Local governments employ 7 out of 10 urban and regional planners.
Most entry-level jobs require a masterís degree; bachelorís
degree holders may find some entry-level positions, but advancement
opportunities are limited.
Most new jobs will be in affluent, rapidly growing urban and
Nature of the Work
Planners develop long- and short-term plans to use land for the
growth and revitalization of urban, suburban, and rural communities,
while helping local officials make decisions concerning social,
economic, and environmental problems. Because local governments
employ the majority of urban and regional planners, they often
are referred to as community, regional, or city planners.
Planners promote the best use of a communityís land and resources
for residential, commercial, institutional, and recreational purposes.
Planners may be involved in various other activities, including
making decisions relating to establishing alternative public transportation
systems, developing resources, and protecting ecologically sensitive
regions. Urban and regional planners address issues such as traffic
congestion, air pollution, and the effects of growth and change
on a community. They may formulate plans relating to the construction
of new school buildings, public housing, or other kinds of infrastructure.
Some planners are involved in environmental issues ranging from
pollution control to wetland preservation, forest conservation,
and the location of new landfills. Planners also may be involved
in drafting legislation on environmental, social, and economic
issues, such as sheltering the homeless, planning a new park,
or meeting the demand for new correctional facilities.
Planners examine proposed community facilities, such as schools,
to be sure that these facilities will meet the changing demands
placed upon them over time. They keep abreast of economic and
legal issues involved in zoning codes, building codes, and environmental
regulations. They ensure that builders and developers follow these
codes and regulations. Planners also deal with land-use issues
created by population movements. For example, as suburban growth
and economic development create more new jobs outside cities,
the need for public transportation that enables workers to get
to those jobs increases. In response, planners develop transportation
models and explain their details to planning boards and the general
Before preparing plans for community development, planners report
on the current use of land for residential, business, and community
purposes. Their reports include information on the location and
capacity of streets, highways, airports, water and sewer lines,
schools, libraries, and cultural and recreational sites. They
also provide data on the types of industries in the community,
the characteristics of the population, and employment and economic
trends. Using this information, along with input from citizensí
advisory committees, planners design the layout of land uses for
buildings and other facilities, such as subway lines and stations.
Planners prepare reports showing how their programs can be carried
out and what they will cost.
Planners use computers to record and analyze information and
to prepare reports and recommendations for government executives
and others. Computer databases, spreadsheets, and analytical techniques
are utilized to project program costs and forecast future trends
in employment, housing, transportation, or population. Computerized
geographic information systems enable planners to map land areas,
to overlay maps with geographic variables such as population density,
and to combine or manipulate geographic information to produce
alternative plans for land use or development.
Urban and regional planners often confer with land developers,
civic leaders, and public officials and may function as mediators
in community disputes, presenting alternatives that are acceptable
to opposing parties. Planners may prepare material for community
relations programs, speak at civic meetings, and appear before
legislative committees and elected officials to explain and defend
In large organizations, planners usually specialize in a single
area, such as transportation, demography, housing, historic preservation,
urban design, environmental and regulatory issues, or economic
development. In small organizations, planners do various kinds
Urban and regional planners often travel to inspect the features
of land under consideration for development or regulation, including
its current use and the types of structures on it. Some local
government planners involved in site development inspections spend
most of their time in the field. Although most planners have a
scheduled 40-hour workweek, they frequently attend evening or
weekend meetings or public hearings with citizensí groups. Planners
may experience the pressure of deadlines and tight work schedules,
as well as political pressure generated by interest groups affected
by proposals related to urban development and land use.
For jobs as urban and regional planners, employers prefer workers
who have advanced training. Most entry-level jobs in Federal,
State, and local government agencies require a masterís degree
from an accredited program in urban or regional planning or a
masterís degree in a related field, such as urban design or geography.
A bachelorís degree from an accredited planning program, coupled
with a masterís degree in architecture, landscape architecture,
or civil engineering, is good preparation for entry-level planning
jobs in various areas, including urban design, transportation,
and the environment. A masterís degree from an accredited planning
program provides the best training for a wide range of planning
fields. Although graduates from one of the limited number of accredited
bachelorís degree programs qualify for some entry-level positions,
their advancement opportunities often are limited, unless they
acquire an advanced degree.
Courses in related disciplines, such as architecture, law, earth
sciences, demography, economics, finance, health administration,
geographic information systems, and management, are highly recommended.
Because familiarity with computer models and statistical techniques
is important, courses in statistics and computer science also
In 2005, 68 colleges and universities offered an accredited masterís
degree program, and 15 offered an accredited bachelorís degree
program, in urban or regional planning. Accreditation for these
programs is from the Planning Accreditation Board, which consists
of representatives of the American Institute of Certified Planners,
the American Planning Association, and the Association of Collegiate
Schools of Planning. Most graduate programs in planning require
a minimum of 2 years of study.
Specializations most commonly offered by planning schools are
environmental planning, land use and comprehensive planning, economic
development, housing, historic preservation, and social planning.
Other popular offerings include community development, transportation,
and urban design. Graduate students spend considerable time in
studios, workshops, and laboratory courses, learning to analyze
and solve planning problems. They often are required to work in
a planning office part time or during the summer. Local government
planning offices frequently offer students internships, providing
experience that proves invaluable in obtaining a full-time planning
position after graduation.
The American Institute of Certified Planners, a professional
institute within the American Planning Association, grants certification
to individuals who have the appropriate combination of education
and professional experience and who pass an examination. Certification
may be helpful for promotion.
Planners must be able to think in terms of spatial relationships
and visualize the effects of their plans and designs. They should
be flexible and be able to reconcile different viewpoints and
make constructive policy recommendations. The ability to communicate
effectively, both orally and in writing, is necessary for anyone
interested in this field.
After a few years of experience, planners may advance to assignments
requiring a high degree of independent judgment, such as designing
the physical layout of a large development or recommending policy
and budget options. Some public-sector planners are promoted to
community planning director and spend a great deal of time meeting
with officials, speaking to civic groups, and supervising a staff.
Further advancement occurs through a transfer to a larger jurisdiction
with more complex problems and greater responsibilities or into
related occupations, such as director of community or economic
Urban and regional planners held about 32,000 jobs in 2004. About
7 out of 10 were employed by local governments. Companies involved
with architectural, engineering, and related services, as well
as management, scientific, and technical consulting services,
employ an increasing proportion of planners in the private sector.
Others are employed in State government agencies dealing with
housing, transportation, or environmental protection, and a small
number work for the Federal Government.
Employment of urban and regional planners is expected to grow
about as fast as average for all occupations through 2014. Employment
growth will be driven by the need for State and local governments
to provide public services such as regulation of commercial development,
the environment, transportation, housing, and land use and development
for an expanding population. Nongovernmental initiatives dealing
with historic preservation and redevelopment will provide additional
openings. Some job openings also will arise from the need to replace
experienced planners who transfer to other occupations, retire,
or leave the labor force for other reasons. Graduates with a masterís
degree from an accredited program should have an advantage in
the job market.
Most new jobs for urban and regional planners will be in local
government, as planners will be needed to address an array of
problems associated with population growth, especially in affluent,
rapidly expanding communities. For example, new housing developments
require roads, sewer systems, fire stations, schools, libraries,
and recreation facilities that must be planned for in the midst
of a consideration of budgetary constraints. Small-town chambers
of commerce, economic development authorities, and tourism bureaus
may hire planners, preferably with some background in marketing
and public relations.
The fastest job growth for urban and regional planners will occur
in the private sector, primarily in professional, scientific,
and technical services. For example, planners may be employed
by these firms to help design security measures for a building
that meet a desired security level, but that also are subtle and
blend in with the surrounding area. However, because the private
sector employs fewer than 2 out of 10 urban and regional planners,
not as many new jobs will be created in the private sector as
Median annual earnings of urban and regional planners were $53,450
in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $41,950 and
$67,530. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $33,840, and the
highest 10 percent earned more than $82,610. Median annual earnings
in local government, the industry employing the largest number
of urban and regional planners, were $52,520.