Urban Planner Job Description

So, you want to be an urban planner! How much do you really know about what urban planners do? Urban planning jobs can have many titles with various duties. However, there is a “general” job description that can be used as a foundation for urban and regional planners.

Urban planners develop plans for land use and revitalization of urban areas. They work closely with local government officials on issues of environmental, social and economic concern. The duties of an urban planner are largely based upon the planner’s particular job as well as on the needs of the people with whom he or she works.

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Duties of an Urban Planner

Tasks that most urban planners perform as part of their daily duties include:

  • Creating reports
  • Researching data
  • Formulating and designing plans
  • Working with other professionals
  • Listening to concerns from the public/community
  • Making decisions about developing resources

Job Titles for Urban Planners

Urban planners can go by many names and titles, including (but not limited to):

Skills an Urban Planner Should Have

In order to succeed as an urban planner, you should possess the following skills:

  • Organization
  • Decision making
  • Attention to detail
  • Communication (oral and written)
  • Negotiation
  • Problem-solving
  • Research
  • Analysis
  • Motivation of others (and self-motivation)
  • Information technology
  • Interpersonal

Education for Urban Planners

Entry-level urban planning positions typically require a graduate degree in Urban Planning or a related field. An urban planning program that is accredited by the Planning Accreditation Board is highly recommended. Degrees in related areas that are also acceptable include geography, environmental planning, urban design, environmental design, urban studies, and political science. Specializations for graduate degrees that may be available in a degree program include transportation planning, urban design, community development, and natural resources planning.


Certification for Urban Planners

New Jersey is the only state that mandates state licensure for its urban planners. Professional certification through the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) of the American Planning Association is recommended for all urban planners. This is attainable after earning your graduate degree, working for two years in the professional planning discipline, and passing an examination. Certification in the AICP must be renewed every two years. Certification maintenance credits must be fulfilled every two years in order to maintain your credentials.

Types of Urban Planning Jobs

The American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) has listed some of the most popular urban planning job titles and descriptions for those jobs. They include, but are not limited to:

Planning Director/Senior Level Planner

This is a top-level management planning position within a company, and may also be known as the Executive Director. They direct all operations of an organization, reporting to a Board of Directors. In addition to planning and supervisor duties, Planning Directors:

  • Oversee recruitment, employment, evaluation of staff
  • Supervise all organization staff
  • Develop organization policies and goals
  • Prepare operations budget for organization
  • Keep the Board of Directors/Trustees informed on agency conditions and trends
  • Represent organization on local boards
  • Implement General Plan/planning projects
  • Evaluates planning legislation and applicability
  • Evaluates proposals to local governments
  • Attends meetings, which may be on evenings and weekends

Principal Planner/Planner IV

This a supervisory type of job, in which the Principal Planner manages or supervises divisions or sections within a planning department. They participate in complex and sensitive planning activities and often represent the most senior level planning position within a company. Duties are similar to those of a Planner II, with greater emphasis on supervisory and management duties.

Planner III/Senior Planner

Advanced professional planning knowledge and experience is required to become a Senior Planner. They are involved with more complex assignments than Associate Planners, and have many of the same duties. They are given greater independence and judgment, and may supervise Planner I or IIs.

Planner II/Associate or Junior Planner

The Planner II/Associate Planner position builds upon the duties of Planner I. It is considered to be a professional position with duties of moderate difficulty. In addition, the Planner II is often expected to have in-depth knowledge in a concentration or specialty such as environmental planning, economic planning or comprehensive planning. Work of an Associate Planner is typically reviewed by a Senior Planner. Duties include (but are not limited to):

  • Interpreting/applying local codes, regulations and ordinances
  • Initiating action to correct regulation violations
  • Assisting with updating and maintaining Comprehensive Plans and land development regulations
  • Conducting reviews of development applications like plans, permits and variances
  • Writing and presenting formal and technical reports
  • Identifying community problems
  • Developing long-range plans
  • Developing strategies to promote community, environmental or economic development
  • Evaluating adequacy of community facilities
  • Writing ordinances and regulations
  • Attending meetings, which may be on evenings and weekends

Planner I/Assistant Planner

The Planner I/Assistant Planner position is an entry-level, professional planning job. It usually requires a graduate degree. Professional-level duties are added to those of the Planning Technician. Other duties that a Planner I might perform include:

  • Develop planning studies and reports
  • Review and assist in development proposals and site plans
  • Prepare/present detailed development proposal reports to agencies
  • Collect statistical data and prepare reports and maps
  • Evaluate ordinance amendments, rezonings, site plans etc.
  • Act as a liaison between community groups and government agencies in development of neighborhood plans
  • Coordinate community review of projects
  • Provide information to the public
  • Assist in resolving citizen issues
  • Attend meetings, which may be on evenings or weekends

Planning Technician

Other names for the planning technician job include GIS Technician or Code Enforcement Technician. This position is an entry-level, paraprofessional one, attainable with an undergraduate degree. This position can also act as a trainee level for a Planner I position.

Planning technicians work closely with the public to provide customer service on issues regarding planning. They may:

  • Provide technical assistance and information to the public as well as staff
  • Review plans and permit applications to make sure that they are compliant
  • Perform routine office tasks
  • Develop and maintain tracking systems, files and records
  • Prepare staff reports
  • Research and compile information on planning issues
  • Prepare public notices
  • Prepare maps, tables and charts
  • Investigate planning regulation and ordinance violations
  • Attend public meetings as necessary

Industries in which Urban Planners Work

Urban planners work in a variety of industries, not just governmental. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) of the US Department of Labor, as of May 2019, the top industries employing urban planners in the US were:

  • Local government (employed 27,790, at an annual mean wage of $75,910)
  • Architectural, engineering, related services (employed 4140, wage of $87,670)
  • Management, scientific, technical services (employed 1230, wage of $74,740)
  • Colleges, universities (employed 270, wage of $90,250)
  • Social advocacy organizations (employed 150, wage of $119,360)

Job Outlook for Urban Planners

If you want to become an urban planner, the BLS says that the job outlook for this profession is good – great, in fact. Estimates indicate that employment levels for urban and regional planners will rise by 11 percent from 2018 to 2028, faster than the growth rate for other occupations. Urban planning jobs are more prevalent in cities, of course, but planners are needed in all areas of the country. The top five metropolitan areas with the most jobs for urban planners, as of May 2019, were:

  • Los Angeles/Long Beach/Anaheim, CA
  • San Francisco/Oakland/Hayward, CA
  • New York/Newark/Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA
  • Seattle/Tacoma/Bellevue, WA
  • Washington/Arlington, Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV