Urban Planners Need Math

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Does your child love playing Simcity? Do they think they could design your community’s facilities a lot better? Do they have an obsession with maps and transport? They could be interested in a career in urban planning and guess what? Urban planners need math.

People who are drawn to urban planning tend to have a passion for design and a swollen social conscience. So I guess if this career is of interest to your child, you can give yourself a pat on the back for doing a decent job at parenting.

But why does choosing the best location for a bus stop need math?
Well for starters urban planners plan need to make plans about what a city needs, so they have to analyse and create forecasts and projections. To do that they need math and a thorough understanding of statistics. Is the city in need of parks and playgrounds to cater for the population boom in ten years time? Or is the city already full of baby boomers who will need ramps and hand rails? It’s up to the urban planner to make these decisions. They will need to know where the hospitals, schools and train stations should go and how many are needed to provide for the changing demographic.

When designing cities, urban planners are fixated on flow: flow of people, air, light and electricity. Every time a change is being made flow is taken into account and math allows for that flow to be quantitated and every time an urban planner changes one factor, everything else has to change as well. Math is crucial to modelling these changes.

Urban planners have some pretty sophisticated tools to help them along the way. These include geographic information system (GIS) software and computer-aided design (CAD). But in the same way that a student using a calculator will need to know the reasoning behind the math equation that they seek to answer, urban planners using GIS need to have an in-depth understanding of what they are striving to achieve.

For example, GIS can be used to analyse an entire city. This allows urban planners to divide, subtract and multiply information in order to produce a graphic that shows where people live and work in the city, where population growth is taking place and where it’s declining. The technology can help analyse how many people will squeeze into a neighbourhood, which in turn will depict how many shops will be in the area and how much traffic will flow through the various intersections. The technology helps forecast how much shadow buildings will cast over a neighbourhood, too much shadow for example will stop plants for growing, but geometry is vital to grasping those basics.

Math is necessary to know which variables to put into these equations in order to get the right results. A good urban planner will know how to manipulate algebra to create a formula to work out how many people can occupy a space based on its area and functionality. They can use a program of course, but as is the case in most careers, being able to operate numbers places your child one step ahead.

Sources: Why Math? – Episode 10 – Urban Strategies, weusemath.org

Marina Gomer is a journalist and mother of one.  She lives with her family in Sydney, Australia.