Residential Planner Careers: Job Description & Salary Information

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The median annual salary for residential planners is about $66,000 per year. See real job duties and get the truth about career prospects to find out if becoming a residential planner is right for you.
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What Are the Pros and Cons of a Residential Planner Career?

Residential planners, sometimes called urban planners or regional planners, create plans used to manage land and coordinate building efforts in residential areas. Check out the pros and cons to find out if this career is right for you.

Pros of Becoming a Residential Planner
Respectable salaries ($66,000 per year as of May 2014)*
Job growth in the field (10% between 2012 and 2022)*
Several jobs in local government (65% of jobs in local government)*
Full-time work available*

Cons of Becoming a Residential Planner
Extensive preparation (master's degree required)*
May have to work against tight deadlines*
May require lots of travel*
Extended hours (working nights and weekends possible)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Essential Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Residential planners are responsible for designing and planning residential areas in cities, new housing developments and suburban communities. They collect and analyze data from government censuses, environmental studies or market research studies. If you work in this field, you'll likely work with lots of other professionals, such as electricians, government officials and civil engineers. You'll spend a lot of time in the field if one of your responsibilities is inspecting new buildings, which may require you to travel. Residential planners may be involved in project management and cost estimating. The following are examples of possible daily job duties:

  • Keeping current on land use policies
  • Ensuring new developments adhere to governmental regulations
  • Coordinating projects with architects and engineers
  • Creating reports
  • Calculating the effects of population density
  • Conducting field surveys
  • Analyzing economic data
  • Advocating for land use policies

Salary Info

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), urban and regional planners earned a median annual salary of about $66,000 as of May 2014. The highest-paid professionals in this field made upwards of $99,000, while the lowest-paid earned less than $42,000. The industries with the highest rates of employment were local governments, architecture and engineering firms, state governments, technical consulting firms and federal executive branches.

Career Outlook

The BLS reported an expected employment growth rate of 10% for urban and regional planners between 2012 and 2022. Growth in this field is expected to be driven by increasing populations around cities, with job openings being created by revitalization projects and new housing. Residential planners will be needed in new cities to facilitate the development of housing and infrastructure.

Education and Training Requirements

The minimum requirement for residential planning positions is a master's degree, although the BLS notes that junior planner or assistant positions can be gained with a bachelor's degree. At the undergraduate level, you could pursue a Bachelor of Science (B.S.), and at the graduate level, you could pursue a Master of Science (M.S). You may take classes in urban economics, planning law, planning methods, sustainable community building or land use.

Bachelor's degree programs usually take four years to complete, while master's programs take 2-3 years to finish and typically culminate in a thesis or comprehensive exam. However, it is possible to earn a master's degree in urban planning with a bachelor's degree in a different field, such as economics, business or engineering.

Licensure

You typically do not need a license to work as a residential planner unless you want to work in New Jersey or Michigan. New Jersey and Michigan require you to have a license conferred by state regulatory boards. Each state has its own licensing requirements.

Real Job Postings

Most employers prefer job candidates with a master's degree in urban design and a couple years of work experience. Some ask potential employees to have artistic skills, such as free hand sketching or drafting. Most professionals in this field need to have excellent communication skills and the ability to collaborate with professionals in other disciplines. While the postings below don't provide a panorama of the jobs available, you can get an understanding of what employers were looking for in April 2012:

  • A large urban planning firm in Redwood City, CA, needs an urban planning designer to support project managers with design and analysis responsibilities. Successful candidates will have a master's degree and experience in architecture.
  • A firm in California wants an urban designer with experience in responsible urban design. You can get this job with a bachelor's degree, although a master's degree is preferred. Preferred employees must hold at least three years of experience.
  • The city planning department in Saint Paul, MN, is looking for a city planner to work in community development and redevelopment. In this position, you will perform entry-level professional work, such as collecting data and conducting field surveys.

How to Stand Out

If you want to beat the competition, you could earn a graduate degree, since a master's degree is preferred for nearly all positions in this field. Additionally, you could increase your chances of employment by gaining 1-2 years of work experience through internships or special projects. Alternatively, you could join a professional organization or earn professional certification. The American Planning Association's American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) offers professional certifications that show proficiency in urban planning. To earn this credential, you must meet specific education and experience requirements, as well as pass an exam.

Alternative Career Paths

Civil Engineer

If you like the idea of building new communities, but would rather work on specific projects instead of planning whole communities, consider a career as a civil engineer. Civil engineers design and construct roads, buildings and dams. As a civil engineer, you'll see an average job growth of 19% between 2010 and 2020, stated the BLS. Your education requirements will be slightly less with a bachelor's degree and licensure; however, your average wage expectations are higher than residential planners at $83,000, as of May 2011.

Architect

If you're not interested in building residential communities, but would rather plan and design buildings and structures, you may want to become an architect. Architects must complete a 5-year Bachelor of Architecture program and licensure requirements to design structure specifications and manage contracts. In addition to a faster than average growth of 24% from 2010-2020, architects had average wages of $79,000 as of May 2011, stated the BLS.

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