Urban Development Careers

by Aurelio Locsin

Urban planners decide how to make use of land in cities and regions. As of May 2012, about 64 percent worked in local government, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, with about 14 percent in architectural and engineering services, and 10 percent in state government. A standard 40-hour week is typical.


Urban planners find the best ways to accommodate population growth, create new communities, or stimulate the economies of existing cities and regions. They research and analyze environmental-impact statements, economic reports and market data. In addition, they visit sites to inspect potential development locales and examine proposals of private developers. They create plans for residential housing, recreational facilities, commercial zones and transportation. Recommendations usually need reviews from planning officials, developers and the public, which may require several rounds of changes. If groups disagree on any decisions, planners mediate disputes and offer alternatives.


Many urban planners specialize. For example, code enforcement planners make sure that any developments comply with building codes, industry standards and environmental regulations. They implement zoning policies and ordinances to make their plans more effective. Transportation planners focus on transportation issues by determining how public services, highways and other systems affect the movement of people and goods. Urban designers create public spaces and architecture that meet public and agency expectations. Environmental specialists try to mitigate the effects of development on the environment. They clean polluted areas, preserve existing ecosystems and conserve natural resources. Finally, economic development planners recommend ways to increase economic growth by attracting businesses and residents, and creating jobs.


Urban planners need at least a master’s degree from an accredited urban or regional planning program. However, the undergraduate prerequisite for such programs need not be in planning. Acceptable bachelor’s degrees include economics, environmental design, geography and political science. In addition, planning candidates usually need at least one or two years of experience in such fields as economic development, public policy, civil engineering or architecture. Certification is available from the American Institute of Certified Planners, which requires education, experience and passing an exam. States do not generally regulate urban planners, with two exceptions. As of 2011, New Jersey demanded licensing and Michigan mandated registration.


The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that jobs for urban planners will increase by 16 percent from 2010 to 2020, compared to 14 percent for all occupations. Driving the demand will be a growing population. Environmentally-conscious development, such as mass transit systems between suburbs and cities, will also provide employment. Those with master’s degrees and related work experience, and who are willing to locate, will find the best opportunities. Employment often depends on the budgets of local government and the state of the economy.

About the Author

Aurelio Locsin has been writing professionally since 1982. He published his first book in 1996 and is a frequent contributor to many online publications, specializing in consumer, business and technical topics. Locsin holds a Bachelor of Arts in scientific and technical communications from the University of Washington.

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