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The New York Times put out a good interactive map on New York’s 1811 Commissioners’ Plan for the city. You can adjust the slider to move between the current map and the 1811 map.

The article recounts the 200th birthday of the plan–“the single most important document in New York City’s development.”.

The Plan basically overlaid a 200 ft x 600 ft. grid over Manhattan island–regardless of topography of the island. It in fact was a reason that many of the hills of New York City were leveled. The basic parcel size in each block is 25×100. 2,000 blocks total.  With the plan, the merchant leaders of New York wanted predictability and they wanted a block that was conducive to commerce and development. What resulted isn’t one of beautiful vistas, some even call it monotonous, but it has worked well and efficiently. The grid takes a back seat to the people and the buildings of the city.

“The 200-foot-long block is short enough to provide continuous diversity for the pedestrian, and the tradition of framing out the grid by building to the street-wall makes New York streets walkable and vibrant,” said Amanda M. Burden, the director of city planning.

But some have reservations. Tony Hiss, author of “In Motion: The Experience of Travel,” said that while the grid contributes orderliness, “I still think it distances us from our natural surroundings, and it has given us a slightly spurious and diminished mental geometry.We think more in terms of linear blocks than neighborhoods.”

In its recently published Making Room for a Planet of Cities, The Lincoln Institute of Land Policy complimented the plan, along with Cerda’s plan for Barcelona, for being farsighted. The 1811 Plan expanded the city by five times. Making Room says that cities should at least consider that more growth will occur than expected; it doesn’t hurt to plan for the possibility when the consequences for under planning are quite worse. Both the 1811 plan and the Barcelona plan are grids and the grid is easily extend-able, making it easy to accommodate future growth. The Lincoln land Institute’s point is that you do not need to commit to building infrastructure and streets now, just say that if the city does expand, this is where the streets would go, so don’t put buildings on what may in the future be streets.

I think lessons can be learned here in China, where some cities are underestimating population growth, or being told to underestimate population growth. The result is a constant reworking of the plan to catch up.

See the Wall Street Journal Blog entry for many other fun maps relating to Manhattan:

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From the New York Times. Shenzhen needs green roofs to help lessen the load on sewers during heavy rains and cleanse the air.

The Toronto council this month got a look at a proposed green roof by-law that would make such installations mandatory on certain new developments with a gross floor area exceeding 54,000 square feet. The measure, which is a component of Mayor David Miller’s environmental strategy, proposes greening 30 to 60 percent of the roof area, depending on building size. Exemptions include schools, industrial structures, low- to mid-rise apartment buildings and affordable housing.” “If adopted, the city of Toronto would be the first municipality in North America with a mandatory green roof by-law. Similar requirements exist in Japan, Switzerland, Germany and France.

 This article is from US News & World Report, an American magazine that, besides putting out a list of best careers for 2009, is also most famous for its rankings of US colleges. Urban planning is one of 30 professions that the magazine feels  “offer strong outlooks and high job satisfaction. ”  The article is good to read for information about a ‘typical’ day for an American urban planner. You might want to read the comments section for insight into what some current and  future planners are thinking.

Best Careers 2009: Urban Regional Planner

Overview. Should a new stadium be built downtown? How can a county reduce sprawl while providing appealing, affordable housing? What should the city demand of a developer who wants to build a new project?
To address questions like these, planners analyze trends, population needs and desires, the area’s assets and liabilities, and laws and policies. Planners conduct studies, lead meetings with experts, and hold public hearings.

Before making a recommendation, planners end up wearing many hats: civil engineer, architect, economist, budget analyst, sociologist, and politician. A diplomat’s touch is necessary if you expect your plan to survive all of the stakeholders’ competing interests.

In larger communities, you might be able to specialize in redeveloping blighted areas; choosing proper land use for a particular parcel; or managing transportation, housing, environmental protection, or historic preservation. In smaller communities, you may handle it all.

A Day in the Life. You’re a planner for a rapidly growing small city and, rather than filling the distant suburbs with mini-mansions, you’re eager to redevelop faded urban areas. That approach will require fewer new roads and make better use of existing resources. So, you’ve solicited proposals from developers and selected one.

For more, go to the article

In my opinion, more Americans approach urban planning from a social justice point of view, than the  engineering/architecture point of view which is more common here in China. As a result, some people getting a Master’s in Urban Planning might also get a Master’s in Social Work at the same time–or maybe a Master’s in Natural resources. Of course, strict urban design is usually done by those with architecture backgrounds.