Everything You Need to Know About a Career in Urban Planning

A career in urban planning involves helping communities decide how to best use their resources and land while focusing on revitalization and growth for the future. Also known as city planners or regional planners, urban planners are responsible for recommending locations for various infrastructure such as schools and roads to help local officials find solutions to a range of economic, social, and environmental problems.

Job Responsibilities and Duties

An urban planner works in a role where they design and plan communities, neighborhoods, and other areas within towns and cities. It is a specialist role that involves sociology, public policy, and geography to specialize in efficiently using land to create areas that will be beneficial to the public. In this role, urban planners need to consider community features such as recreational areas, libraries, and transportation, along with taking the future needs of the neighborhood such as physical facility revitalization and population growth into account. They may also be responsible for improving neighborhoods that need rebuilding, and the role involves researching and gathering information from the residents to determine the most needed improvements along with anything else that might improve daily life in the area.

The role of an urban planner will generally involve the following responsibilities:

  • Conduct inspections
  • Prepare studies and plans
  • Create and interpret diagrams and maps
  • Coordinate with local governments
  • Meet with the public and public officials regarding land use and development plans
  • Recommend the approval or denial of various proposals

The role of an urban planner involves identifying the best ways to ensure that community needs are met in terms of handling growth and infrastructure. Urban planners are responsible for overseeing all aspects of planning, including reviewing any research available on the environmental and economic impacts. Urban planners work closely with communities and developers to determine the best ways to ensure that proposals are turned into reality. At times, this could mean that they recommend a project is denied if the research and analysis suggest that it may not be beneficial or could even be detrimental.

How Much Do Urban Planners Earn?

The pay for an urban planner will often depend on the size of the community in which they work. Typically, there is a greater tax revenue, leading to larger budgets for urban planners, in larger and more heavily populated towns and cities. Currently, the average annual salary for an urban planner is just over $73k per year, with the top 10% of earners paid over $114k yearly.

Education and Training for an Urban Planner Career

In general, working as an urban planner will require an advanced degree. Certifications are also available; these are not necessary to the role but can help with career advancement and standing out from other job candidates when applying for roles. Urban planners are typically required to have a qualification that is accredited by the Planning Accreditation Board. Masters degrees in urban or regional planning, or related fields such as geography or urban design are generally accepted. Some urban planners major in other related subjects such as public policy or political science, with a minor in urban planning or similar. An MPP master of public policy from Pepperdine University may be worth considering to prepare you for this role. If you are a high school graduate considering a future career in urban planning, bachelor’s degrees in geography, political science, public policy, environmental design, and economics are good options to prepare you for advanced education.

Along with education, you can get voluntary certification from the American Institute of Certified Planners. This is based on a number of factors including work experience, education, and an exam. Currently, certification is only required to work as an urban planner in the state of New Jersey; however, it is worth getting to boost your resume.

Skills Needed to Work as an Urban Planner

The role of an urban planner requires a lot of experience and specific knowledge in order to be good at this job. However, soft skills are also needed alongside hard skills to help these professionals manage working in what can often be a challenging environment. Some of the main soft skills that employers look out for when hiring urban planning professionals include:

Leadership Skills

Urban planners often serve as a point person on community projects which requires strong leadership skills. The work will regularly involve overseeing local employees, teams of staff, or other planners.

Flexibility

Urban planners need to be adaptable and flexible in their role, since specific priorities within a project will often be subject to change and deadlines are not always fixed.

Analytical Skills

Urban planners need strong analytical skills that allow them to successfully review a lot of data gathered from population demographics, market studies, environmental studies and more. They need to possess the skills necessary to use that information to come up with the best solutions to any problems with planning that might arise.

Verbal Communication Skills

A major role in the job of an urban planner is interacting with members of the public, including elected boards and councils and members of the local business community. As an urban planner, you will need to have the skills necessary to be able to clearly communicate the planning needs of the municipality while being able to carefully listen and take on board the priorities and interests of others.

Decision Making Skills

An urban planner should clearly understand all the options that are available to them. They need to have good decision-making skills in order to decide the safest options for workers and future residents, what makes the best use of the land available and the best option for the budget.

Creativity

Urban planners are typically individuals with a lot of creative skills, since the role often involves designing new places and converting areas into something completely new. This requires a strong ability to visualize the potential of a certain area.

Computer Literacy

Urban planning requires professionals to be computer literate, since it involves the use of several computer programs to plan and design landscaping features, buildings and more.

Job Outlook for Urban Planners

Before 2026, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics expects that employment opportunities for urban planners will grow at a rate of thirteen percent. Two of the main factors that are currently influencing the need for more urban planners are environmental issues and population growth.

Work Environment

More often than not, urban planners will work for either local or regional government offices. Depending on the size and the population, you can usually find at least one urban planner working for cities, townships, and counties. As the elected leadership for the area changes, the priorities in such communities may change, so urban planners need to be able to adapt and work with elected officials who are concerned about meeting the priorities of the voters.

Most urban planners will work for various levels of government, non-profits, real estate developers, and planning consulting firms that operate in large metropolitan areas. The role often involves a lot of time spent working with others – collaboration with engineers, architects, developers, and public officials as well as the general public is a key part of the role. The work involves managing projects, attending meetings, and giving presentation. Most urban planners will split their time between office work and working in the field. Most designing and day-to-day planning is done from an office; however, they will need to make field visits to complete the necessary research and assessments for planning the area and checking that their plans are both accurate and practical. Because of this, the job may also involve spending a lot of time on-site and traveling between various projects.

Work Schedule

Typically, the work schedule of an urban planner will follow standard business hours. Most are employed full-time. The job may sometimes require you to be available at evenings or on the weekend to attend public meetings.

A typical day in the life of an urban planner will usually involve at least one day per week in the office. Most urban planners work five days per week for forty hours. Additional work outside of the scheduled hours might be necessary depending on the needs of the current project. This could involve working late into the night to conduct site research or ensure that tasks are completed or working outside of business hours to conduct meetings with local figures, lawyers, and public officials who are involved in the project.

Steps to Becoming an Urban Planner

Urban planning is a highly skilled profession that will require you to gain both education and experience. Most urban planners are required to have a master’s degree in a relevant subject from an accredited program. Many programs accept students with a wide range of undergraduate backgrounds, and master’s degrees in public policy, political science, and other sociology-related subjects can be combined with urban planning and environmental design qualifications. Most master’s programs to prepare you for this role will involve considerable time spent in seminars, lab courses, and workshops designed to teach students how to analyze and solve a range of planning problems. If you have decided on urban planning for your future career, consider the following steps:

1. Gain a Bachelor’s Degree:

You can find bachelor’s degree programs in urban planning or similar from many colleges and universities. If you want to become an urban planner for your future career, you may find it helpful to seek out a degree major that combines a knowledge of sociology and public administration with knowledge about site planning, land analysis, budgeting, and urban development.

2. Get a Master’s Degree

Today, most employers prefer to hire candidates with an advanced degree for urban planning roles. There are various master’s degree options available that you may want to consider to help you get into this position. Master’s degrees in public administration and public policy can be useful, or you may want to consider an advanced degree program that provides you with an education on topics such as legal regulations, transportation, and building codes. If you have a relevant bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree that focuses on urban planning can be an ideal choice for earning the specific education necessary for this career path.

3. Get Certification

While certification is not a requirement for finding work as an urban planner in most states, it can be a step worth taking since it will help you find more opportunities. Many employers prefer to work with certified planners. You can find several certification programs that are available from organizations such as the American Institute of Certified Planners and various colleges and universities, which are available to get online. Various certifications are available based on your experience and education. You will usually need to pass an exam to get the certification that you want.

4. Get Experience

Two years of experience in a related position may be required by some employers who hire urban planners. This could involve experience in roles such as public policy, transportation planning, and architecture, for example. Internships and temporary roles are some of the most popular ways for aspiring urban planners to gain work experience before finding a permanent career role. You may be able to accomplish this as part of your master’s degree; however, bear in mind that some employers will look to hire professionals who have additional experience outside of university.

5. Join a Professional Organization

There are various professional organizations available for urban planners to join. This is not an essential step in this career path, but it can provide you with further opportunities for meeting other urban planners, learning more about this career path, networking, and finding new job opportunities. Some of the most well-respected professional organizations for urban planners include:

  • Environmental Design Research Association
  • Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations
  • American Planning Association
  • Community Development Society
  • American Public Works Association

Urban planning is a great career option for anybody who is interested in using land and resources to improve a certain area. It is a career that combines technical and social knowledge to improve infrastructure for various communities.