Jessica Cornelius

Municipal Engineering in the 21st Century

May 17 2016 , Written by Jessica Cornelius

Urban, Civil, and Municipal Engineering are three names for a field which encompasses planning, building, and maintaining cities and towns. The purview of engineers is wide and the challenges various, according to the risks and potential dangers of living in a certain area of the world or demographic trends of a city. But there are several basic functions every municipal department is responsible for.

Functions of a Municipal Engineer

A city needs many things: public roads, safe water, parks and recreation, waste disposal, emergency management, and safety support. Many people would say the most important of these is water supply. If a town lacks clean water, there is widespread disease and panic. Waste disposal comes a close second because this affects water. Waste disposal includes recycling, garbage collection, and managing the local landfill site.

Safety for the People

Challenges to safety include creating infrastructure able to withstand the impact of regular earthquakes, seasonal flooding, or extremes of weather from winter to summer; from snow and ice to melting snow pack and the risk of forest fire. Although technology exists which every culture can take advantage of in order to ensure roads and utilities are protected against earthquakes, for instance, a municipal engineering department plans for the likely events in a given community and works with a budget designed to manage likely risks.

City Planning

As a settlement grows into a city, engineers help to plan infrastructure from the beginning. With local council, they design and organize everything from markets to schools; seniors' living to playgrounds. They conduct land surveys, create architectural drawings, and establish the provision of utilities.


Demographics determine the types of recreational facilities most needed by a community. If retirees populate a town but there are few young families, facilities will reflect this trend. Municipal engineers design senior centers, wheelchair-accessible sidewalks, and accessible public transportation centers. Young people want schools, a skateboard park, playgrounds, ball courts, and a soccer field with a field house featuring changing rooms and baby-changing facilities. In either case, it's the responsibility of the local municipal engineering department to ensure proper lighting is established, structures are accessible to everyone, there are enough washrooms, shelter is provided, and fields, courts, and tracks are maintained. More ideas can be gathered here.

Planning for the Future

Drawing up plans for new structures or renovations to existing infrastructure (roads, footpaths, bus routes, public washrooms, and even airports or train stations) is part one. Carrying out the work is the next part. Local government conducts surveys to determine what is likely to come: an influx of workers due to a new long-term mining project, for instance, or an environmental trend where hot summers and drought are expected. With engineers, they plan for the needs to come and also determine how sustainable a project will be environmentally. New water treatment and supply might need to utilize UV systems rather than chemicals. A new dam will be required to provide water. The public expects engineers to use recycled material wherever possible. When a structure is completed, engineers continually test its efficacy and safety. They start by trying to prevent danger from environmental hazards and possible interruptions to utilities but also think ahead to the demands of a growing population.

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