Urban Planner Career Profile

An urban planner (UP) helps communities maximize the utilization of land that the community owns or has rights to develop. Also called city planners, UPs usually work with governmental, private or commercial communities and inform them where the roads, malls, shopping centers, retail outlets, hospitals, fire stations, schools and other such structures and components of infrastructure should be built. UPs have a great amount of responsibility and must handle all sorts of vital details.

Based on a UP's recommendations, a community develops a plan--ideally, a well-thought-out one--which is then used for obtaining necessary government approvals. A UP also has environmental, economic and legal considerations that perhaps precede the previously mentioned responsibilities when planning out development projects. Hence, this position requires one to have a comprehensive knowledge in these fields too and acute listening and communication skills.

Necessary Educational Qualifications

To work as a UP, one should possess a master's degree in urban or regional planning. Also, the program offering this degree should be accredited and approved by the Planning Accreditation Board. Having a master's degree in a related field, like urban design or geography, can also suffice. Consider graduate study in economics, environmental design, geography and political science if you want to join an urban planning master's program.  

A Day in the Life of an Urban Planner

On any given day, the urban planner may spend his or her day:

  • Advising communities on the feasibility of their proposals and changes in the original plans.
  • Informing communities how different regulatory limitations might affect their projects.
  • Meeting various people--like government officials, lawyers, social scientists, developers, special interest groups and the general public--either separately or together and explaining the project to them. Depending on the feedback and mood from all these people and interests, the UP then develops a feasible plan for the proposed project.
  • Overseeing the administration, promotion and design aspects of governmental plans that are underway. It is the UP's responsibility to make sure that the project is following all sorts of regulatory conditions.  
  • Since a UP is meeting people from diverse fields and also coordinating various aspects of planning, his or her workday may stretch way beyond regular office hours.

Earnings and Advancement Opportunities

On an average, a UP earns anywhere between $50,000 to $75,000 annually, data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics informs us. This is 13 percent higher than the average salaries across all industries.

After gaining considerable experience, a UP is delegated with responsibilities to handle much larger projects. A Community Planning Director is often an urban planner who has handled larger projects or has worked as a UP for at least 5 to 10 years. Local governments can also appoint established UPs as consultants for massive development projects.

Various Urban Planner Jobs

Depending on your educational qualifications and expertise, you can start working as a UP in any of the following capacities:

  • City planner
  • Senior planner
  • Senior environmental planner
  • Transportation planner
  • Associate planner
  • Community planner
  • Assistant planner       
  • Outdoor recreation planner