What Do Urban Planners Do

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

Image by Lisa Fasol © The Balance 2019

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

Urban planners, also called regional or city planners, recommend locations for roads, schools, and other infrastructure in order to help local officials solve social, economic, and environmental problems.

Urban Planner Duties & Responsibilities

This job generally requires the ability to do the following work:

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

Urban planners identify the best way to meet community needs in terms of infrastructure and handling growth. This involves overseeing all aspects of planning, including reviewing research on economic and environmental impacts.

Planners work with developers and with other communities on the best way to turn proposals into reality. This also sometimes means recommending that proposals be rejected if research and analysis show that the project would not be beneficial or might actually be detrimental.

Urban Planner Salary

Pay for urban planners often depends on the sizes of the communities where they work. larger, more heavily populated municipalities typically have greater tax revenue and thus larger budgets for planners.

  • Median Annual Salary: $73,050 ($35.12/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $114,170 ($54.89/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: $45,180 ($21.72/hour)

Education, Training, & Certification

Working as an urban planner generally requires an advanced degree. While certifications are not necessary, they can help with advancement.

  • Education: A master's degree in urban or regional planning from a program accredited by the Planning Accreditation Board generally is required. A master's degree in a related field like urban design or geography also may be acceptable. Bachelor’s degrees in economics, geography, political science, or environmental design are good options for preparing for a master’s program.
  • Certification: The American Institute of Certified Planners grants voluntary certification based on education, work experience, and an exam. New Jersey is the only state where certification is required, but it can look good on a resume anywhere.

    Urban Planner Skills & Competencies

    Urban planners need to have a lot of specific knowledge and experience to be good at their jobs, but they also need certain soft skills to help them manage the sometimes challenging environment of government work.

    • Flexibility: Deadlines and specific priorities for projects often change, and planners need to adapt.
    • Verbal Communication: Planners need to be able to interact with members of the public, including the local business community, and members of elected councils and boards. It’s important to be able to communicate a municipality’s planning needs while also listening to the interests and priorities of others.
    • Leadership: Urban planners need to be able to serve as a point person on community projects, often overseeing a staff of other planners or local employees.
    • Analytical skills: Urban planners need to be able to review a lot of data from environmental studies, market studies, population demographics, and more. They need to be able to use that information to come up with the best possible solutions to planning problems.

    Job Outlook

    Employment opportunities for urban planners are expected to grow at a rate of 13% during the decade ending in 2026, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Population growth and environmental issues are among the factors influencing the need for more planners.

    Work Environment

    Most urban planners work for local or regional government offices. Cities, counties, and some townships, depending on size and population, will have at least one planner on staff. Priorities in such communities sometimes can change as elected leadership changes, so planners need to be able to work with elected officials who are concerned about meeting voters’ priorities.

    Work Schedule

    Urban planners typically follow standard business schedules, but it’s not uncommon for them to need to be available some evenings to attend public meetings. Most planners are employed full time.

    How to Get the Job

    GOVERNMENT WORK

    Get experience in other municipal offices while working toward necessary degrees.

    PRIVATE SECTOR WORK

    Planners work with private sector firms. Experience with such a firm can be a great stepping stone.

    Comparing Similar Jobs

    People interested in urban planning also might consider one of the following career paths, listed with median annual salaries: