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How Urban Planning Works


The Future of Urban Planning
British and Chinese officials at the Urban Planning Museum in Shanghai, China, see a model of Shanghai in 2015.
British and Chinese officials at the Urban Planning Museum in Shanghai, China, see a model of Shanghai in 2015.
Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

As long as people live in cities, there will be a need for urban planning. In developing countries, such as China and India, high rates of urbanization make successful city planning especially difficult. Planners must balance the speed of decision-making with the need for thoughtful, well-considered programs for development. And they must address very difficult questions: What qualities in society should be valued most? What is fair and equitable? Whose interests will be served first?

In the future, these questions will likely be posed for cities that exist on the moon or Mars. Urban planning in such situations will have the added challenge of dealing with microgravity, extreme temperatures, radiation and other environmental issues. You might think that such a city is unrealistic, but NASA has been planning a "city in the sky" for years. In 1975, a team of researchers, planners and NASA officials met for 10 weeks to design this space city. The team's solution was a giant wheel nearly two kilometers across. Inside the wheel, the city's 10,000 inhabitants would enjoy breathable air and normal Earth gravity due to the rotation of the wheel about its axis. They would work in factories; travel across the city in transport tubes; and participate in activities at schools, arenas and theaters. They would, in short, do all of the same things residents of Earth-bound cities do. And they would require superior urban planning to make sure they lived in a healthy, comfortable and efficient community.

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