How to Become an Urban Planner in the US

Urban planners create plans for the use of land in neighborhoods, towns and cities. They determine where airports, gated communities, factories and other major structures should be located. Without urban planners, many cities would experience high levels of environmental pollution, traffic congestion and even crime.

See Also: How to Become a Transportation Planner in the US

1. What Do Urban Planners Do?

Their duties include:

  • Collaborating with surveyors to map out vacant or under-developed land
  • Holding meetings with city or town officials to discuss how this land should be developed
  • Conducting studies to gather more information on the problems an urban area is facing
  • Collaborating with transportation planners and other professionals to find solutions to these problems
  • Reviewing applications for construction permits and determining whether they should be approved or rejected. For example, to arrive at a suitable decision, they must analyze, how the proposed project will affect the city’s environmental sustainability
  • Educating urban residents on a city or towns’ development programs
  • Developing disaster preparedness plans for town and cities
  • Keeping abreast of changes in relevant federal, state and local regulations

2. Work Environment

Urban planners typically work from 9am to 5pm, Monday through Friday.

When they are not in the offices developing land use programs, you can find them outdoors, surveying vacant land or major construction projects.

3. Salary

According to Payscale, urban planners earn an average salary of $51,382 per year.

4. Entry Requirements

The first step to becoming an urban planner is to earn a bachelor’s degree in urban and regional planning. The program will equip you with knowledge of planning and growth management, planning methods, city structures, capital facilities, map analysis and design.

Some of the schools offering programs accredited by the Planning Accreditation Board include:

Next, supplement your undergraduate education with a master’s degree in urban and regional planning to meet the minimum entry requirements for this profession. The schools listed above also offer competent and accredited graduate courses in urban planning.

As of 2015, New Jersey is the only state that regulates the urban planning profession. So if you’re a New Jersey native, or a non-resident looking to work in the state, then you have to obtain a license from the state’s licensing board.

5. Important Qualities

To be a competent urban planner, you need:

  • Excellent analytical skills
  • Superior planning skills
  • Strong problem-solving skills
  • Skills in urban design
  • Good decision-making skills
  • Good math skills
  • Skills in public relations
  • Good computer skills
  • Good project management skills
  • Good research skills
  • Good report-writing skills to compile clear research skills
  • Good presentation skills
  • Good teamwork skills

6. Career Development

Once you get hired, engage in the following activities to increase your competence and career advancement prospects:

  • Obtain a relevant professional certification, such as the American Planning Association (APA)’s AICP Certified Urban Designer – To qualify for certification, you must be a member of the APA’s American Institute of Certified Planners
  • Make use of APA’s professional development resources such as workshops, web conferences and industry publications.

If you wish to reach the highest heights in this profession, pursue a doctoral degree in urban studies and planning, like the one offered by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

7. Job Opportunities

The employers of urban planners include:

  • Private planning organizations
  • State and local planning departments
  • Federal agencies like the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
  • Non-governmental organizations
  • Architectural and engineering firms

As an experienced urban planner with a professional certification, you have good chances of getting promoted to the position of urban planning manager. With a doctoral degree, you can move into academia and become an urban planning professor.

See Also: How to Become an Environmental Restoration Planner in the UK

Finally, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the employment of urban and regional planners to grow by 10 percent (marginally slower than the 11 percent average for all jobs) between 2012 and 2022).

So if you are interested in helping your local city (or any other) meet the current and future needs of its residents, then this is a career you should consider.