Becoming a City Planner: Job Description & Salary Information

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What are the pros and cons of a city planner career? Get real job duties, career prospects and salary information to find out if a career as a city planner is right for you.
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Becoming a City Planner: Pros and Cons

City planners revitalize suburban and urban neighborhoods by addressing environmental and economic issues of developing communities. Read about the upsides and downsides to becoming a city planner below.

PROS: Becoming a City Planner
Average job growth (10% from 2012 to 2022)*
Career opportunities in the public and private sectors*
Wages higher than standard national average ($69,010 average as of May 2014)*
Multiple career specializations (community development, transportation planning, code enforcement and urban design)*

CONS: Becoming a City Planner
Extensive preparation needed (entry-level jobs require a master's degree)*
Frequent weekend and evening meetings are required*
Stressful deadlines and political pressure*
Career advancement opportunities can be limited*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

City planners solve environmental, economic and social problems. A city planner has to determine the immediate and future needs of a community. As a city planner, you have to decide the best use for the community's resources in regards to residential, institutional, recreational and commercial purposes. This involves a lot of work with the public, social scientists, land developers and civic leaders. Coordinating with economic consultants, creating reports based on land use data and conducting field investigations are important duties of city planners.

Computers play a large role in report preparation due to the use of programs that predict project costs and forecast transportation, housing, population and employment trends in the near future. Map creation and computer-aided design software can help you create geographic images useful in determining how to develop or use land.

Salary Information

Most city planners earned from about $42,000 - $99,000, with a median income of approximately $66,940 in 2014, stated the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Nevada, California, Connecticut, Alaska and Illinois were the top paying states for urban and regional planners. The industries with the highest level of employment and highest concentration of jobs were local government and architectural, engineering and related services.

What Are the Requirements?

A master's degree in urban design or urban planning is required to become a city planner in most cases; however, smaller communities might accept an applicant with just a bachelor's degree. Your coursework should focus on topics like demography, finance, economics, health administration, law, architecture, geography, planning and management. Some jobs may require further education, such as a Ph.D. and advanced experience.

Before enrolling in a program, you'll want to ensure it has been accredited by a professional organization recognized by the Planning Accreditation Board, like the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning, the American Institute of Certified Planners or the American Planning Association. Additionally, New Jersey requires you to hold a state license.

What Employers Want in a City Planner

Flexibility is important to an employer, since you must work with a variety of people who have different viewpoints. An employer needs a city planner who can reconcile these differences and offer constructive solutions to please as many people as possible who are involved with the project. Read below to learn what real employers were asking for in city planners on Careerbuilder.com in March 2012.

  • A town in Connecticut needs a city planner with experience in zoning enforcement and municipal planning. Applicants must be willing to work some evenings, hold a bachelor's degree and have four years of experience.
  • A director opening in Idaho calls for a city planner who has worked 3-5 years with a public planning agency. Prospective applicants must be able lift 50 lbs and perform repetitive hand movement.
  • A part-time city planner consulting opening in Florida stresses that applicants must possess effective and strong communication skills to deal with clients.

How to Stand Out as a City Planner

Voluntary certification can set you apart from other applicants who don't possess such accolades. The American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) offers certification to anyone who possesses the appropriate amount of education and work experience (www.planning.org). The amount of work experience you'll need to be eligible is dependent upon the level of education you've completed. In addition to gaining certification, some employers may request that you are a member of the AICP.

City planners who have acquired a master's degree and certification should see the best career opportunities. You can also set yourself apart from other applicants by gaining advanced skills in geographic information systems (GIS), computer-aided design, map creation and spreadsheet software.

Other Occupational Choices

Civil Engineer

If you'd rather be designing construction instead of planning it, you could become a civil engineer. In this occupation, you could work on sewage and water supply systems, dams, tunnels, bridges, roads, airports and buildings. You have to ensure that your work upholds the regulations of the government. Civil engineers must hold a bachelor's degree and licensure to gain entrance into most entry-level positions. According to the BLS in May 2011, civil engineers earned an average income of $83,000 or so.

Architect

If you'd rather focus your designing and planning on a specific building, you could become an architect instead of a city planner. An architect designs the appearance of the building while also ensuring it is safe and functional to use. Before coming up with some building designs, an architect has to meet with a client to determine the budget and purpose of the building in addition to any other factors the customer wants. Architects must complete a 5-year Bachelor of Architecture and an internship, as well as gain licensure through their state. As an architect, you may earn a bit more on average than a city planner, at about $79,000, in 2011.

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