Is Urban Planning a Good Career?

If you are a college student examining various career choices, or perhaps are already involved in a career but are looking for a change from your current career path, you might be asking yourself, is urban planning a good career? Urban planners help to design the development of urban, suburban and even rural areas. This planning is intended not only to improve pedestrian and vehicular traffic, it also seeks to enhance the quality of life and health of people living within these planned spaces.

The profession of urban planner is highly focused on the future, while still dealing with problems and challenges of the present, so wondering about its future as a career choice is only natural. We will examine what makes urban planning a good career choice as well as which interests and personalities best fit those of an effective urban planner.

What Types of Personalities Make the Best Urban Planners?

In order to be an effective urban planner, you should possess certain qualities. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Great organizational skills
  • Exceptional research skills
  • Ability to envision alternatives to existing context
  • Adaptability to changing circumstances
  • Great analytical skills
  • An understanding of the social and environmental impact of plans and design
  • Effective communication skills, in the interpersonal, oral and written realms
  • Excellent collaborative skills and the ability to work well as a team
  • Good skills at managing projects and resources
  • Leadership skills
  • Negotiation, advocacy, facilitation skills

What Type of Education Should I Have to Become an Urban Planner?

In order to become an urban planner, a graduate degree in the discipline or a related field is necessary. If you already have a bachelor’s degree in any field, and/or work in another career field and are thinking of changing careers, starting a graduate degree program in urban planning, political science, urban design, environmental design, geography or a related discipline should be a relatively simple process.

The most important thing that you must consider when choosing a graduate urban planning degree program is to select one that holds accreditation through the Planning Accreditation Board. As of 2022, the Board has accredited 78 master’s level and 15 bachelor’s degree programs at 81 colleges and universities throughout North America.

Must I Become Certified as an Urban Planner?

Although professional certification is not mandatory for urban planners, nor is licensure a requirement in most states (New Jersey and Puerto Rico are the only jurisdictions mandating licensure for urban planners as of 2022), certification through the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) of the American Planning Association is highly recommended. In order to attain this certification, you must have a graduate degree in urban planning and work for two years in the planning discipline, then pass a certification exam. As of 2022, it costs just over $500 for initial certification, but is well worth it. You will find that having this certification will open many more career doors for you.

Where Can I Find a Job as an Urban Planner?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that, as of 2021, over half of all urban planners working in the U.S. work for local government. Other top employers of urban planners include architectural and engineering firms, state government, consulting and technical firms, and the federal government. Jobs for urban planners are regularly posted online and on forums such as the American Planning Association’s Career Center Jobs Search.

How Much Do Urban Planners Earn?

One of the most vital aspects to ponder when you are deciding if a certain field would make a good career choice is how much you would earn. Although happiness in a career cannot be determined solely by salary alone, making a fair, competitive wage is important to being happy within your selected profession.

According to the BLS, as of May 2021, the mean annual wage for urban and regional planners in the U.S. is $81,310. Those earning in the top 25 percent make $99,090 annually; while those earning in the top 10 percent bring home yearly salaries of $119,340.

Cities in which urban planners earn the highest salaries include:

  • District of Columbia $107,330
  • California $97,510
  • New York $92,660
  • Washington $92,580
  • Nevada $92,280

What is the Job Outlook for Urban Planners?

According to the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau figures (2020 statistics have yet to be released), about 81 percent of all Americans live in urban areas. This number increased from 79 percent in 2000, and is expected to continue to rise as population density grows. The BLS predicts that, from 2020 to 2030, employment opportunities for urban and regional planners will grow by 7 percent, as fast as the average projected increase for all occupations. About 3700 jobs in urban and regional planning are expected to be added each year to the 39,100 existing jobs (circa 2020) by 2030.

Are Urban Planners Generally Satisfied with Their Careers?

The urban planning website Planetizen conducted an informal survey of urban planners in Los Angeles, California in 2014. They discovered that urban planners are, for the most part, grateful to have a career, and not just a job. Some of the positives that urban planners have identified about their careers include:

  • Having collaborative relationships with those living within spaces, and giving them a voice and a say in what happens in their communities
  • Being able to greatly improve public transit infrastructure
  • Using technology and tools like GIS that help them achieve their goals in day-to-day work
  • Ability to continue learning about all areas of urban planning, such as land use, zoning, parks and recreation, environmental protection, housing, and community development
  • Feeling like your work is relevant and purposeful
  • The work remains interesting and challenging
  • After the process is finished, a tangible outcome can be seen

Of course, like with every career, every day cannot be perfect. Other urban planners have noted the following drawbacks to their careers:

  • The tendency of people to look at proposals with their own self-interest in mind rather than what would be good for the interests of the broader community
  • The fear and aggression that some people feel when contemplating any change, even one that should ultimately be a good change
  • Dealing with the bureaucracy involved in planning
  • Balancing personal freedom of inhabitants with the need for oversight and intervention by the government