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What Urban and Regional Planners Do About this section

Urban and regional planners
Urban and regional planners review site plans submitted by developers.

Urban and regional planners develop land use plans and programs that help create communities, accommodate population growth, and revitalize physical facilities in towns, cities, counties, and metropolitan areas.

Duties

Urban and regional planners typically do the following:

  • Meet with public officials, developers, and the public regarding development plans and land use
  • Administer government plans or policies affecting land use
  • Gather and analyze data from market research, censuses, and economic and environmental studies
  • Conduct field investigations to analyze factors affecting community development and decline, including land use
  • Review site plans submitted by developers
  • Assess the feasibility of proposals and identify needed changes
  • Recommend whether proposals should be approved or denied
  • Present projects to communities, planning officials, and planning commissions
  • Stay current on zoning and building codes, environmental regulations, and other legal issues

Urban and regional planners identify community needs and develop short- and long-term solutions to improve and revitalize communities and areas. As an area grows or changes, planners help communities manage the related economic, social, and environmental issues, such as planning new parks, sheltering the homeless, and making the region more attractive to businesses.

When beginning a project, planners often work with public officials, community members, and other groups to identify community issues and goals. Through research, data analysis, and collaboration with interest groups, they formulate strategies to address issues and to meet goals. Planners may also help carry out community plans by overseeing projects, enforcing zoning regulations, and organizing the work of the groups involved.

Urban and regional planners use a variety of tools and technology in their work. They commonly use statistical software, data visualization and presentation programs, financial spreadsheets, and other database and software programs. Geographic Information System (GIS) software is used to integrate data, such as for population density, with digital maps.

Urban and regional planners may specialize in areas such as transportation planning, community development, historic preservation, or urban design, among other fields of interest.

Planners often collaborate with public officials, civil engineers, environmental engineers, architects, lawyers, and real estate developers.

Work Environment About this section

Urban and regional planners
Urban and regional planners may travel to development sites.

Urban and regional planners held about 39,700 jobs in 2019. The largest employers of urban and regional planners were as follows:

Local government, excluding education and hospitals 72%
Architectural, engineering, and related services 11
Management, scientific, and technical consulting services 3
Federal government 2

Planners work throughout the country, but most work in large metropolitan areas.

Urban and regional planners may travel to inspect proposed changes and their impacts on land conditions, the environment, and land use.

Work Schedules

Most urban and regional planners work full time during normal business hours, and some may work evenings or weekends to attend meetings with officials, planning commissions, and neighborhood groups. Some planners work more than 40 hours per week.

How to Become an Urban or Regional Planner About this section

Urban and regional planners
Urban and regional planners must be effective communicators when they meet with public officials, developers, and the public regarding development plans and land use.

Urban and regional planners need a master’s degree from an accredited planning program to qualify for most positions.

Education

Most urban and regional planners have a master’s degree from an accredited urban or regional planning program. In 2016, there were 71 programs accredited by the Planning Accreditation Board (PAB) that offered a master’s degree in planning.

Master’s degree programs accept students with a wide range of undergraduate backgrounds. However, many candidates who enter these programs have a bachelor’s degree in economics, geography, political science, or environmental design.

Most master’s programs have students spending considerable time in seminars, workshops, and laboratory courses, in which they learn to analyze and solve planning problems. Although most master’s programs have a similar core curriculum, there is some variability in the courses they offer and the issues they focus on. For example, programs located in agricultural states may focus on rural planning, and programs located in larger cities may focus on urban revitalization.

Bachelor’s degree holders can qualify for a small number of jobs as assistant or junior planners. In 2016, there were 15 accredited bachelor’s degree programs in planning. Candidates with a bachelor’s degree typically need work experience in planning, public policy, or a related field.

Other Experience

Although not necessary for all positions, some entry-level positions require 1 to 2 years of work experience in a related field, such as architecture, public policy, or economic development. Many students gain experience through real planning projects or part-time internships while enrolled in a master’s planning program. Others enroll in full-time internships after completing their degree.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

As of 2016, New Jersey was the only state that required urban and regional planners to be licensed. More information is available from the regulatory board of New Jersey.

The American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) offers the AICP certification for planners. To become certified, candidates must meet certain education and experience requirements and pass an exam.

Important Qualities

Analytical skills. Urban and regional planners analyze information and data from a variety of sources, such as market research studies, censuses, and environmental impact studies. They use statistical techniques and technologies such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in their analyses to determine the significance of the data.

Communication skills. Urban and regional planners must be able to communicate clearly and effectively because they interact with colleagues and stakeholders, prepare research reports, give presentations, and meet with a wide variety of audiences, including public officials, interest groups, and community members.

Decisionmaking skills. Urban and regional planners must weigh all possible planning options and combine analysis, creativity, and realism to choose the appropriate action or plan.

Leadership skills. Urban and regional planners must be able to manage projects, which may include overseeing tasks and planning assignments.

Pay About this section

Urban and Regional Planners

Median annual wages, May 2019

Social scientists and related workers

$80,220

Urban and regional planners

$74,350

Total, all occupations

$39,810

 

The median annual wage for urban and regional planners was $74,350 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $45,850, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $116,280.

In May 2019, the median annual wages for urban and regional planners in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Federal government $95,990
Architectural, engineering, and related services 80,050
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 72,640
Management, scientific, and technical consulting services 71,120

Most urban and regional planners work full time during normal business hours, and some may work evenings or weekends to attend meetings with officials, planning commissions, and neighborhood groups. Some planners work more than 40 hours per week.

Job Outlook About this section

Urban and Regional Planners

Percent change in employment, projected 2019-29

Urban and regional planners

11%

Social scientists and related workers

4%

Total, all occupations

4%

 

Employment of urban and regional planners is projected to grow 11 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. Demographic, transportation, and environmental changes will drive employment growth for planners.

Within cities, urban planners will be needed to develop revitalization projects and address issues associated with population growth, environmental degradation, the movement of people and goods, and resource scarcity. Similarly, suburban areas and municipalities will need planners to address the challenges associated with population changes, including housing needs and transportation systems covering larger areas with less population density.

Planners will also be needed as new and existing communities require extensive development and improved infrastructure, including housing, roads, sewer systems, parks, and schools.

However, federal, state, and local government budgets may affect the employment of planners in government, because development projects are contingent on available funds.

Job Prospects

Urban and regional planners should expect to face competition for positions. Job opportunities for planners often depend on government budgets and economic conditions. When municipalities and developers have funds for development projects, planners are in higher demand.

Employment projections data for urban and regional planners, 2019-29
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2019 Projected Employment, 2029 Change, 2019-29 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Urban and regional planners

19-3051 39,700 44,100 11 4,400 Get data

Contacts for More Information About this section

For more information about careers in urban and regional planning, visit

American Planning Association

For more information about certification in urban and regional planning, visit

American Institute of Certified Planners

For more information about New Jersey licensure in planning, visit

New Jersey State Board of Professional Planners

For more information about accredited urban and regional planning programs, visit

Planning Accreditation Board

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Urban and Regional Planners

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