What You Need to Know About Urban Planning Careers

Job Descriptions

Urban Planner
••• Imagesbybarbara / E+ / Getty Images

Urban planning careers involve helping communities decide how to best use their land and resources with an eye toward future growth and revitalization.

An urban planner, also called a regional or city planner, recommends locations for roads, schools, and other infrastructure in order to help local officials solve social, economic, and environmental problems.

Quick Facts

  • Urban planners, as well as regional and city planners, earn a median annual salary of $71,490 (2017).
  • About 36,000 people are employed in this occupation (2016).
  • Most work for local governments, but some work for engineering and consulting firms, and state governments.
  • The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics classifies urban planning as a "bright outlook occupation." It has an excellent job outlook with employment that the BLS predicts will grow much faster than the average for all occupations between 2016 and 2026.

    Roles and Responsibilities

    Here are some of the typical job duties employers listed in online ads for urban, regional, and city planners on Indeed.com:

    • "Prepare plans and studies that address regional infrastructure and strategies"
    • "Conduct inspections of legal and illegally constructed signs"
    • "Prepare various site approval documents"
    • "Coordinate with other divisions of the agency and with other local governments"
    • "Receive, investigate, and respond to public inquiries, requests, and complaints regarding the Town’s zoning ordinance "
    • "Create and interpret maps, information graphics, and diagrams"
    • "Visit assigned areas to participate in planning program development and implementation"
    • "Prepare, review, analyze, and organize documents for real estate transactions"

    Education and Other Requirements for Urban Planning Careers

    To work as an urban, regional, or city planner, you will most likely need a master's degree in urban or regional planning from a program accredited by the Planning Accreditation Board. A master's degree in a related field, for example, urban design or geography, may also be acceptable. A few jobs require only a bachelor's degree.

    Your undergraduate degree will prepare you for entry into an accredited master's degree program. Consider earning a bachelor's degree in economics, geography, political science, or environmental design.

    The American Institute of Certified Planners grants voluntary certification based on education, work experience, and an exam. Having this credential can help with career advancement.

    What Soft Skills Do You Need?

    In addition to the technical skills you will learn in school, particular soft skills, personal qualities you are born with or acquire through life experiences, will help you succeed in your career. They are:

    • Flexibility: Deadline for projects often change and you will need to adapt.
    • Verbal Communication: Your ability to present yourself well orally will help facilitate your interactions with the public and colleagues one-on-one and in public meetings.
    • Writing Skills: You will need to express yourself well in writing.
    • Leadership: As an urban or regional planner, you will often find yourself having to plan projects and assign work to others.

    What Will Employers Expect From You?

    To find out what qualifications employers are seeking, we examined job announcements on Indeed.com:

    • "Able take direction and contribute to discussions"
    • "Broad knowledge and understanding of local, State, and Federal programs administered by the agency and the laws related to those programs"
    • "Ability to establish and maintain effective working relationships with the general public, other City employees and officials, and other departments"
    • "Ability to manage workflow and work under tight deadlines and other time constraints, with competing and shifting priorities"
    • "Proficient with computer applications (particularly with the use of graphics)"

      Is This Occupation a Good Fit for You?

      Find out if your interestspersonality type, and work-related values are suitable for this career by doing a thorough self assessment. If you have the following traits, an urban planning career may be a good fit for you:

      Occupations With Related Activities and Tasks

      Description Annual Salary (2017) Educational Requirements
      Conservationist Looks for ways to utilize land without causing harm to natural resources $61,480 Bachelor's degree in forestry, agronomy, agricultural science, biology or environmental science
      Hydrologist Researches the distribution and circulation of water $79,990 Bachelor's/Master's Degree (preferred) in Hydrology, Geoscience, Environmental Science, or Engineering
      Economist Studies the allocation of resources $102,490 Master's or Doctoral for all but entry-level jobs
      Environmental Scientist Researches pollution and other environmental contaminants $69,400 Bachelor's Degree in Environmental Science or a Related Field

      Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor,  Occupational Outlook Handbook; Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor,  O*NET Online (visited May 23, 2018).