How to Become an Urban Planner

How to Become an Urban Planner: Career Path Guide

To become an urban planner, you need to begin by determining if this career path is right for you. As an urban planner, you will need to be able to link knowledge and action in ways that improve public and private development decisions which affect people, places and the environment.


You need to be able to work with other professionals in the field of community planning and urban design with the ultimate goal of balancing your city’s short and long-term needs, as well as the needs of the individual versus the needs of the overall population.


Are you up to the challenge and think you have what it takes? If you’ve answered ‘yes’, then a career as an urban planner may be well suited for you.


Below we've outlined what you'll need to succeed in a career as an urban planner. We've also included helpful information for an urban planner career, such as job description, job duties, salary expectations, a list of possible employers and much more!



Education Needed to Become an Urban Planner

The educational requirements to become an urban planner can vary by employer. Typically, the minimum requirement to get an entry-level job in urban planning is a bachelor's degree in urban planning or a related degree such as geography, economics, political science, engineering or environmental studies.


Many planners also have a Master's degree in planning, which is typically earned by completing a two-year program. Planning programs in Canada generally accept students out of planning or related undergraduate programs.


Success Tip: Even if a master’s degree is not a formal requirement to get a job in planning with your municipality, it is a good idea to pursue one, as it can open doors to higher salary levels, senior-level positions and give you an edge over other applicants for planning jobs.




Urban Planner Job Description

Urban planners (also known as land use planners, city planners, municipal planners and urban designers) are responsible for developing plans and recommending policies for the management and appropriate usage of land, and associated services and facilities for urban, rural and remote regions.


They must forecast the future needs of the population in order to recommend the proper locations for schools, roads and other infrastructure. If executed properly, the work of urban planners serves to help local officials alleviate social, economic and environmental problems. 



Urban Planner Job Duties

• Work with land developers, civic leaders and public officials

• May act as a mediator in public disputes, which involves presenting mutually acceptable alternatives to disputing parties

• Speak at civic or town hall meetings

• Prepare materials for community relations meetings

• Appear before legislative committees to explain and defend proposals

• Prepare reports and recommendations for municipal government officials, land developers and builders

• May focus on one area of specialization, such as transportation planning, urban design, land use code enforcement or community development

• May develop and model possible transportation systems

• May present transportation system models to planning boards and the general public



Who Hires Urban Planners?

Urban planning is a very specialized field, and because of this there are not a wide variety of employers that hire urban planners. According to data from the Canada census in 2006, urban planners find work with the following types of organizations:


• Government (mainly municipal) - 56%

• Professional, Scientific and Technical Services (mainly architectural and engineering) - 27%

• Other - 17%





Urban Planner Salary

The salary level of urban planners can vary greatly depending on many factors, such as their level of education, their level of experience, where they work, the current planning needs of their employer and many others.


Urban Planner Salary Alberta: According to the 2011 Alberta Wage and Salary data survey, Albertans working as Urban and Land Use Planners earn an average wage of $43.17 per hour.


Urban Planner Salary Canada: According to Service Canada, employees in the Urban and Land Use Planners occupational group earn an average salary of $54,779 per year.


Urban Planner Salary United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary of Americans employed as Urban and Regional Planners is $63,040 per year.



Working Conditions of Urban Planners

Work Environment: The job of an urban planner can be quite stressful, as they must balance conflicting interests, negotiate deals, and meet strict deadlines. Urban planners face pressure from politicians, developers, and the public to design or recommend specific plans.


Work Setting: Urban planners work mainly in an office setting, although they do spend a significant amount of time outside of the office, to fulfill duties such as inspecting development sites and meetings with team members (such as engineers and architects) and stakeholders.


Work Schedule: Urban planners typically work normal weekday working hours, although they must maintain a flexible schedule, as they are often required to work evenings and weekends in order to fulfill many of their duties, such as to attending meetings with planning commissions or neighborhood groups.


Rewards of the Job: Despite being a stressful job at times, urban planners also typically receive much satisfaction from their work. This satisfaction has many causes, such as:


• Establishing multiple important relationships

• Playing a large part in improving their communities

• Successfully balancing many different needs

• Completing team projects to the satisfaction of many stakeholders



Skills Needed to Become an Urban Planner

In order to become successful as an urban or land-use planner, you must possess or develop certain skills through education or experience, including:


Working in a team setting: Urban planners are the ones that bring together a coherent action plan that draws upon ideas of experts and knowledgeable participants. To accomplish this, urban planners frequently liaise with and bring together other team members and stakeholders, which typically includes other planners, engineers, architects, politicians and citizens of the community.


Understanding data and numbers: Urban planners must use a variety of data (such as population statistics, economic and social data, geographical information, resource inventories and environmental indicators) to support policy and planning project proposals. In order to accomplish this, urban planners must be able to understand and analyze relevant data.


A broad understanding of geography and the environment: Possessing a natural curiosity for the world around you, in terms of geography and the environment, can help you become successful as an urban planner. This curiosity can leads to informal or formal education regarding such urban design topics as how topography affects the design of roads and subdivisions, and how to preserve trees and natural resources


Understanding the needs of the community: Communities are typically formed of diverse demographics, whether it be families, single people, an aging demographic, or differences due to income or ethnic background. It is crucial to understand the needs of these different demographic groups in order to successfully balance the rights of individuals with the needs of the larger population.


Communication skills: Urban planners need to communicate their ideas and proposals to team members and other stakeholders in order for them to be supported and fulfilled. Having the ability to properly and coherently communicate these ideas using various forms of presentation (such as oral, text, charts, models and pictures) can be essential to a planner’s success.


Conflict Management: Urban planners often face situations where competing viewpoints over-land use proposals require mediation and conflict management. Urban planners must be able to respect conflicting views, mediate effectively, seek compromises in order to help make difficult decisions.


Get Your Degree!

Find schools and get information on the program that’s right for you.

Powered by Campus Explorer


Careers Similar to Urban Planner

Listed below are jobs that are similar in nature to Parks Planner, as they may involve many of the same skills, competencies and responsibilities.


Community Planner

Land Use Planning Advisor

Parks Planner

Regional Development Manager

Regional Planner

Urban Planning Technician



References: Urban Planner Career

Please consult the references below to find more information on the various aspects of a career as an urban planner.


Wages & Salaries in Alberta:Community Planner.” (March 9, 2016). ALIS website - Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved January 15, 2020.

Life, Physical, and Social Science:Urban and Regional Planners.” (September 4, 2019). Bureau of Labor Statistics - United States Government website. Retrieved January 15, 2020.

Careers:Careers in Planning.” (n.d.). Canadian Institute of Planners website. Retrieved January 15, 2020.



Scholarships for Becoming an Urban Planner

Scholarships in Canada and the United States listed for majors that apply to becoming an Urban Planner can be found on our All Scholarships by Major page.


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!



Becoming an Urban Planner: Applicable Majors

Studying one of the university majors listed below is an excellent starting point to becoming an urban planner. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!


Top Banner Image: