How to Start a Career in Urban Planning

From examining plans for proposed schools or other public facilities to mitigating the harmful effects of development on the environment, these are some of the career possibilities in urban planning.

The American Planning Association (APA) characterizes urban planning as a joint effort among government officials, business leaders and citizens to enrich communities.

What does urban planning entail?

Planning is a collaborative field as it involves engineers, architects, health professionals, landscape architects and other experts to review projects. An urban planner’s role is to provide guidelines for the project so that it meets a community’s needs. While planners spend the majority of their days working in teams, they are required to conduct research, analyze data and present alternatives for policymakers to consider, typically a solo act.

Project management is an important skill for planners, particularly those working in the private sector. Those in the public sector must be comfortable gaining participation from the public. A strong working knowledge of local, state and federal legislation is also required to see through a successful project.

What types of opportunities are available in urban planning?

There are two distinct opportunities in urban planning: the public sector and the private sector.

Being a socially focused profession, urban planning changes as the needs of people and communities change, which has brought about the development of specialized areas within traditional divisions, according to APA’s blog. For example, traditional land use planning now encompasses new specialties such as climate change mitigation and urban food systems development.

There are a variety of opportunities available within the planning profession. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job outlook for urban and regional planners is expected to grow 6% between 2014 and 2024. In 2014, 66% of planners worked in local government, so public sector opportunities may be more abundant. But population growth, economic conditions and environmental concerns all contribute to the demand for planners.

According to the APA/AICP 2016 Planners Salary Survey, the most common specializations include community development and redevelopment (53%), land use or code enforcement (46%) and transportation planning (34%). Additionally, 62% reported their primary place of employment in a city, 22% in a suburb, 11% in a small town and 5% in rural areas.

The median pay in 2016 for urban and regional planners, was $73,060 annually, according to the BLS.  The top 10% earned $105,310 annually.

Prospective students are encouraged to conduct independent research into career possibilities in the field. Salary potential and employment opportunities may vary depending on factors such as a candidate’s education and experience, as well as regional market conditions.

How do you break into urban planning?

While a bachelor’s degree in social sciences will get you a start on the planning path, the BLS reports that a master’s degree is typically required for most planning positions. A bachelor’s degree may qualify you as an assistant or junior planner but only with work experience in planning, public policy or a related field.

Some states require certification as a planner, and the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) offers professional nationwide certification. Beyond education, basic qualities necessary to be successful in the field include analytical skills, active listening, reading comprehension, critical thinking, judgement and decision-making skills, speaking and presenting, management skills and writing skills.

If you have ambitions of building communities of lasting value, urban planning may be a career possibility. And with such varying opportunities within the field, the possibilities of you making a great difference in the world around you are endless.

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