Learn About Being an Urban Planner

By Indeed Editorial Team

December 10, 2019

What does an urban planner do?

Urban planners create and implement land development strategies while accomplishing goals like cultivating communities and encouraging growth. They develop plans for neighborhoods, towns, cities and counties. Some specialize in areas like public transportation or historic preservation. Urban planners also do the following tasks:

  • Assess community needs: Professional planners generally start each project by speaking with public officials, members of the community and local developers to assess needs and options for land use.

  • Research local trends: Urban planners use a variety of resources, including census data, community studies, environmental reports and market research to assess the viability of proposed projects.

  • Develop and recommend plans: After conducting initial research, planners prepare designs to develop neighborhoods, public transportation networks, sustainable initiatives and similar projects. They may also review and recommend plans submitted by developers and other vendors.

  • Introduce plans to stakeholders: Once they have begun to develop projects, urban planners meet with community groups, local politicians and other key figures. They present their plans, promote anticipated benefits, discuss potential drawbacks and solicit feedback.

  • Understand legal regulations: Planners must follow building codes, zoning restrictions and environmental regulations. Because these restrictions change over time and vary from area to area, they must research regulations everywhere they work.

  • Collaborate with colleagues: Because they usually work with large teams, urban planners spend much of their time collaborating with their colleagues. They meet with developers, public officials, community leaders and architects regularly.

Average salary

Most urban planners work full-time schedules, and their experience, certification and location may affect their earning potential. For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, click on the salary link.

  • Common salary in the U.S.: $69,397 per year

  • Some salaries range from $21,000 to $126,000 per year.

Urban planner requirements

Urban planners typically need a combination of graduate education, work experience and professional certification to succeed in the field.

Education

Most employers require urban planners to have at least a bachelor’s degree in urban planning or public policy. Urban planning degree programs should be approved by the Planning Accreditation Board (PAB) and include courses like:

  • Community outreach

  • Land use and development

  • Project planning and budgeting

  • Urban restructuring

  • Policy analysis

  • Legal issues and regulations

  • Sustainability and environmental concerns

Most urban planners also pursue a master’s degree to enhance their qualifications and increase their earning potential. Master’s programs in urban planning typically take two years to complete and must be approved by the PAB. Most programs include an internship component that allows aspiring professionals to gain work experience in the field. Some programs allow for concentrations in areas such as the following:

  • Environmental planning

  • Historic preservation

  • Neighborhood development

  • Real estate development

  • Transportation planning

  • Urban design

Training

Urban planners often receive essential training when they complete internships or cooperative programs as they earn their graduate degrees. They also learn the basics of working in the industry by gaining entry-level work experience. Most work in related fields like community development or economic planning for one or two years before applying for an urban planner job.

Certifications

In addition to a master’s degree, most urban planners also earn one or more certifications from the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP). To earn this professional credential, candidates must do the following:

  • Become a member of the APA

  • Have current or prior professional urban planning experience

  • Have a graduate degree in urban planning and two years of professional experience, a bachelor’s degree in urban planning and three years of professional experience, a college degree in any major and four years of professional experience or no college degree and eight years of professional experience

  • Pass the certification exam, which is offered twice a year

Depending on your location, you may also need to obtain a professional license. The license application requires candidates to verify their education and professional experience, confirm that they are in good health and provide character references.

Skills

To excel as an urban planner, you need these skills:

  • Analysis: Urban planners spend much of their time researching community needs, land development and population growth. They need strong analytical skills to decide what to research and to process the information they gather.

  • Communication: Most planners work on teams with other planners, architects and developers and statistics or sustainability experts. They need excellent written and verbal communication skills to convey their ideas effectively.

  • Geographic Information System (GIS) software: To collect and display data, urban planners frequently use GIS software. They must be experts in using these applications to develop maps that reflect statistics and trends accurately.

  • Leadership: Many planners are responsible for communicating ideas to communities and stakeholders, and some also lead teams or departments. They must have strong leadership skills to encourage others to adopt and carry out their plans.

  • Statistics: Urban planners regularly work with numbers, data and statistics. They must know how to interpret statistics accurately to make the most effective designs.

Urban planner work environment

Urban planners often divide their time between working in an office setting and working in the field. When in the office, they generally work at a computer. Outside the office, they may travel to locations within the area to inspect sites, collect data or talk with people in the community.

These planning professionals generally work in major metropolitan areas or in communities that are experiencing rapid growth. They generally work standard business hours. In some cases, they work additional hours in the evenings or on weekends, when they may need to attend meetings with stakeholders or meet with community members.

How to become an urban planner

To pursue a career path as an urban planner, follow these five steps:

  1. Earn a bachelor’s degree: Get a college degree in urban planning, public policy or a similar field. Take courses on subjects such as GIS, sustainability and geography.

  2. Complete a master’s degree: To improve your employment prospects, complete a master’s degree program in urban planning. Holding a graduate degree can qualify you for more jobs and help you stand out as a top candidate.

  3. Get work experience: Before applying for urban planning jobs, gain experience in related fields. Many urban planners have experience in community development and public policy.

  4. Apply for a license: Confirm whether you need a license to work in the field. This requirement varies among different locations.

  5. Pursue professional certification: Obtain a credential that demonstrates your commitment to the field. The AICP offers a credential to planners who have a combination of education and experience.

Urban planner job description example

Miller Engineering is seeking an entry-level urban planner with knowledge of traffic analysis and community development. The ideal candidate has a master’s degree in urban planning and at least two years of experience with professional planning, public policy or economic development. The successful candidate will support a large project team by researching local codes, analyzing data, reviewing site plans, developing maps and providing technical support. If you are an analytical thinker with advanced knowledge of statistics and GIS, we would like to discuss this role with you.

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  • Civil engineer

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