What is an Urban Planner?

Urban planners develop plans and programs for the use of land. They use planning to create communities, accommodate growth, or revitalize physical facilities in towns, cities, counties, and metropolitan areas. Nearly two-thirds of planners worked in local government in 2010. Most planners work during normal business hours, but many also work evenings or weekends to attend meetings with planning commissions or neighborhood groups.

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What does an Urban Planner do?

Urban planners typically do the following:

  • Meet with public officials, developers, and the public regarding development plans and land use
  • Gather and analyze economic and environmental studies, censuses, and market research data
  • Conduct field investigations to analyze factors affecting land use
  • Review site plans submitted by developers
  • Assess the feasibility of proposals and identify needed changes
  • Recommend whether proposals should be approved or denied
  • Present projects to planning officials and planning commissions
  • Stay current on zoning or building codes, environmental regulations, and other legal issues.

Urban planners identify community needs and develop short- and long-term plans to create, grow, or revitalize a community or area. For example, they may examine plans for proposed facilities, such as schools, to ensure that these facilities will meet the needs of a changing population. As an area grows or changes, planners help communities manage the related economic, social, and environmental issues, such as planning a new park, sheltering the homeless, or making the region more attractive to businesses.

Some planners work on broad, community-wide plans, while others focus on specific issues. Ultimately, all planners promote the best use of a community’s land and resources for residential, commercial, or recreational purposes.

When beginning a project, planners work with public officials, community members, and other groups to identify community issues or goals. Using research, data analysis, and collaboration with interest groups, planners formulate strategies to address issues or meet goals. They also may help carry out community plans, oversee projects, and organize the work of the groups involved. Projects may range from a policy recommendation for a specific initiative to a long-term, comprehensive area plan.

Planners use a variety of tools and technology in their work, including geographic information systems (GIS) tools that analyze and manipulate data. GIS is used to integrate the data with electronic maps. For example, planners may use GIS to overlay a land map with population density indicators. They also use statistical software, visualization and presentation programs, financial spreadsheets, and other database and software programs.

What does it take to be an Urban Planner?

Most urban planners have a master’s degree from an accredited urban or regional planning program. Many programs accept students with a wide range of undergraduate backgrounds. Many people who enter master's degree programs have a bachelor's degree in economics, geography, political science, or environmental design. Although most master’s programs have a similar core curriculum, they often differ in the courses they offer and the issues on which they focus. For example, programs located in agricultural states may focus on rural planning and programs located in an area with high population density may focus on urban revitalization.

Most master's programs include considerable time in seminars, workshops, and laboratory courses, in which students learn to analyze and solve planning problems. Some planners have a background in a related field, such as public administration, architecture, or landscape architecture.

What is the workplace of an Urban Planner like?

Most planners work for various levels of government, real estate developers, nonprofits, and planning consulting firms. They work throughout the country in all sizes of municipality, but most work in large metropolitan areas.

Most planners spend much of their time working with others. They often collaborate with public officials, engineers, architects, and developers, and must give presentations, attend meetings, and manage projects.

Because planners must balance conflicting interests and negotiate deals, the work can be stressful. Planners face pressure from politicians, developers, and the public to design or recommend specific plans. They also sometimes work against tight deadlines. Urban planners often travel to sites to inspect the features of the land. Those involved in inspecting development sites may spend much of their time in the field. Most planners work during normal business hours, but many also work evenings or weekends to attend meetings with planning commissions or neighborhood groups.

How much does an Urban Planner earn?

The median annual wage of urban and regional planners was $63,040 in May 2010. (The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less.) The lowest 10% earned less than $40,410, and the top 10% earned more than $96,420.

Learn more about being an Urban Planner