Urban and regional planners develop plans and programs for the use of land. Their plans help create communities, accommodate population growth, and revitalize physical facilities in towns, cities, counties, and metropolitan areas.


Urban and regional planners typically do the following:

  • Meet with public officials, developers, and the public regarding development plans and land use
  • Gather and analyze economic and environmental studies, censuses, and market research data
  • Conduct field investigations to analyze factors affecting land use
  • Review site plans submitted by developers
  • Assess the feasibility of proposals and identify needed changes
  • Recommend whether proposals should be approved or denied
  • Present projects to communities, planning officials, and planning commissions
  • Stay current on zoning or building codes, environmental regulations, and other legal issues

Urban and regional planners identify community needs and develop short- and long-term plans to create, grow, and revitalize communities and areas. For example, planners examine plans for proposed facilities, such as schools, to ensure that these facilities will meet the needs of a changing population.

As an area grows or changes otherwise, planners help communities manage the related economic, social, and environmental issues, such as planning a new park, sheltering the homeless, and making the region more attractive to businesses.

Some planners work on broad, community-wide plans; others focus on specific issues. Ultimately, planners advocate the best use of a community’s land and resources for residential, commercial, educational, and recreational purposes.

When beginning a project, planners work with public officials, community members, and other groups to identify community issues and goals. Using research, data analysis, and collaboration with interest groups, planners formulate strategies to address issues and to meet goals.

They also may help carry out community plans, oversee projects, and organize the work of the groups involved. Projects may range from a policy recommendation for a specific initiative to a long-term, comprehensive area plan.

Planners use a variety of tools and technology in their work, including geographic information systems (GIS) that analyze and manipulate data. GIS is used to integrate data with electronic maps. For example, planners use GIS to overlay a land map with population density indicators. They also use statistical software, visualization and presentation programs, financial spreadsheets, and other database and software programs.

The following are examples of types of urban and regional planners:

Land use and code enforcement planners are concerned with the way land is used and whether development plans comply with codes, which are the standards and laws of a jurisdiction. These planners work to carry out effective planning and zoning policies and ordinances. For example, a planner may develop a policy to encourage development in an underutilized location and to discourage development in an environmentally sensitive area.

Transportation planners develop transportation plans and programs for an area. They identify transportation needs and issues, assess the impact of services or systems, and anticipate and address future transportation patterns. For example, as growth outside the city creates more jobs, the need for public transportation to get workers to those jobs increases. Transportation planners develop and model possible solutions and explain the possibilities to planning boards and the public.

Environmental and natural resources planners attempt to mitigate the harmful effects of development on the environment. They may focus on conserving resources, preventing destruction of ecosystems, or cleaning polluted areas.

Economic development planners focus on the economic activities of an area. They may work to expand or diversify commercial activity, attract businesses, create jobs, or build housing.

Urban design planners strive to make building architecture and public spaces look and function in accordance with an area’s development and design goals. They combine planning with aspects of architecture and landscape architecture. Urban design planners focus on issues such as city layout, street design, and building and landscape patterns.

Work Environment

Urban and regional planners held about 38,700 jobs in 2012, a majority of which—about 65 percent—were in local government.

Most other planners worked for state and federal governments; real estate developers; nonprofit organizations; and consulting firms. Planners work throughout the country in all sizes of municipality, but most work in large metropolitan areas.

The industries that employed the most urban and regional planners in 2012 were as follows:

Local government, excluding education and hospitals 65%
Architectural, engineering, and related services 14
State government, excluding education and hospitals 10
Management, scientific, and technical consulting services 7

Most planners work with others. They often collaborate with public officials, engineers, architects, lawyers, and developers and must give presentations, attend meetings, and manage projects.

Because planners must balance conflicting interests and negotiate deals, the work can be stressful. Planners face pressure from politicians, developers, and the public to design or recommend specific plans. They may also work against tight deadlines.

Urban and regional planners often travel to sites to inspect the land conditions and use. Those involved in inspecting development sites may spend much of their time in the field.

Work Schedules

Most planners work during normal business hours, but some also work evenings or weekends to attend meetings with officials, planning commissions, and neighborhood groups.

Education and Training

Urban and regional planners usually need a master’s degree from an accredited planning program to qualify for professional positions.


Most urban and regional planners have a master’s degree from an accredited urban or regional planning program. In 2013, 72 universities offered an accredited master’s degree program in planning.

Many master’s programs accept students with a wide range of undergraduate backgrounds. However, many candidates who enter master’s degree programs have a bachelor’s degree in economics, geography, political science, or environmental design.

