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Green Jobs in Community/Urban Planning

The success of the green economy depends on sustainable community architecture. If you feel passionate about eco-conscious plan for land, community, and infrastructure, planning may be the right industry for your green career transition.

No matter what the planning challenge, planners in rural areas, small towns, cities, counties, regions, and federal lands have the complex task of figuring out how to use the land and resources effectively for a number of interrelated purposes:

  • Establishing an economic base for the community

  • Incorporating the needs of the surrounding environment and wildlife

  • Managing natural resources in the region and establishing local utilities

  • Establishing reliable energy sources locally

  • Transporting people, raw materials, finished goods, and waste

  • Housing residents, businesses, and institutions

  • Integrating technology needs into the plan

  • Engaging residents in recreational activities

  • Ensuring that all members of the community thrive

  • Preserving the ambience and enhance the quality of life of the region

What’s happening now in green planning

More cities and towns are realizing that constant growth has its limits. With nearly 1,000 mayors signing on to the U.S. Mayors' Climate Protection Agreement, cities are now focused on how to reduce greenhouse gases in their regions to comply with the Kyoto Protocol.

Planning a sustainable community from scratch is one thing. It takes a lot of coordination, forethought, and investment. Transforming a traditional community into one that is sustainable carries with it even more challenges as various systems of the community must be reworked to be sustainable.

Several planning and design philosophies — Smart Growth, New Urbanism, and transit-oriented development (TOD) — have gained popularity in the U.S. over the last three decades. Although born from different traditions, each of these philosophies gives planners new tools and strategies to move away from the idea of suburban sprawl that requires a significant amount of automobile travel. Now planners are looking toward empty or underused sites within city limits to create compact mixed-use developments that encourage walking and bicycling. According to New Urban News, 500 communities have been built within the New Urbanism philosophy.

In June 2009 the EPA, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) created an Interagency Partnership for Sustainable Communities to help local communities grown in a sustainable way. The stated goal of this partnership is to “coordinate federal housing, transportation, and other infrastructure investments to protect the environment, promote equitable development, and help to address the challenges of climate change.”

The New Urban News reports how money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act impacts sustainable transportation options in urban areas.

Future trends in urban planning

The push toward Smart Growth and New Urbanism that brings neighborhoods together in ways that reduce greenhouse gas emissions will continue.

Another component of Smart Growth is ensuring that communities have sufficient water resources to be sustainable. Designing cities to align with the carrying capacity of the local watershed significantly reduces the amount of energy and money that is required to transport water long distances for drinking water, crops, and industrial uses.

Reworking transportation options is going to play a major role in redesigning neighborhoods and cities.

Green building is going to play a big role in redesigning urban spaces. The Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) has partnered with the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) to create a set of standards for green neighborhoods called LEED for Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND).

As more renewable energy sources are sited locally, each community will need to adjust its long-term land use plan to accommodate new technologies, transmission systems, and distribution hubs. Open space areas are likely to be targeted by utilities and developers for such projects. Finding the right balance for renewable energy sources, wildlife, and community members will require negotiation, knowledge, and finesse.

Job opportunities in green urban planning

Green planning includes many sub-specialties with job opportunities, such as

  • Planning: Regional planner, community development director, city planner, assistant to zoning manager, urban planning project manager, chief planner, associate planner, planning professional, senior planner, planning/sustainability director, urban designer, planning manager, planning technician, land use planner, planning consultant

  • Environmental planning: Senior environmental planner, environmental planner, natural resource planner, conservation program director, natural resource manager, environmental impact assessment specialist

  • Economic development: Economic developer, economic development manager, development director, economic development specialist

  • Transportation planning: Commute smart program manager, high capacity transit project manager, aviation planner, senior airport planner, transportation planner, transportation bureau planning chief, urban transportation planner

  • Housing: Urban housing planner, community development specialist, community planner

  • Specialized planning: Coastal resources specialist, military planner, green building specialist, GIS specialist, occupancy/space planning manager

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