Urban and Regional Planners

Career, Salary and Education Information

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What Urban and Regional Planners Do[About this section] [To Top]

Urban and regional planners develop land use plans and programs that help create communities, accommodate population growth, and revitalize physical facilities in towns, cities, counties, and metropolitan areas.

Duties of Urban and Regional Planners

Urban and regional planners typically do the following:

  • Meet with public officials, developers, and the public regarding development plans and land use
  • Administer government plans or policies affecting land use, the environment, zoning, historic buildings, public utilities, community facilities, housing, community design, and transportation
  • Gather and analyze market research data, censuses, and economic and environmental studies
  • Conduct field investigations to analyze factors affecting community development and decline, including 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 communities, planning officials, and planning commissions
  • Stay current on zoning or building codes, environmental regulations, and other legal issues

Urban and regional planners identify community needs and develop short- and long-term solutions to develop and revitalize communities and areas. For example, planners examine ideas 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, and making the region more attractive to businesses.

Some planners work on broad, community-wide projects; others focus on specific issues. Ultimately, planners advocate the best use of a community’s land and resources for residential, commercial, industrial, educational, and recreational purposes.

When beginning a project, planners work with public officials, community members, and other groups to identify community issues and goals. Using research and data analysis, and collaborating with interest groups, they formulate strategies to address issues and to meet goals.

Planners also may help carry out community plans by overseeing projects and organizing the work of the groups involved. Projects may range from a policy recommendation for a specific initiative to a long-term, comprehensive area plan.

Urban and regional planners use a variety of tools and technology in their work, including geographic information systems (GIS) that analyze and manipulate data. GIS is used to integrate data with digital maps. For example, planners 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.

The following are examples of types of urban and regional planners:

Land use and code enforcement planners are concerned with the way land is used and whether development plans comply with codes, which are the standards and laws of a jurisdiction. These planners work to carry out effective planning and zoning policies and ordinances. For example, a planner may develop a policy to encourage development in an underutilized location and to discourage development in an environmentally sensitive area.

Transportation planners develop transportation plans and programs for an area. They identify transportation needs and issues, assess the impact of transportation services or systems, and anticipate and address future transportation patterns. For example, as growth outside the city creates more jobs, the need for public transportation to get workers to those jobs increases. Transportation planners develop and model possible solutions and explain the possibilities to planning boards and the public.

Environmental and natural resources planners attempt to mitigate the harmful effects of development on the environment. They may focus on conserving resources, preventing destruction of ecosystems, or cleaning polluted areas.

Economic development planners focus on the economic activities of an area. They may work to expand or diversify commercial activity, attract businesses, create jobs, or build housing.

Urban design planners strive to make building architecture, streets, and public spaces look and function in accordance with an area’s development and design goals. They combine planning with aspects of architecture and landscape architecture. Urban design planners focus on issues such as city layout, street design, and building and landscape patterns.

Work Environment for Urban and Regional Planners[About this section] [To Top]

Urban and regional planners held about 38,000 jobs in 2014. The industries that employed the most urban and regional planners were as follows:

Local government, excluding education and hospitals 66%
Architectural, engineering, and related services 13
State government, excluding education and hospitals 10
Management, scientific, and technical consulting services 5

Planners work throughout the country in all municipality sizes, but most work in large metropolitan areas.

Planners often collaborate with public officials, engineers, architects, lawyers, and developers.

Urban and regional planners often travel to sites to inspect the proposed changes and their impact on land conditions, the environment, and use.

Urban and Regional Planner Work Schedules

Most urban and regional planners work full time during normal business hours, but some also work evenings or weekends to attend meetings with officials, planning commissions, and neighborhood groups. In 2014, about 1 in 5 planners worked more than 40 hours per week.

How to Become an Urban or Regional Planner[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Urban and Regional Planners near you!

Urban and regional planners need a master’s degree from an accredited planning program to qualify for most positions.

