Choosing the Best Urban Planning Firm: 7 Key Tips

Choosing the Best Urban Planning Firm 7 Key Tips

Urban planning is an art and a science that shapes the way our cities grow and function. It’s a field that combines creativity, practicality, and foresight to create sustainable, vibrant, and efficient urban spaces. 

In this light, selecting the right urban planning firm is crucial for the success of any city development project. But with so many firms out there, how do you make the right choice? Let’s dive into seven key tips to guide you through this important decision.

1. Assess Their Experience and Track Record

Experience is the cornerstone of any reputable urban planning firm. But it’s not just about how long they’ve been around; it’s about the impact they’ve made. Dive into their portfolio like you’re on a treasure hunt. 

Look for projects that sparkle with innovation and success. Has this firm transformed a rundown area into a thriving community space? Maybe they’ve turned an old parking lot into a bustling marketplace? These stories of transformation are what you’re after.

Also, consider the diversity in their portfolio. Have they tackled different types of environments (urban, suburban, rural)? Variety in their projects shows flexibility and a broad skill set. It’s like having a Swiss Army knife in your urban planning toolkit; ready for any challenge.

But here’s a tip: don’t just take their portfolio at face value. Reach out to their past clients or partners. Get the inside scoop. Were they easy to work with? Did they deliver on time and within budget? This firsthand feedback is like gold. It gives you a real sense of what it’s like to work with this urban planning firm.

2. Evaluate Their Approach to Sustainability

Sustainability is the heartbeat of modern urban planning. The right firm breathes life into its projects with a sustainable approach. 

Look for firms that think beyond just green spaces. How about energy-efficient building designs? Or creative water management solutions? These elements are not just good for the planet; they make life in urban spaces more enjoyable and affordable.

But here’s the twist: sustainability isn’t just about the environment. It’s also about creating spaces that sustain communities. Does the firm design spaces that encourage community interaction? Places where people can gather, kids can play, and cultures can thrive? These are the nuances that turn a city into a community.

Ask the firm about its sustainability heroes. Which projects or cities inspire them? This can give you a glimpse into their sustainability philosophy. It’s like getting a peek into their playbook. You want a team that’s not just playing the game but changing it for the better.

3. Understand Their Community Engagement Strategies

Community engagement is where urban planning gets real. It’s where the rubber meets the road. The right firm doesn’t just design for people; they design with people. They understand that the locals are the experts of their own neighborhood. Who better to tell you what a community needs than the people who live there every day?

Look for firms that don’t just hold token community meetings. You want a team that really listens. Are they asking the right questions? Are they open to new ideas, even if it means going back to the drawing board? This kind of open, two-way communication is the secret sauce for successful urban projects.

And it’s not just about listening; it’s about being involved. Does the firm have a track record of involving local businesses, artists, and community groups in their projects? This isn’t just about building spaces; it’s about building relationships. It’s about weaving the social fabric of a neighborhood into the very bricks-and-mortar of your project.

4. Check for Innovative and Adaptive Designs

Innovation is the lifeblood of modern urban planning. In a world where change is the only constant, the right urban planning firm thinks outside the box. They’re not just following trends; they’re setting them. 

How do they incorporate cutting-edge technology in their designs? Do they use smart city concepts, like intelligent traffic systems or energy-efficient buildings? These are signs of a firm that’s not just building for today but is future-proofing for tomorrow.

But innovation isn’t just about flashy gadgets and tech. It’s also about creative problem-solving. Can they turn a challenging small space into a multi-use area? Do they have clever ways to preserve historic buildings while making them functional for modern use? It’s this blend of creativity and practicality that sets a great urban planning firm apart.

And let’s not forget about adaptability. In a world facing climate change and shifting urban needs, flexibility is key. Does the firm have a track record of adapting projects to meet unforeseen challenges? Think of it like a good improv actor, always ready to pivot and make the most of whatever scenario they’re faced with.

5. Scrutinize Their Communication and Collaboration Skills

In the world of urban planning, communication isn’t just important; it’s everything. The right firm is like a great conductor; they bring together different stakeholders and ensure everyone is playing in harmony. How do they keep you in the loop? Are their plans and ideas presented in a way that’s easy to understand, even for non-experts?

However effective communication goes beyond just talking and presenting. It’s about listening, understanding, and responding. You want a firm that’s not just hearing your words but is genuinely taking your ideas and concerns on board. 

And remember, urban planning is a team sport. The firm should play well with others, including architects, engineers, city officials, and contractors. It’s like a well-oiled machine, where every part works seamlessly together.

6. Consider the Firm’s Financial Stability and Pricing Structures

Now, let’s talk about the financial side of things. Choosing a financially stable urban planning firm is like choosing a sturdy ship for a long voyage. 

You want to make sure they can weather any storm and get your project to the finish line. But how do you gauge this? Look at their history. Have they consistently delivered projects successfully? Do they have long-standing relationships with clients and suppliers?

And then there’s the matter of pricing. Transparency is key here. You want a firm that’s upfront about costs and provides a clear, detailed breakdown. No one likes surprises when it comes to expenses. Also, consider the value they offer. The cheapest isn’t always the best, but neither is the most expensive. It’s about finding that sweet spot where cost meets quality.

7. Analyze Their Legal and Ethical Standards

Last but not least, legal and ethical standards are the backbone of a trustworthy urban planning firm. Think of it as the moral compass guiding every decision they make. 

You want a firm that’s not just playing by the rules but is setting the standard for ethical practice. This includes everything from adhering to zoning laws and building codes to ensuring accessibility and inclusivity in their designs.

An ethical urban planning firm also thinks about the bigger picture. How do their projects impact the local community? Are they enhancing the quality of life for residents? It’s about creating spaces that don’t just look good on paper but feel good for the people who live there.


Choosing the right urban planning firm is a journey that requires careful consideration and research. It’s about finding a partner that aligns with your vision, values, and goals. 

Remember, the firm you choose will play a pivotal role in shaping the physical and social landscape of your community. By following these tips, you can make an informed decision that leads to the successful realization of your urban development projects. 

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About Phil Myrick

Phil Myrick is an advisor to planning and development projects around the world and former CEO of Project for Public Spaces. Phil applies research into how people interact with their environments and each other to create vibrant places, destinations, districts, and developments. His strategic advice has helped his clients achieve their goals of attracting people, engaging people in their community, strengthening connections and social fabric, and stimulating economic development. Phil is married with two teenagers and struggles to satisfy his passion for being outdoors or on the water.

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