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How an MPA in Economic Development Can Prepare You for a Sustainable Urban Planning Career

Cities across the globe are undergoing rapid evolution, encountering significant challenges brought on by urbanization, migration, population growth, demographic shifts and climate change. As a result, city officials face exceptional demands to handle this growth and establish sustainable development approaches. If you want to improve cities and communities and possess a sense of civic duty, an interest in sustainability, a fascination with history and culture and an innovative spirit, a career in urban planning may be for you.

Murray State University’s online Master of Public Administration (MPA) with a concentration in Economic Development program provides graduates with the expertise to pursue urban planning jobs.

Understanding Urban and Regional Planning

The role of urban and regional planners involves crafting land use plans and programs to facilitate the formation of communities and reinvigorate physical structures and spaces. According to a Brookings article, having competent planners working for a city or region helps to accomplish goals that serve the best interests of people living in cities, suburbs and other types of communities:

  • Managing growth: With population growth and urbanization on the rise, planners must be able to manage the expansion of cities and towns to accommodate people’s needs while preserving natural resources and protecting the environment.
  • Revitalizing communities: Urban and regional planners can help revitalize declining neighborhoods and commercial districts by developing plans that encourage new development, promote economic growth and improve the quality of life for residents.
  • Promoting social equity: Planners can help ensure that development benefits all community members, not just a privileged few. They can work to promote affordable housing, provide access to public transportation and create safe, walkable neighborhoods.
  • Improving public health: Planners can help design communities that promote physical activity, access to healthy foods and clean air and water. By creating safe and healthy environments, planners can help reduce the incidence of chronic diseases like obesity and heart disease.
  • Ensuring sustainable development: Urban and regional planners help create sustainable, environmentally friendly and economically viable communities. They develop plans and programs that promote the efficient use of resources, reduce carbon emissions and support local businesses.

A career in this field involves diverse responsibilities. Urban planning specialists must perform the following tasks, among others:

  • Meet with public officials, developers and community members to discuss land use and development plans.
  • Implement government policies and plans related to land use.
  • Collect and assess data from various sources such as market research, censuses and economic and environmental studies.
  • Perform on-site investigations to evaluate factors that impact community growth and decay, including land use.

Urban and regional planners make a median salary of $78,500 as of April 2023, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Factors such as work, leadership experience and relevant academic training factor into the compensation.

What Is Sustainable Urban Development?

To ensure long-term community vitality, a sustainable planning vision should direct urban development and the prioritization of interconnected green spaces, a multi-modal transportation system and mixed-use development. Urban sustainability goals are occasionally classified as the triple-bottom-line, which involves the administration of three domains often known as profit, people and planet.

Collaborations between public and private entities should be diverse to create sustainable and habitable communities that safeguard historical, cultural and environmental resources. This activity begins with policymakers and developers who endorse sustainable site planning and construction practices that decrease pollution and balance constructed and natural systems.

To achieve sustainability, urban planners engage in a political process that leverages the know-how and contributions of community leaders and interest groups, according to the Brookings article. Once projects are green-lighted, planners use a multi-disciplinary approach that involves professionals and officials from fields such as architecture, transportation and natural resource management to develop solutions to unsustainable practices. Community planners and environmental specialists oversee sustainability over the long term as the urban environment experiences demographic and ecological shifts.

How an MPA Prepares You for a Career in This Sector

Urban and regional planners need a master’s degree from an accredited planning program to qualify for most careers in this profession. The Murray State University online MPA with a concentration in Economic Development program provides the expertise and training you need to succeed. While the core MPA curriculum prepares you to serve in executive functions in governmental and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), this program’s concentration courses take the next step in preparing you for specific roles in urban planning.

In this program, you will take a total of five electives, including two required courses. Introduction to Economic Development is an introduction to the process, purpose and background needed for the local economic development process. Economic Development Finance is an exploration of the financial concepts, tools, programs and practices needed by economic development professionals.

The core MPA coursework gives you a background in key areas of public administration — including policy analysis, budgeting, finance and organizational theory — while the choice of electives enables you to shape your degree to meet your specific career goals in urban planning. Whether you aspire to become an economic developer, city planner or city manager, this program can provide the academic foundation you need to prosper — and to help cities and communities do the same.

Learn more about Murray State University’s online MPA with a concentration in Economic Development program.

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