Urban planners develop plans for the use of land in towns and metropolitan areas. Planning today nurtures green areas as a valuable part of the urban environment while overseeing the careful use of land for residential, commercial and other development needed to keep an area vibrant. Urban planners collect and study economic and environmental information, review plans submitted by developers and recommend whether the plans should be approved. They work in an office setting and attend public meetings, but also spend time in outdoor urban areas. Urban planners stay up to date on environmental regulations, zoning rules and building codes. They can work on broad plans for a town or specific projects such as a school, park, business zone or housing development. Urban planners can work for a government agency or a private company or open their own office. There are several possible job titles. Land use and code enforcement planners make sure land is used according to ordinances. Environmental and natural resource planners protect and improve natural resources. Economic development planners help grow the local economy. Urban design planners plan building and landscape architecture to fit an overall design.
Urban planners can begin their career as assistant planners with just a bachelor’s degree. However, they need a master’s degree to work as a planner themselves. Many urban planners choose to become certified by the American Institute of Certified Planners. Planners need experience in public policy, planning, architecture, economic development, public administration or related fields.
The median salary of urban planners in May 2010 was $63,040, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor and Statistics. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $40,410 and the top 10 percent earned more than $96,420. Salaries differ by region. For example, urban planners in Washington, D.C., earned the highest median salary of $90,100 in 2012, according to the American Planning Association. Salaries also go up with more experience and education.
Urban planning jobs are expected to grow 16 percent from 2010 to 2020. The growing focus on environmentally-sound practices will help drive the need for planners. Local and state governments with budget constraints will dampen their employment prospects. As the economy improves, more planners will be needed to handle development that had been put on hold. A career as an urban planner allows professionals to make a difference in how a community uses its land, one of its most valuable resources.