Most master’s programs include considerable time in seminars, workshops, and laboratory courses, in which students learn to analyze and solve planning problems. Although most master’s programs have a similar core curriculum, they often differ in the courses they offer and the issues on which they focus. For example, programs located in agricultural states may focus on rural planning, and programs located in an area with high population density may focus on urban revitalization.

Some planners have a background in a related field, such as public administration, architecture, or landscape architecture.

Aspiring planners with a bachelor’s degree can qualify for a small number of jobs as assistant or junior planners. There are currently 15 accredited bachelor’s degree programs in planning. Candidates with a bachelor’s degree typically need work experience in planning, public policy, or a related field.

Other Experience

Although not necessary for all positions, some entry-level positions require 1 to 2 years of work experience in a related field, such as architecture, public policy, or economic development. Many students gain experience through real-world planning projects or part-time internships while enrolled in a master’s planning program. Often this includes summer internships. Others enroll in full-time internships after completing their degree.

Mid- and senior-level planner positions usually require several years of work experience in planning or in a specific planning specialty. 

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

As of 2012, New Jersey was the only state that required planners to be licensed, although Michigan required registration to use the title “community planner.” More information can be requested from the regulatory boards of New Jersey and Michigan.

The American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) offers the professional AICP Certification for planners. To become certified, candidates must meet certain education and experience requirements and pass an exam. Certification must be maintained every 2 years. Although not required for all planning positions, some organizations prefer to hire certified planners.

Important Qualities

Analytical skills. Planners analyze information and data from a variety of sources, such as market research studies, censuses, and environmental impact studies. They use statistical techniques and technologies such as geographic information systems (GIS) in their analyses to determine the significance of the data.

Communication skills. Planners must be able to communicate clearly and effectively because they often give presentations and meet with a wide variety of audiences, including public officials, interest groups, and community members.

Decision-making skills. Planners must weigh all possible planning options and combine analysis, creativity, and realism to choose the appropriate action or plan.

Management skills. Planners must be able to manage projects, which may include overseeing tasks, planning assignments, and making decisions.

Writing skills. Planners need strong writing skills because they often prepare research reports, write grant proposals, and correspond with colleagues and stakeholders.


The median annual wage for urban and regional planners was $65,230 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $41,490, and the top 10 percent earned more than $97,630.

In May 2012, the median annual wages for urban and regional planners in the top four industries employing planners were as follows:

Architectural, engineering, and related services $71,010
Management, scientific, and technical
consulting services
State government, excluding education and hospitals 64,380
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 63,300

Most planners work during standard business hours, but many also work evenings or weekends to attend meetings with officials, planning commissions, or neighborhood groups.

Job Outlook

Employment of urban and regional planners is projected to grow 10 percent from 2012 to 2022, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Population growth and environmental concerns will drive employment growth for planners in cities, suburbs, and other areas.

Planners will continue to be needed to make changes to plans, programs, or regulations to reflect demographic changes throughout the nation. Within cities, urban planners will be needed to develop revitalization projects and address problems associated with population growth, population diversity, environmental degradation, and resource scarcity. Similarly, suburban areas and municipalities will need planners to address the challenges associated with population changes, including housing needs and transportation systems.

Planners also will be important as new communities will require extensive development and infrastructure, including housing, roads, sewer systems, parks, and schools.

An increased focus on sustainable and environmentally conscious development also will increase demand for planners. Issues such as storm water management, environmental regulation, affordable housing, cultural proficiency, and historic preservation should drive employment growth.

Engineering and architecture firms are increasingly collaborating with planners for land use, development site design, and building design. In addition, many real estate developers and governments will continue to contract out various planning services to these consulting firms.

However, employment of planners in local or state government may suffer because many projects are canceled or deferred when municipalities have too little money for development. Expected tight budgets over the coming decade should slow planners’ employment growth in government.

Job Prospects

Job opportunities for planners often depend on economic conditions. When municipalities and developers have funds for development projects, planners are in higher demand. However, planners often face strong competition for jobs in an economic downturn, when there is less funding for development work.

Although government funding issues will affect employment of planners in the short term, job prospects should improve over the coming decade. Planners will be needed to help plan, oversee, and carry out development projects that were deferred because of poor economic conditions. Combined with the increasing demands of a growing population, long-term prospects for qualified planners should be good.

Job prospects will be best for those with a master’s degree from an accredited planning program and relevant work experience. Planners who are willing to relocate for work also will have more job opportunities.

For More Information

For more information on careers in urban and regional planning, visit

American Planning Association

For more information on certification in urban and regional planning, visit

American Institute of Certified Planners

For more information on New Jersey licensure in planning, visit

New Jersey State Board of Professional Planners

For information on accredited urban and regional planning programs, visit

Planning Accreditation Board