Careers: Urban and Regional Planner

Posted by on Jul 28, 2017 in Careers
Selective-focus close-up view of an urban planner with a couple of layers of architectural drawings on a drafting table. Credit: RossHelen/

Urban planners often have to review architectural drawings as part of their job. Credit: RossHelen/

What Is It?

Urban and regional planners develop plans and programs that help cities and communities grow. They help figure out how to deal with issues related to population growth, and also come up with ideas for how to revitalize areas that might be struggling. Urban and regional planners develop public transportation systems; gather data on the population; analyze environmental factors; review developers’ site plans; present new plans to the public; plan new parks; try to draw in new businesses; and more. Basically, it is their job to figure out a community’s changing needs, and how best to address those needs. Urban planners decide how to use a community’s land and resources for homes, schools, businesses, industry, and parks.

There are different types of urban and regional planners. Land use and code enforcement planners decide how the land is used. Transportation planners focus on transportation needs. Environmental and natural resources planners look at how a community’s development could affect or harm the environment, and try to lessen that impact. Economic development planners focus on building a community’s economy by doing things like attracting businesses and creating jobs. Urban design planners look at how cities are laid out and how buildings are designed and landscaped.

Education and Experience

Most urban and regional planners have a master’s degree in urban or regional planning. If you are interested in someday attending one of these programs, it’s best to major in a field like economics, geography, political science, or environmental design as an undergraduate. Some positions also require one to two years of work experience in a related field such as public policy, economic development, or architecture.

Urban and regional planners have a very specific set of skills. They must be able to use technology to analyze data, statistics, and spreadsheets. They must also be able to take that data and use it to make important decisions. But that’s not all. To be an urban and regional planner, you must also have strong communication and writing skills in order to communicate your ideas to the public.

Job Outlook

Because communities are always changing and growing, urban and regional planners are always needed. However, if cities face tough economic conditions, it may take a toll on the job market for this field. Competition is strong, and people who are willing to move will have a better chance of getting a job. In 2014, there were about 38,000 jobs in urban and regional planning in the United States. Two-thirds of them were in local government. Over the next ten years, the number of jobs is supposed to grow by about 6 percent, which is roughly average.

In May 2016, the average yearly pay for an urban and regional planner was about $70,000. But salaries can range from roughly $44,000 in the lowest-paying areas to more than $105,000 in the highest-paying ones.

Pros and Cons

Most urban and regional planners are employed by large metropolitan areas, so you have to decide if living in a big city would be a good choice for you. Also, there is a lot of travelling involved as planners visit different development sites, which can also be a pro or a con.

As an urban and regional planner, you should count on a long work week. Most planners work full time, and many must also attend meetings at night and on the weekends. About 1 in 5 work more than 40 hours per week.

What Do You Think? Imagine that you are interested in a career in urban and regional planning. Consider the above list of the different types of planners. Which specific type of planner would you most like to be, and why? As a future city planner, what kinds of changes would you implement in your community?