GW's Urban Planning Program: Nurturing Tomorrow's Climate Resilient Planners

December 26, 2023

In this episode of The Professionals Podcast, we delve into the world of sustainable urban planning with Ms. Sandra Whitehead, Program Director, Sustainable Urban Planning Program at GW's College of Professional Studies. The conversation reflects on the dual purpose of building spaces for people and safeguarding the environment and economy for future generations.

The Role of Urban Planners in Addressing Climate Change

The world is at a critical juncture when it comes to climate change, and urban planners are emerging as key players in addressing this global crisis. Climate change is no longer just an environmental issue; it has become a central concern for urban planners, influencing the direction of their profession. In this blog post, we will explore the pivotal role that urban planners play in climate change mitigation and adaptation, focusing on how they shape our communities, policies, and emergency response strategies to combat the impacts of a changing climate.

Urban Planning and Climate Change Resilience

Urban planners are tasked with designing communities that are resilient to the challenges posed by climate change. This involves not only the planning of infrastructure and public spaces but also the thoughtful management of public lands, such as forests and wetlands. By doing so wisely, they can create stronger defenses against the adverse effects of climate change.

Additionally, urban planners have the power to redirect development towards existing urban areas rather than expanding into untouched greenfields. This approach not only reduces the environmental footprint of urbanization but also promotes sustainable and efficient land use.

Barrier islands, often hit hardest by climate change-induced storms, can be revitalized through rewilding efforts, bolstering natural defenses against these extreme weather events. Urban planners are at the forefront of these initiatives, influencing their success.

Emergency Planning and Management

Urban planners often assume crucial roles in local emergency planning and management. They are responsible for developing strategies to deal with unforeseeable disasters and helping communities respond effectively to crises. This is where the "rubber meets the road" when it comes to climate change adaptation.

Impact on Curriculum

Recognizing the importance of addressing climate change, urban planning programs are evolving to include climate-related coursework as a core part of their curriculum. Many programs, including ours, integrate climate change topics into their core classes. This ensures that graduates are well-prepared to tackle climate-related challenges in their future careers.

For instance, our program offers core courses such as "The Science of Climate Change" and "Planning Low Carbon and Resilient Cities." We believe that this knowledge is crucial for the next generation of urban planners, as they will play a vital role in shaping the future of our cities and communities.

The Growing Impact of GW's Urban Planning Program

Our urban planning program at George Washington University is making a substantial impact. Our close-knit community offers small class sizes, ensuring meaningful interactions with both peers and instructors. We emphasize real-world connections, with professionals in the field regularly contributing to our classes.

Our capstone projects are a testament to our commitment to practical experience. These projects, completed with real clients, help our students transition seamlessly into their careers, addressing critical issues in urban planning like equitable zoning and family-oriented housing around transit.


Urban planners are central to addressing climate change and creating sustainable, resilient communities. Our program at George Washington University equips students with the knowledge and tools they need to make a real difference in the world. As the climate crisis intensifies, the role of urban planners will continue to grow in importance, and we are proud to be at the forefront of this transformative field. Join us in shaping the future of urban planning and combating climate change for a better world.