How Do I Become an Urban Planner?

If you enjoy analyzing information and using creative strategies to solve problems, you might be wondering how to become an urban planner. Urban planners determine the best use of land to fulfill the commercial, recreational and residential needs of communities. Sometimes they establish new communities, and other times they advance proposals to help existing communities adapt to change and growth.

Urban planners consider the needs of a specific community and determine the best strategies for building, expanding or revitalizing the area based on the needs of a real or anticipated population. To make these decisions, they consult data such as censuses, market research information and the results of economic and environmental studies. When finding solutions, urban planners must ensure that their plans follow zoning and building codes and environmental regulations. An urban planner’s work on a project doesn’t end when a community or facility is created. Instead, the urban planner continues to work to address the economic, environmental and social needs of the community as it grows and changes.

While some urban planners develop whole communities, others specialize in certain aspects of urban planning. Land use and code enforcement planners ensure that land is developed in ways that comply with all government codes, ordinances and zoning policies. A transportation planner devises transportation systems based on the needs of a community. To decrease negative environmental consequences, environmental and natural resource planners develop strategies to protect ecosystems, clean up pollution and sustain resources. An economic development planner seeks to advance the economy of a community by establishing housing, inviting businesses into the area and increasing job prospects. Urban design planners are concerned with the aesthetics and functionality of building and landscape architecture, including street design and the layout of communities.

Some aspiring urban planners earn a bachelor’s degree in planning and then accept positions as assistant or junior planners, though both jobs and undergraduate programs are scarce. Most urban planners earn a master’s degree, usually after pursuing an undergraduate degree in geography, political science, economics or environmental design. Masters programs may allow students to gain experience interpreting data and solving problems through workshops. One to two years of relevant work experience or internships may be necessary to obtain a position as an urban planner. Most states do not require licensure, but professional certification is available from the American Institute of Certified Planners for urban planners who choose to pursue the distinction.

The United States Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics expects job opportunities for urban planners to increase by 16 percent during the 2010 to 2020 decade. This is comparable to the 14 percent anticipated growth rate for all occupations. Local governments account for most urban planning jobs, followed by state and federal governments, real estate developers, nonprofit organizations and planning consulting firms. If you are an analytical and strategic thinker with good decision-making and communication skills, knowing how to become an urban planner could be the first step toward a rewarding new career.

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