Urban Planner Job Description

Urban planners create plans for the use of land within a city. Depending on the project they’re working on, they may try to accommodate the population’s growth, revitalize an area, attract businesses, or create a community hub.

Normally, urban planners begin their projects by meeting with government officials and members of the community so that they can understand the problems facing the community and identify the goals for the project. For example, many cities suffer from overcrowding in their schools, and an urban planner may be called in when a new school is being built to make sure that it will meet the long-term needs of the city.

After they understand the goals of a project, urban planners collect a lot of data. Some of the factors they analyze include the population growth, plans for future development, and the social climate of the area. After they determine the best use of the land, urban planners normally meet with architects and engineers to start designing the project.

Before a project can officially be started, urban planners have to get approval from the necessary government officials. This can be a very political process, and urban planners sometimes have to work very hard to get the money and approval that they need to develop a real solution to the problem they’re trying to solve.

Some projects that urban planners work on can take many years to complete, and require long-term dedication.

Because there are so many types of problems that cities need to solve, most urban planners specialize in one of the following areas:

Transportation planners develop plans to address transportation problems. As the population of a city grows, existing roads have to be expanded, new roads have to be created, and the capabilities of public transportation systems need to be increased. Transportation planners help to develop these plans.

Economic development planners develop plans for improving the economy of a particular area. Sometimes they focus on designing ways to attract new businesses to the area, in hope that more jobs will lead to more positive economic activity. Other times, they may focus on restoring run down buildings, in hopes of making the area more attractive and encouraging new communities to assemble around the area.

Natural resource planners design ways that a city can make the most of its natural resources and reduce the negative impact of a city on the local environment. For example, they may look for ways to decrease pollution, or investigate methods of waste disposal that are more efficient and safe.

Urban design planners study the goals of a project, and make sure that the area’s design supports the goals. For example, if the goal is to revitalize a run down area of town, urban design planners will design the streets and landscapes to be as inviting to businesses and tourists as possible.

Work Environment and Schedule

The majority of urban planners work for local and state government agencies, but there are positions available with engineering, architecture, and other consulting firms as well.

Regardless of who they work for, urban planners need to be good at working with people. They frequently have to collaborate with other professionals (like engineers, architects, and public officials) on the job, and sometimes need to give presentations that communicate their plans for development. This is definitely not an occupation for the timid!

This can be a very stressful occupation. Urban planners work under tight deadlines, and just about always have to balance the needs and requests of many different interest groups. For example, an environmental group may protest a particular project that a politician or developer is pushing very hard for. Urban planners have to be able to listen to both sides and balance the needs of citizens from different backgrounds while keeping the long term goals of the project in mind.

Most urban planners work full time, and are often able to keep regular working schedules during normal business hours. However, working overtime is often required to meet deadlines, and extensive travel may be required when visiting development sites. Sometimes, working on nights and weekends is needed.

How to Become an Urban Planner

A minimum of a master’s degree is required to work as an urban planner. While most people in this occupation have a master’s degree in urban or regional planning, many employers accept candidates who have an academic background in a closely related field like architecture.

Though it is possible to get an entry level job with only a bachelor’s degree, you really should get a master’s if you want to dedicate your career to this field. Without it, you will have a very hard time advancing beyond entry level positions.

Before you can get into a master’s program, you will need to earn a bachelor’s degree. Bachelor’s degrees in urban planning are very rare, so programs accept applicants from all sorts of academic backgrounds. Some of the most popular majors for urban planners are economics, political science, environmental design, and geography.

Most employers require candidates to have 1-2 years of work experience before they will be considered for a job in this occupation. Some people get their experience by getting internships while in school, and others work in a related field after graduation (like architecture or economic development).

If you’re interesting in pursuing an internship, you should stop by your college career center to learn about the opportunities available to you.

Related Occupations

Employment Outlook

There are currently 40,300 urban planners in the United States, with 1,680 new urban planner job openings created each year.

Urban Planner jobs are not expected to see much growth beyond their current levels in the next decade.

Urban Planner Salaries

Overall Salaries

Urban Planner salaries can vary depending on your experience, the location, company, industry, and benefits provided. Nationwide, most urban planners make between $51,000 – $80,700 per year, or $24.51 – $38.82 per hour.

Updated: 09/02/2017

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