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Urban Planning Studies

Laura Puttkamer

How does one actually become an urban planner? Read more about how urban planning studies are structured, what topics to expect, what students should know before applying and where in Germany and Europe you can study urban planning.

The University of Stuttgart offers a particularly well-known Programm for Urban Planning. (Photo: Max Böttinger / Unsplash)




Structure and aim of urban planning studies

Urban planning is concerned with developing sustainable and future-oriented models for living together in cities. Unlike architecture, it is not focused on the design of individual buildings, but rather on entire districts or cities, which are designed and shaped according to certain specifications. Urban planners must include social, ecological, and legal aspects in their proposals. They must know the basics of neighbouring disciplines such as architecture, landscape architecture and construction technology.

The urban planning course is about theoretical and practical knowledge around planning visions. Students learn about the framework of urban planning, urban design and urban development. They receive an introduction to the methodology for planning and design. But urban cultural history as well as legal basics and computer-aided planning with CAD software are also part of the curriculum.

In addition, the course includes fundamentals of social science research and economic approaches. Transportation planning and the guidelines of sustainable urban development are equally important to be able to deal with complex urban processes.

Before studying, an internship in the field of urban planning is recommended and during studies it is even compulsory. Students can also gain experience in related subjects such as traffic planning, civil engineering, sociology, statistics, surveying, or environmental sciences. The bachelor’s programme lasts six to eight semesters and the master’s programme four semesters.

Topics in urban planning

The focus of the study of urban planning is the planning and design of cities. For this, students learn how to draw in perspective, how to work with supporting computer programmes and how their own plans should be developed and presented. Depending on the university and individual focus of interest, it is possible to concentrate on certain aspects of the city.

More and more study programmes in the field of urban planning offer topics such as “liveable city”, “green city”, “resilient city” or “smart city”. As this is a very future-oriented course of study, students are well advised to choose an interesting focus.

It is also important to network with experts in the chosen field at an early stage. This can be done through professional networks such as LinkedIn, but also by attending conferences and workshops. Many practicing urban planners are happy to try their hand as a mentor and thus provide students with insights into practice, valuable tips, and contacts.

(Photo: Bethany Legg / Unsplash)

What students should know

Admission to a degree programme in urban planning is limited by minimum grades at some universities. Other requirements such as particularly good grades in the school subjects mathematics, social studies and politics or a relevant internship are also sometimes given.

Those with a good spatial imagination and drawing and planning ideas are already well advised. Knowledge of subjects such as biology and chemistry helps especially with ecological issues in urban planning. While mathematics and physics provide a good foundation for technical, engineering work.

Students should have a good command of English and an interest in computer science. This is because spreadsheets, CAD software and graphics programmes are as much a part of the curriculum in urban planning as philosophical-historical texts and, of course, city plans.

During their studies, students should be prepared for various project and group work, practical phases, and excursions. Flexibility is required. Especially during the practical exercises, important “soft skills” are practiced that will later play a central role in everyday work.

Study Urban Planning in Germany

Many universities in Germany offer the study of urban planning. Sometimes it is titled “spatial planning” and specialties such as “urban and environmental planning”, “urban design” and related terms are also common. The bachelor’s degree programme deals with the fundamentals of urban planning. Students can choose whether they would rather focus on technical drawing, architecture, administration, or the environment.

The following universities in Germany offer particularly well-known urban planning programmes:

  • Stuttgart (architecture and urban planning)
  • HafenCity Universität Hamburg (urban planning)
  • Lübeck University of Technology (urban planning)
  • Bauhaus University Weimar (urban studies)
  • University of Applied Sciences Erfurt (Urban and Regional Planning_Foundations)
  • Brandenburg University of Technology Cottbus (Urban Design and Planning)

More than 20 universities in this country offer these and similar courses of study. Depending on the desired focus, interested parties can also search for keywords such as landscape planning, conservation planning, regional planning, or urban planning. Sustainability and environmental studies are also increasingly emphasising urban planning.

Master’s programmes in urban planning in Germany are increasingly offered in English. Therefore, a good mix of German and international students and global topics can be expected here, providing an exciting complement to the bachelor’s programme. Many universities accept master’s students who have a bachelor’s degree in related subjects, such as political and social science, architecture, or engineering.

Study Urban Planning in Europe

Studying urban planning is also common in other European countries. In the United Kingdom, it is known as “town planning,” while in most other countries it is known as “urban planning.” Interested students should note that bachelor’s degree programmes teach a great deal of local knowledge about the country in question.

Especially the selection of master programmes for urban planning studies is very interesting in other countries. For example, one can study “Global Urban Development and Planning” at the University of Manchester. The Science Po in Paris offers the course “Governing Ecological Transitions in European Cities” and in Stockholm there is the Master “Transport and Geoinformation Technology”.

Especially during the pandemic, urban planners have been preoccupied with issues regarding population density.

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