The red counties are ones with the most rapid growth in number of 'Architecture and Related Services' degrees granted – the group that includes urban planning. Among the top entries on the list are several surprising cities: Miami, Florida; Detroit, Michigan; and Huntsville, Alabama. These three cities point toward two factors which may be drawing more and more students to urban planning: the threat of global warming and the increase in enthusiasm for urban renewal.
Miami’s citizens have good reason to fear the potential effects of global warming. Since 1996, sea levels in coastal Florida have risen 3.7 inches, making flooding a habitual headache for residents of many Miami neighborhoods. And the concern is not restricted to Miami. Three quarters of global major cities now identify climate change as a critical priority, according to a recent MIT survey, and intend to make climate change a mainstream part of city planning. It’s likely that current urban planning students share concern for climate change; a 2015 survey showed that large majorities of urban planning students embrace social activism. And this increased interest in urban planning degrees isn’t only limited to Miami. In fact, based on the Data USA map there are 5 coastal counties in California, 2 in New York and one in Maine that have seen increases in urban planning degrees, comprising 722 total degrees awarded.
Concern among urban planners for social justice may also provide a clue to what’s happening in Detroit and Huntsville. Here, the increasing strength of urban renewal – with its associated powerful metaphors of rebirth in moribund rustbelt cities -- may be one of the factors enticing students to pursue degrees in urban planning. Huntsville recently created its first-ever citywide master plan, suggesting a new interest in smart growth. Innovative approaches to urban renewal such as 'land banking' (giving cities the power to acquire tax delinquent properties directly) and 'adaptive reuse' (finding beneficial new uses for abandoned buildings) are gathering steam in neighboring Birmingham Alabama and in Detroit.
Richard Florida concluded his commencement remarks with a warning: "We will be spending trillions of dollar on city building, and it is absolutely critical that we get it right." Critical, indeed. Luckily, there seems to be no shortage of committed new urban planners to help influence future urban development in the right ways.