What Does an Urban Planner Do?

Do you like thinking and working with ideas? Are you adept at researching facts and analyzing problems? If so, you might want to consider becoming an urban and/or regional planner. Characteristics that add up to success in this position include innovation and an entrepreneurial spirit. You must like to start and carry out projects, work well individually as well as within groups, not be afraid to deal with government officials, other businesses and citizens, and enjoy occasionally taking risks.

Do you recognize yourself in these traits? If so, becoming an urban planner might be the perfect job for you! Read on to discover what, exactly, you can expect if you become an urban planner.

Urban Planner Job Description

Urban and regional planners are responsible for developing comprehensive and master plans and programs that regulate land usage and the utilization of physical facilities of jurisdictions. Those who work in urban planning must exhibit a keen understanding of law and regulations regarding the jurisdictions in which they work. They become highly familiar with court proceedings, precedents, agency rules and government regulations. Urban planners often meet with other professionals such as attorneys, social scientists, government officials, and the general public to formulate plans and address specific issues.

Daily Job Duties of an Urban Planner

According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), daily job duties of urban and regional planners include (but are not limited to):

  • Meeting with developers, public/government officials and the public concerning land development plans and land use
  • Helping to administer government plans/policies that regulate land usage
  • Collecting and analyzing data from government censuses, market research, environmental studies and economic research
  • Reviewing site plans that developers submit to them
  • Estimating the feasibility of proposed plans and identifying changes when necessary
  • Performing investigations in the field to help them analyze a variety of elements that affect community development and land usage
  • Recommending if proposals should be denied or approved
  • Presenting projects to communities, government planning officials and planning commissions within jurisdictions
  • Keeping up with building codes, zoning regulations and ordinances, environmental regulations, and other laws and legal issues

Others Who Work Closely with Urban Planners

Urban and regional planners work very closely with government and public officials, civil engineers, architects, environmental engineers, economic consultants, sustainability experts, attorneys, and real estate developers, among others. They also work with citizens, who are encouraged to offer their input regarding plans within their communities to help identify community goals and issues.

Tools and Techniques Used by Urban Planners in Their Work

Urban and regional planners use a variety of tools and techniques in performing their job duties. These include (but are not limited to):

  • Telephone
  • Computer
  • Printer
  • Calculator
  • Data analysis
  • Statistical software
  • Data visualization programs
  • Data presentation programs
  • Spreadsheets
  • Geographic Information Systems software

Work Hours for Urban Planners

Urban planners usually work on a full-time basis during normal daytime business hours (between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.). However, they may occasionally need to work evenings or weekends, especially to attend planning commission meetings or to meet with members of the community. Sometimes, working more than 40 hours per week may be necessary in order to complete all job duties or when working on a particular project.

Work Sites for Urban Planners

Urban and regional planners often work in the field. Their actual job headquarters is usually in an office within the company or agency in which they work. Examples of potential employers of urban planners are:

  • Government agencies at various levels (federal, state, local)
  • Nonprofit organizations
  • Private architectural companies
  • Private development companies
  • Real estate development companies
  • Planning consulting firms

Other Job Names for Urban Planners

Urban and regional planners may go by a variety of position titles such as:

  • Planners
  • City planners
  • Administrators
  • Developers
  • Managers
  • Designers
  • Survey researchers

Average Salary for Urban Planners

The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that the average annual salary for urban and regional planners in the United States was $77,750 (May 2019). The lowest ten percent of planners earned less than $45,850, and the highest ten percent of planners earned more than $116,280. Salaries were highest for those working for social advocacy organizations, followed by legal services, the federal executive branch of government, land subdivision, and colleges and universities.

Education Necessary for Urban Planners

Most urban and regional planning positions in the United States require a graduate degree, preferably from an accredited planning program. The Planning Accreditation Board of the American Planning Association is the main accreditation body for college-level planning programs in North America. Common graduate degrees for urban and regional planners include:

  • Master of Urban & Regional Planning
  • Master of Urban & Environmental Planning
  • Master of Science in Planning
  • Master of City & Regional Planning
  • Master of Urban Planning
  • Master of City Planning

Experience Necessary for Urban Planners

Entry-level urban planning jobs typically do not require experience. Some employers may prefer to hire experienced planners. Internships during your graduate degree program are valuable as well in teaching you what to expect on-the-job and giving you a modicum of experience for when you apply for “real-world” positions in planning.

Certification Necessary for Urban Planners

The only state that requires state-level licensure for its urban planners is New Jersey (through its State Board of Professional Planners). For all urban planners, it is recommended that, after you obtain your graduate degree and work for two years in the planning field, you pursue professional certification through the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) of the American Planning Association. This involves passing an examination. Your certification must be renewed every two years, during which time you must complete certification maintenance credits to maintain your credentials.

Areas in Which Urban Planners May Specialize

There are many concentrations or specializations in which urban and regional planners may work. These may include:

  • Community/housing/economic development
  • Transportation systems planning
  • Multi-regional planning
  • Historic preservation
  • Environmental policy/planning
  • City and urban design/development
  • International development

Job Outlook for Urban and Regional Planners

Per the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, the outlook for jobs for urban and regional planners nationwide is quite good. In 2018, there were 39,100 jobs for urban planners in the U.S. Between 2018 and 2028, an increase of 11 percent is expected for urban planning jobs across the country, or an addition of 4200 new jobs. This is much faster than the average increase for all occupations.