Urban and Regional Planner Education

Most urban and regional planners have a master’s degree from an accredited urban or regional planning program. In 2015, there were 72 programs accredited by the Planning Accreditation Board that offered a master’s degree in planning.

Many master’s programs accept students with a wide range of undergraduate backgrounds. However, many candidates who enter master’s degree programs have a bachelor’s degree in economics, geography, political science, or environmental design.

Most master’s programs include spending considerable time in seminars, workshops, and laboratory courses, in which students learn to analyze and solve planning problems. 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.

Some planners have a background in a related field, such as public administration, architecture, or landscape architecture.

Aspiring planners with a bachelor’s degree can qualify for a small number of jobs as assistant or junior planners. There are currently 15 accredited bachelor’s degree programs in planning. Candidates with a bachelor’s degree typically need work experience in planning, public policy, or a related field.

Other Experience

Although not necessary for all positions, some entry-level positions require 1 to 2 years of work experience in a related field, such as architecture, public policy, or economic development. Many students gain experience through real-world planning projects or part-time internships while enrolled in a master’s planning program. Others enroll in full-time internships after completing their degree.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

As of 2015, New Jersey was the only state that required urban and regional planners to be licensed, although Michigan required registration to use the title “community planner.” More information can be requested from the regulatory boards of New Jersey and Michigan.

The American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) offers the professional AICP Certification for planners. To become certified, candidates must meet certain education and experience requirements and pass an exam. Certification must be maintained every 2 years. Although certification is not required for all planning positions, some organizations prefer to hire certified planners.

Important Qualities for Urban and Regional Planners

Analytical skills. Urban and regional planners analyze information and data from a variety of sources, such as market research studies, censuses, and environmental impact studies. They use statistical techniques and technologies such as geographic information systems (GIS) in their analyses to determine the significance of the data.

Communication skills. Urban and regional planners must be able to communicate clearly and effectively because they often give presentations and meet with a wide variety of audiences, including public officials, interest groups, and community members.

Decisionmaking skills. Urban and regional planners must weigh all possible planning options and combine analysis, creativity, and realism to choose the appropriate action or plan.

Management skills. Urban and regional planners must be able to manage projects, which may include overseeing tasks, planning assignments, and making decisions.

Writing skills. Urban and regional planners need strong writing skills because they often prepare research reports, write grant proposals, and correspond with colleagues and stakeholders.

Urban and Regional Planner Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for urban and regional planners was $68,220 in May 2015. 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 percent earned less than $42,940, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $102,200.

In May 2015, the median annual wages for urban and regional planners in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Architectural, engineering, and related services $70,480
State government, excluding education and hospitals 69,350
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 67,170
Management, scientific, and technical consulting services 62,130

Most planners work during standard business hours, but many also work evenings or weekends to attend meetings with officials, planning commissions, or neighborhood groups. In 2014, about 1 in 5 planners worked more than 40 hours per week.

Job Outlook for Urban and Regional Planners[About this section] [To Top]

Employment of urban and regional planners is projected to grow 6 percent from 2014 to 2024, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Demographic and environmental changes will drive employment growth for planners.

Within cities, urban planners will be needed to develop revitalization projects and address issues associated with population growth, environmental degradation, and resource scarcity. Similarly, suburban areas and municipalities will need planners to address the challenges associated with population changes, including housing needs and transportation systems.

Planners will also be needed as new and existing communities require extensive development and improved infrastructure, including housing, roads, sewer systems, parks, and schools.

However, local and state government budgets may affect the employment of planners in government, because development projects are contingent on available funds.

Urban and Regional Planners Job Prospects

Job opportunities for planners often depend on economic conditions. When municipalities and developers have funds for development projects, planners are in higher demand. However, planners often face strong competition for jobs in an economic downturn when there is less funding for development work. Planners who are willing to relocate for work will have more job opportunities.

Employment projections data for Urban and Regional Planners, 2014-24
Occupational Title Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24
Percent Numeric
Urban and regional planners 38,000 40,400 6 2,400


*Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Used by permission.

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