City Beautiful YouTube Channel Connects with Millions of Viewers
By Grace Burnite (Business Administration ’21)
You can find a lot of stuff on YouTube: comedy sketches, makeup tutorials, unboxing videos — even car repair. There’s something for everyone. But what about those who want to geek out on city planning?
This is a question that Dave Amos, a faculty member in the City and Regional Planning Department, aims to answer through his YouTube channel, City Beautiful. Its main purpose is to provide 5- to 15-minute educational videos about such topics as transportation, land use and urban design presented in a digestible format that anyone can appreciate.
Before coming to Cal Poly, Amos was a doctoral student in city and regional planning at UC Berkeley where he taught an introductory city planning course. That experience inspired City Beautiful.
“I realized there was a gap on YouTube and people weren’t explaining city planning concepts in videos," he said. "I was producing all of these lectures for the class and I kept thinking a lot of people would be interested in this, not just college students.”
Amos launched the channel four years ago; today it has more than 90 videos and over 352,000 subscribers.
“I realized there was a gap on YouTube and people weren’t explaining city planning concepts in videos. I was producing all of these lectures for the class and I kept thinking a lot of people would be interested in this, not just college students.”
Amos is particularly proud of "A Brief History of U.S. City Planning", where he condenses the entire scope of city planning history over thousands of years of human development into a 14-minute short — something no one else had done.
He considers his target audience is, well, everyone. "I think it’s assumed we all just know how cities work because we live there," he said. "But the videos are for everyone interested in understanding the urban world around them.”
The channel is more than just a fun way to spread information.
Amos recently published a research article in the Journal of Planning Education and Research, based on his experience running City Beautiful, titled “Planning Education and ‘Free-Choice’ Learners: Teaching the YouTube Classroom".
Free-choice learners voluntarily choose to continue learning outside of a formal learning environment. He wondered: How many of those people could learn more about city planning through YouTube? And who are those free-choice learners?
Through viewer survey research, Amos determined that free-choice learners are genuinely interested in learning more about city planning concepts via YouTube videos and that most City Beautiful viewers had no previous formal education related to city and regional planning.
A few of his most popular videos include "The Reason Our Streets Switched to Cul-De-Sacs" with 3.6 million views and "An Urban Planner Plays Sim City" with 2.2 million views.
“I’m not expecting you to be an expert after watching all my videos, but I want to inspire you to learn more and understand the place where you live a little bit better. That’s what I’m hoping people get out of the videos.”
Amos found that nearly half of his viewers are from the United States. The channel has also attracted a substantial international audience in Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia — even though most of the videos relate to city planning in the United States.
“Now that a lot more people are watching, I realize that these videos have an impact on people,” he added. “I’m cognizant of trying to be more thoughtful since there’s a wider audience. Now I challenge myself to get outside my comfort zone and do videos on European or Asian city planning.”
Closer to home, other Cal Poly faculty show City Beautiful videos to their students, and Amos has started sharing them in his own classes. The videos are also used by city planning educators in universities across the U.S.
Amos plans to continue to increase the volume and scope of City Beautiful's content. That includes shooting content on location in interesting cities around the nation. He has plans to shoot videos in Seattle and Los Angeles, and hopes to feature Chicago and Miami soon. "More travel is definitely in the forecast,” he said.
Visit the City Beautiful YouTube channel and learn more about interesting topics such as how do cities grow, planning Disney World and how to design streets for everyone.