Urban Planner Careers








$63,040 /yr

$30.31 /hr

All Stats from BLS.gov

Urban planners assess the needs of communities—whether those communities are small towns, huge metropolitan areas, or any region in between—and develop plans to establish, grow, and re-energize those communities to ensure they continue to meet the needs of the public.

Urban planners might design new parks, industrial sectors, residential neighborhoods or commercial zones. Some specialize in specific areas, while others focus on solutions with broader impact.

The job includes gathering data from studies on local economic and environmental factors, censuses, market research data, and other sources, often conducting their own research. They might have to work with public officials and developers—and communicate with the public—regarding new land use plans. They might review and evaluate development proposals. The job includes in-depth knowledge in local and national zoning rules, environmental laws, and construction regulations—as well as GIS tools and relevant software.

Urban Planner Job Description

Types of specializations in this profession include:

Land use and code enforcement specialists. These professionals ensure new projects are compliant with a jurisdiction’s laws and codes regarding development. They also develop new zoning and planning policies, often with an express purpose—such as to encourage commercial development or prevent overdevelopment of environmentally troubled regions.

Transportation planning professionals. These urban planners specialize in planning public transportation systems. They assess a city’s needs, determine the potential impact of various transportation systems, and design new systems based on forecasts of the city’s future patterns.

Environmental planners. These urban planners work to reduce the impact of development on the surrounding environment by working to develop sustainable solutions, conserve resources, preserve ecosystems, and develop methods for decontaminating polluted land.

Economic development planners. These professionals plan for growth in a city or region, and work to develop systems and solutions to either promote growth or help the city’s infrastructure handle it. They may design new initiatives to attract commercial activity or new residents in a certain area.

Urban designers. These specialists combine expertise in architecture, landscape architecture, and other areas to change the way urban spaces function. They might design city layouts, street layouts, and the construction plans for buildings and landscapes.

How to Become an Urban Planner

A Bachelor’s degree. Most urban planning jobs require a Master’s-level degree to get started. However, you may be able to earn work experience starting out in an assistant or junior planning role—and these jobs require only a Bachelor’s. They are, however, highly competitive—as there are not many jobs at this level available.

A Master’s degree. This profession normally requires a Masters degree to start. Master’s degree programs in topics related to urban planning will generally accept any type of Bachelor’s degree—although it helps to take classes in geography, political science, economics, environmental design, and other relevant areas. Some entry-level urban planners come to the profession with a Master’s in architecture or another related field.

Work experience. Work experience is an important part of the equation if you want to break into this field—as even “entry-level” positions often require at least a year or two of work experience. It might sound like a Catch-22 situation, but you can get around it by having a few years of work experience in a closely related field—such as public policy, economic development, or architecture.

In addition, many urban planning degree programs include hands-on planning projects and internships that can be counted as real-world experience.

Licensure. According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, only New Jersey requires urban planners to hold a state license—as of 2011. Michigan requires anyone using the title ‘community planner’ to be registered.

Professional certification. Certification is optional in this field, but it is well-regarded by employers. One of the most common certification is the AICP Certification offered by the American Institute of Certified Planners. To qualify for certification, you must pass an exam and meet education and experience requirements.

Urban Planning and Online Degrees

Most employers expect a Master’s degree in urban planning to include a significant hands-on lab component. There can still be a perception that an accredited online degree program does not offer this component, even though this might not have been true in your case. As such, an online degree in urban planning may not be as accepted as a traditional degree.

You may be able to get into a Master’s degree program in urban planning with an online Bachelor’s in the subject of your choice. However, bear in mind that it is sometimes difficult to get a traditional school to accept credentials or credits from for-profit and 100% online schools, even when they are appropriately accredited. If you want to earn a Bachelor’s online, the most effective tactic may be to earn your Bachelor’s from a nonprofit, traditional school that offers an online component.

Urban Planner Salary Information

According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, urban planners made an average of $63,040 as of 2010. Those at the bottom of the pay scale earned under $40,410, while those at the top earned over $96,420.

In general, you are likely to earn more if you work for a private architectural or engineering firm or consulting service. State and local governments tend to pay the least.

Job Outlook for Urban Planning Professionals

Growth in this area is forecasted to grow about 16% in the next ten years—about the same as the average projected job growth nationwide. Fueling this growth are projected population increases and environmental challenges—which will result in a greater need for urban and rural planners to help communities manage growth.

Government budgets for hiring planners directly are expected to shrink—and with them the pool of government jobs in this area. However, cities will still need planning services—and will likely have to contract out to the private sector more to meet demand.

For Further Research:

Occupational Outlook Handbook: Biomedical Engineers


Where to Find Jobs for Urban Planners: