Career Development

What Does an Urban Planner Do?

Find out what an urban planner does, how to get this job, and what it takes to succeed as an urban planner.

Urban planners are responsible for shaping the way our communities look and function. They work with a wide range of stakeholders—from government agencies to private developers—to create plans for new developments, update existing zoning laws, and ensure that all development projects comply with local standards.

Urban planners may also be involved in other aspects of city planning, such as transportation planning or economic development. In this capacity, they may help develop public transit systems, plan road construction projects, or coordinate efforts to attract new businesses to the area.

Urban Planner Job Duties

Urban planners have a wide range of responsibilities, which can include:

  • Developing plans for land use, zoning, public facilities and infrastructure to meet community needs
  • Providing technical assistance to other departments within an organization, including city planning, engineering, public works, and finance
  • Researching demographic trends such as population growth, household size, and income levels in order to identify future community needs
  • Preparing reports and making presentations to government agencies regarding planning issues
  • Coordinating with architects, contractors, engineers, surveyors, and other professionals to ensure that plans meet legal requirements
  • Performing environmental assessments of areas affected by new construction projects to determine how they will impact the environment
  • Developing plans to manage growth in an efficient way while preserving natural resources
  • Conducting studies on topics such as housing trends, transportation patterns, and community development needs
  • Developing land use regulations that comply with state and federal laws regarding environmental impact

Urban Planner Salary & Outlook

Urban planners’ salaries vary depending on their level of education, years of experience, and the size and type of city or town in which they work.

  • Median Annual Salary: $72,500 ($34.86/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $137,000 ($65.87/hour)

The employment of urban planners is expected to grow faster than average over the next decade.

Urban planning is a field that is closely tied to population growth and economic development. As cities continue to grow and change, more planners will be needed to ensure that these changes are done in an efficient and sustainable way.

Related: In-Depth Urban Planner Salary Guide

Urban Planner Job Requirements

A degree in urban planning or a related field is often required for an urban planner position. Some other requirements may include:

Education: Urban planners typically need a bachelor’s degree in urban planning, city planning, public administration or a related field. Some urban planners choose to earn a master’s degree in urban planning or public administration to increase their job opportunities and earning potential.

Master’s degrees in urban planning typically take two years to complete and include coursework in urban planning, public policy, economics, demographics and statistics.

Training & Experience: Urban planners typically receive on-the-job training in the form of an internship while earning their bachelor’s degree. During an internship, students gain practical experience in the field by working alongside an experienced urban planner. They learn about the daily responsibilities of an urban planner, including how to perform tasks like creating a city plan, analyzing data and writing reports.

Certifications & Licenses: Many employers require employees to pass a professional certification to show their skills and knowledge are up to date. Urban planners can earn certifications to gain more practical knowledge of their daily responsibilities, test their professional skills and further advance their career.

Urban Planner Skills

Urban planners need the following skills in order to be successful:

Communication: Urban planners often communicate with a variety of stakeholders, including city officials, engineers, real estate developers and members of the public. They must be able to convey complex information in a way that is easy to understand. They also need to be able to listen to and understand the needs of others.

Research: Planning often requires extensive research, including research into the needs of a community, the current infrastructure and the potential challenges of implementing a plan. As a planner, it’s important to have strong research skills, including the ability to find and interpret data. You may also research potential solutions to challenges and opportunities for growth.

Problem-solving: Urban planners often work with other professionals to develop a comprehensive plan for a city or region. They may also work with clients to develop a plan that meets the needs of a specific group of people. In both cases, these professionals need to be able to identify problems and find solutions to them.

Organization: Urban planners often have strong organizational skills, as they often have many tasks to complete simultaneously. These professionals often have to keep track of multiple projects at once, which requires them to prioritize their work and keep track of deadlines. They also often have to keep track of large amounts of data, which requires them to have organizational skills to keep their files in order.

Collaboration: Planners often work with other professionals to create a comprehensive plan for a city or region. This can include working with engineers, architects, real estate developers and other planners. Being able to collaborate with others and share ideas can help you create a better plan.

Urban Planner Work Environment

Urban planners typically work for local governments, planning agencies, or architectural firms. They usually work full time, and some may work more than 40 hours per week to meet deadlines. Many urban planners also travel to attend conferences and meetings or to conduct field studies. Some urban planners may work irregular hours, including evenings and weekends, to attend public meetings. The work of urban planners is often deadline-oriented and may be stressful because of the need to make decisions that will affect the lives of many people.

Urban Planner Trends

Here are three trends influencing how urban planners work. Urban planners will need to stay up-to-date on these developments to keep their skills relevant and maintain a competitive advantage in the workplace.

The Need for More Diversity in the Planning Profession

The planning profession is becoming increasingly diverse, as more and more people from different backgrounds are entering the field. This is due to a number of factors, including the increasing demand for urban planners and the need for more diversity in the workplace.

As the planning profession becomes more diverse, urban planners will need to learn how to work with people from different cultures and backgrounds. This will be essential in order to create plans that are truly representative of the communities they serve.

A Greater Focus on Sustainability

Urban planners are increasingly focusing on sustainability as they develop new projects and policies. This trend is driven by a desire to create cities that are both economically and environmentally sustainable.

As urban planners focus on sustainability, they will need to find ways to reduce energy use, promote green building practices, and improve public transportation systems. In addition, they will need to develop policies that encourage residents to adopt sustainable habits, such as recycling and composting.

More Collaboration Between Public and Private Sectors

The trend of collaboration between the public and private sectors is growing rapidly in the planning profession. As this trend continues to grow, urban planners will need to learn how to collaborate effectively with other professionals in order to create the best possible solutions for their clients.

In order to be successful in this environment, urban planners will need to be able to communicate effectively with others and understand the needs of all parties involved. They will also need to be able to manage time effectively and stay organized.

How to Become an Urban Planner

A career as a urban planner can be incredibly rewarding. It offers the opportunity to make a positive impact on the lives of people in your community, and it gives you the chance to work with a variety of different professionals from many different fields.

To be successful as an urban planner, it’s important to have a strong understanding of the planning process and how it relates to other disciplines. You should also be able to effectively communicate your ideas both written and verbally.

Related: How to Write an Urban Planner Resume

Advancement Prospects

There are many ways to advance in the field of urban planning. One way is to move up within the organization in which you work. For example, an urban planner who starts out as a junior planner may eventually become a senior planner, project manager, or department head. Another way to advance is to become a certified planner. The American Planning Association offers the AICP certification, which is the profession’s only nationally recognized credential. The AICP credential signifies that the urban planner has met the profession’s highest standards for education, experience, and ethics. To become certified, urban planners must pass a written examination and meet other requirements. Certified planners are often given more responsibility and are better positioned for advancement than those who are not certified.

Still another way to advance in urban planning is to become involved in professional organizations and activities. For example, urban planners can become active in the American Planning Association or in one of its many state and local chapters. They can also participate in professional development activities, such as attending conferences and workshops, or writing articles for planning journals.

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