Urban Planner

Urban Planner

About the Job

An Urban planner develops land-use plans and programs for an area. This helps create communities, accommodate population growth, and revitalize physical facilities in towns, cities, counties, and metropolitan areas.

What You’ll Do

Urban and regional planners identify the needs of a community and develop short-, intermediate-, and long-term solutions for building or revitalizing a community. For example, they examine proposals for new schools to make sure they account for increased population or manage the social and economic factors involved in developing a new park. They will also examine ways to make a community more attractive to businesses.

Some planners work on state, county, city, or community-wide projects, while others focus on specific issues. Ultimately, planners provide fact-based advice and information for the best use of a community’s land and resources for residential, commercial, industrial, educational, and recreational purposes.

Planners must work with public officials, community members, and other groups to identify overall community issues and goals. Using research and data analysis, they will formulate strategies to address all issues and to meet the identified goals. Urban and regional planners may also oversee and organize projects being developed by other groups. This could be policy recommendations or helping to create a long-term area plan.

Urban and regional planners use geographic information systems (GIS) that analyze and manipulate data. GIS data can be used to create digital maps of an area. They also use statistical software, visualization and presentation programs, financial spreadsheets, and other database and software programs.

Types of urban planners:
  • Land use and code enforcement planners are concerned with the way land is used and whether development plans comply with codes, which are the standards and laws of a jurisdiction.
  • Transportation planners develop transportation plans and programs for an area, including road, mass transit, bike, and pedestrian modes of travel. They identify transportation needs and issues, assess the impact of transportation services or systems, and anticipate and address future transportation patterns.
  • Environmental and natural resources planners attempt to mitigate the harmful effects of development on the environment. They may focus on conserving resources, preventing the destruction of ecosystems, or restoring polluted areas.
  • Economic development planners focus on the economic activities of an area. They may work to expand or diversify commercial activity, attract businesses, create jobs, and expand the tax base or housing stock.
  • Urban design planners work to make building architecture, streets, and public spaces look and function in accordance with an area’s development and design goals and land-use codes. They combine planning with aspects of architecture and landscape architecture. Urban design planners focus on issues such as city layout, street design, and building and landscape patterns

Qualities and Skills Needed

Analytical skills
Communication skills
Decision-making skills
Management skills
Writing skills

Education Required

Urban and regional planners require a master’s degree from a program accredited by the Planning Accreditation Board in order to qualify for most positions.

While an undergraduate degree in any program could possibly be accepted for the master’s program, most people have a degree in urban and regional planning, economics, geography, political science, or environmental design.

A master’s program consists of time spent in seminars, workshops, and laboratory classes, where students will learn to analyze and solve planning problems. Courses offered may vary between schools and states, depending on local issues. For example, programs located in agricultural states may focus on rural planning, and programs located in an area with high population density may focus on urban revitalization.

Although not necessary for all positions, some entry-level positions require one to two years of work experience in a related field, such as architecture, public policy, or economic development. Many students gain experience through real-world planning projects or part-time internships while enrolled in a master’s program. Others enroll in full-time internships after completing their degree.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

As of 2015, New Jersey was the only state that required urban and regional planners to be licensed, although Michigan required registration to use the title community planner.

The American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) offers the professional AICP Certification for planners. To become certified, candidates must meet certain education and experience requirements and pass an exam. Certification must be maintained every two years. Although certification is not required for all planning positions, some organizations prefer to hire certified planners.

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The average salary is $66,138 but will vary depending on experience and training.