Urban planners are responsible for determining the best use of city land depending on the needs of that particular area. Urban planners may work to revive an area that has become run down, increase the amount of space for residential development, create a place for residents to enjoy specific community activities, or encourage business development. Urban planners work closely with local government officials and residents in the area. Through a collaborative process, urban planners must determine the goal of a project, collect necessary data, and create a plan that takes into account the needs of different stakeholders. Urban planners also work closely with architects and engineers to plan and execute projects.
Urban planning is most often the responsibility of government agencies. In fact, approximately 64 percent of all urban planners work for local governments. The remaining urban planners work for state and federal governments, nonprofits, and consulting firms. Other related fields include architecture, civil engineering, surveying, and economics.
A Day in the Life of an Urban Planner
Urban planners handle a wide range of tasks, but their main responsibility is to evaluate the city’s land use and assess the needs of the residents and the city as a whole. Urban planners meet with local government officials and other local organizations to gather ideas and establish common goals. Once planners define a set of priorities, they complete studies on environmental and economic issues, direct field investigations, and conduct surveys to help determine the best course of action for possible development projects. Through the course of their work, urban planners review plans, assess proposals, present project plans, and approve or deny final plans for projects. Urban planners must stay up to date on all building codes, environmental regulations, and other rules and laws that influence their work.
An urban planner’s career can involve large-scale projects that affect an entire community or more specialized projects that influence a small area over both the short and long term. While most urban planners keep regular business hours, some work in the evening or on weekends, particularly when they must meet with the public or certain organizations throughout a planning process.
People who work in urban planning may wish to choose a specialization. Transportation, economic development, natural resources, and urban design are just a few categories in which urban planners can specialize to fulfill different needs for the city where they work.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, urban planning professionals make a median wage of $65,230. Wages vary depending on the job responsibilities associated with a particular position. For instance, working as an architect or engineer in private practice offers a median wage of $68,240, while local government work typically offers approximately $61,050. Salary and benefits packages depend on the employer’s budget and the job candidate’s experience and educational background. Most urban planning positions also offer above average insurance benefits.
Some of the most common bachelor’s degrees in this field include economics, political science, geography, or environmental design. Many urban planning jobs require candidates to hold an urban planning degree or a master’s degree in city planning, urban development, or public administration, though smaller government agencies may accept a bachelor’s degree for an ideal candidate. In particular, a Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree can help urban planners gain strategic skills in economic development, financial management, and public service. In addition to holding an advanced degree, candidates may be required to have related work experience. Some states may require licensing or certification as well.
Challenges and Opportunities
It is essential for all cities to continue to innovate as they grow and prosper. Without adequate urban planning, cities will experience greater difficulties, and they may see a decline in business development and a weakening in residential communities. The position of urban planner will continue to be in high demand, especially in growing areas. Suburbs are more likely to require more urban planners as they expand, while cities with larger populations will continue to need candidates for these positions to help them prepare for the future.
New technological advances provide useful tools to help urban planners execute their goals. Today, urban planners use a variety of computer programs to help them complete their work more effectively and efficiently. For instance, urban planners can use smartphones to record data and create graphs, build models for their plans using 3-D CAD technology, and communicate with the general public through mobile alerts or text messaging.