Urban and Regional Planners Overview

The majority of new jobs for urban and regional planners will be located in affluent, rapidly growing communities. Close to 66 percent of urban and regional planners are employed in local governments. Overall employment growth is expected increase 19 percent, which is faster than average for all occupations. Employers may hire urban and regional planners with a bachelors degree and skills in mapping or GIS for entry-level positions, but room for advancement is limited. Those with a masters degree will see the best job opportunities.

Nature of the Work for Urban and Regional Planners

Urban and Regional Planners

Short- and long-term plans for land and the expansion of urban, suburban and rural communities are developed by urban and regional planners. Part of their job description requires predicting the future needs of the population. In doing so, they assist local officials to alleviate economic, environmental and social problems through the recommendation of schools, roads and other infrastructure and determine zoning regulations for private property. In local government, this role is referred to as community and city planners.

Urban and regional planners consider the communities land and resources for commercial, residential, recreational and institutional areas to determine the best use for them. They may develop construction plans for new public housing, school buildings or other types of infrastructure. Sometimes, they are the decision-makers in regards to resources to be developed and protecting ecologically important regions. Other environmental issues that an urban and regional planner may be involved in include wetland preservation, pollution control, forest conservation and the location of new landfills. When working in local government urban and regional planners might help to draft legislation on social, environmental and economic issues pertaining to land and resources, such as sheltering the homeless and planning a new park.

The first step an urban and regional planners take when developing a community is to study and report on the present use of the land for business, community and residential purposes. Information on the location and capacity of the highways, streets, airports, schools, water and sewer lines, cultural and recreational sites and libraries are included in their reports. In addition, data is provided on the characteristics of the population, industries in the community and economic and employment trends. This report, in combination with citizen input, helps urban and regional planners to attempt to optimize land use for buildings and other public facilities.

Urban and regional planners research community facilities to ensure they will meet the needs of the changing or expanding population. Up-to-date knowledge of economic and legal issues related to environmental regulations, building codes and zoning codes is essential. This comes in handy in situations such as when suburban and economic development create more jobs outside cities, planners develop and model possible transportation systems to get the workers to these locations and explain this to the community and planning boards.

Urban and regional planners use computers to record and analyze information and prepare reports and recommendations for government developers, builders and executives. Program costs are projected and future trends in transportation, housing, employment and population are predicted by using computer databases, analytical techniques and spreadsheets. Planners used computerized geographic information systems (GIS) to map land areas, to overlay maps with geographic variables such as population density, and combine geographic information to produce alternative plans for land use or development.

Urban and regional planners mediate in community work in tandem with civic leaders, public officials and land developers to mediate in community disputes. To explain and defend their proposals, planners may speak at civic meetings, appear before legislative committees and prepare material for community relations programs.

All urban and regional planners are required to keep the bigger picture in mind and only do what’s best for the community. Despite this, most planners specialize in one or more areas, such as community development and redevelopment, urban design and land-use or code enforcement.

Urban and regional planners, especially those involved in site development inspections, spend most of their time traveling to proposed sites for regulation or development to inspect the features of the land. In addition to the standard 40-hour workweek, they also attend evening or weekend meetings, or public forums with citizens’ groups. Pressure to meet deadlines and tight work schedules as well as political pressure from interested groups affected by their proposals are common experiences of urban and regional planners.

Training, Other Qualifications and Advancement for Urban and Regional Planners

A masters degree from an accredited program in urban or regional planning or a related field is required for most entry-level jobs in local, State and Federal governments. Students with bachelors degrees in a variety of subjects, such as economics, political science and geography, may be admitted to a masters degree program in urban and regional planning. Graduates with a bachelors degree in urban planning might be able to secure an entry-level position, but they have better chances of advancement if they acquire an advanced degree.

Currently, 67 colleges and universities offer accredited masters degree programs, and 15 offered accredited bachelors degree programs, in planning. The American Planning Association, the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning and the American Institute of Certified Planners all sponsor the Planning Accreditation Board, which grants accreditation to degree programs.

Related courses such as law, earth science, geography, demography, finance, economics, management and health administration, are all highly recommended. Courses in statistics, computer science and GIS also are recommended because knowledge of computer models and statistics is important to this career.

Graduate students learn to analyze and solve planning problems at seminars, laboratory courses and workshops. Part time work in an a planning office is often also required. Such internships, especially those in local government, are invaluable to students and can help them obtain a full-time planning position after graduation.

Urban and regional planners are only required to have a license in New Jersey. This is based off one examination on general knowledge of planning and another on specific New Jersey planning laws. In Michigan, community planners must register. This registrations is based on professional experience and State and national exams.

Certification from the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) is granted to individuals who have the right combination of professional experience and pass an examination. To maintain certification and to help get a promotion, professional development activities are required.

Planners may advance to projects requiring a high degree of independent judgement after only a few years. They may also be transferred to a larger jurisdiction with greater responsibilities and more complex problems.

Most Popular City/Urban, Community and Regional Planning Schools

1. Columbia University in the City of New York (New York, New York)
2. University of Arizona (Tucson, Arizona)
3. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge, Massachusetts)
4. University of Southern California (Los Angeles, California)
5. Arizona State University, Tempe (Tempe, Arizona)
6. California State Polytechnic University, Pomona (Pomona, California)
7. University of Illinois, Urbana, Champaign (Champaign, Illinois)
8. University of Washington, Seattle Campus (Seattle, Washington)
9. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (Ann Arbor, Michigan)
10. University of California, Davis (Davis, California)

See All City/Urban, Community and Regional Planning Schools

Employment and Job Outlook for Urban and Regional Planners

Number of People in Profession


Changing Employment (2008-2018)

Employment is projected to grow faster than average (increase 14 - 19%).

Urban and regional planners hold about 38,400 jobs. Local governments employ about 66 percent. Private sector companies involved in engineering, architecture and management, scientific and technical consulting services employ an increasing proportion of planners.

Urban and regional planner employment growth is expected to grow 19 percent in the next decade, which is faster than average for all occupations. The need for local and State governments to offer public services will drive employment growth. Employment growth will also be prevalent among nongovernmental issues concerned with redevelopment and historic preservation.

The private sector, particularly in the professional, scientific and technical services, will spur job growth for this occupation. Planners will also be employed by engineering and architecture firms.

Job openings will also arise through urban and regional planners retiring, leaving the labor force for other reasons, or who transferred to other occupations. AICP certified planners should expect the best advancement opportunities. Those with a masters degree from an accredited program have much better job prospects than those with a bachelors degree.

Earnings and Salary for Urban and Regional Planners

Urban and regional planners have a median annual wage of $61,820. The highest 10 percent earned more than $94,800, while the lowest 10 percent earned less than $39,460. The middle 50 percent earned between $48,700 and $77,790. The top industries of urban and regional planners median annual wages are:

Architectural, engineering and related services: $63,770
Scientific research and development services: $60,750
Management, scientific and technical consulting services: $59,160
Local government: $58,260
Colleges, universities and professional schools: $57,520

Annual Salary for Urban and Regional Planners

On average, Urban and Regional Planners earn $61,820 per year.

10% 25% 75% 90% $39,460/yr $48,700/yr $77,790/yr $94,800/yr

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook