Becoming an Urban Planner: Salary Info & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of an urban planning career? Get real job descriptions, career outlooks and salary info to see if becoming an urban planner is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming an Urban Planner

Being an urban planner can be a challenging career because you'll need to have a deep knowledge of how to create a community and establish roads, schools and infrastructure. Check out these pros and cons to see if becoming an urban planner is the right career for you.

Pros of Being an Urban Planner
Annual pay is above average ($66,940 median annual pay for as of 2014)*
Chance to help create a community for future generations*
Ability to revitalize a city in need of a turnaround*
Opportunity to set policy and help set trends in development*

Cons of Being an Urban Planner
May need a graduate degree*
Tight work schedules and constant deadlines*
Pressure from developments and special interest companies*
Need to regularly interact with the community and address concerns from residents*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Career Info

Job Description

Urban planners are responsible for taking a big picture approach in the development and the creation of communities and cities. They examine every aspect of the use of land and determine how to create an urban, suburban or rural community. Urban planners have to take into account a number of concepts, including where to establish roads, how to build schools and how a neighborhood or housing tract may look. A key part of being an urban planner is understanding how to involve infrastructure while keeping in mind any environmental or social concerns facing the community. Urban planners may also help revitalize an existing community that is facing struggles with public housing and establish community resources for residents.

Urban planners frequently work with city leaders, developers and fellow city planners to develop a master plan for a community. To determine how to meet the social, economic and environmental needs of the region, they rely heavily on publications and research trends, as well as computer applications. They may also need to know about legislation and how it affects a community's need for social and community services, such as a homeless shelter, hospital or school.

Urban planners also deal with community outreach to address concerns from residents. Civic leaders may also express concern over a community plan, so planners may also be required to help mediate situations between developers, residents and city officials.

Job Growth and Salary

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that employment of urban and regional planners should grow 10% between 2012 and 2022. This growth is likely due to the increasing need for city and state governments to develop community plans and address issues of transportation, housing, and the environment as populations grow and face new needs. While local governments can employ urban planners, the BLS expects the fastest job growth to take place in the private sector, because development companies and builders will need skilled employees to develop communities.

There were an estimated 35,820 urban planners employed nationwide in 2014. The median wage for urban planners was $66,940 in 2014. Urban and regional planners can work in a number of different environments, ranging from public institutions to private companies and universities.

What Are the Requirements?

Education Requirements

The majority of urban planner jobs require you to hold a master's degree related to planning, regional planning or geography, but you may be able to find entry-level work with a bachelor's degree and some real-world experience. There are schools that offer undergraduates studies in urban planning, but many students choose to study political science or economics. Graduate degree programs generally last two years, and your school is likely to give you the option to specialize in an aspect of urban planning, such as redevelopment, transportation planning or environmental planning. Along with your studies, you may have the opportunity to engage in an internship at a planning office.

Job Postings from Real Employers

Urban planners commonly work for local governments, but they are also employed at the state and federal level, as well as in the private sector as part of development firms. Most employers are seeking planners with bachelor's degrees and experience in a community-planning situation. Other employers prefer candidates with master's degrees that relate to public administration or regional planning. Check out the following real job listings from the American Planning Association (APA) posted during March 2012:

  • A transportation systems firm in Alaska is looking for a planner that specializes in transportation planning. This is an entry-level position that requires candidates to hold a bachelor's degree and at least one year of professional experience.
  • A city in Missouri is looking for a planning/community development specialist that can focus on researching and understanding the historic preservation process in the city. Candidates need a bachelor's degree and at least three years of real-world experience in the planning industry.
  • A city in Kansas seeks a city planner that can focus on community development and redevelopment. A master's degree related to regional planning or public administration is desired.

How to Get an Edge in the Field

You may want to consider joining a professional organization, such as the American Planning Association (APA), which offers workshops, online classes and conferences for planning professionals. You'll be able to keep up with regional planning trends, research and publications that may help you stay in touch with the field

Another option is to gain certification through the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP), which certifies urban planners who have the right amount of education and real-world experience. You'll need to pass an exam, and once you gain the certification, it may help you advance in your urban planning career. According to the BLS, some planners choose to specialize in an area of planning, such as land and code enforcement, transportation, natural resources, economic development or urban design.

Alternative Career Options


If being an urban planner isn't the right fit for you, consider studying to become an architect. In this role, you will learn how to design all types of buildings, from homes to shopping centers. You would need to complete a bachelor's degree program to become an architect, although some architects have master's degrees. Jobs for architects are expected to grow as fast as average, with a 24% increase expected between 2010 and 2020. In 2010, architects earned a median salary of $73,000.


Engineers focus on solving technical problems through practical and everyday solutions. If you work with the public, you'll need to be licensed. Engineers can work in various settings, including private companies and government institutions using computers that focus on design and engineering software programs. You'll need a bachelor's degree to work as an engineer. Employment for engineers was expected to grow 19% between 2010 and 2020, and the median salary for engineers in 2010 was $78,000.

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