in many regions, including non-coastal ones, it will take the vision of expert urban planners to devise new and innovative measures to minimise or eliminate flooding.
Only the best urban planners can help tackle a societal menace that is bringing death and devastation to coastal and non-coastal areas every year. For the aspiring and ambitious youth of today, there could be no greater challenge than what urban planning offers…
(Author Avneesh Sood is Director, Eros Group. Views expressed here are personal.)