Urban and regional planners are land use experts who assess a city or community’s needs. Skills amassed through training, education and previous work experience help these planners grow established cities and develop emerging ones.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2014, two out of three urban and regional planners were employed by government agencies. BLS also reports that most have master’s degrees. Six percent growth is projected in this field between 2014 and 2024.
What does an urban planner do?
The work of an urban planner ranges from designing large-scale city plans and layouts to constructing proposals for libraries and other community spaces. Planners often meet with local government officials and developers to discuss the practicality and efficacy of city improvement plans.
Urban and regional planners perform research to determine the value of proposed projects. Before any new project is undertaken, environmental regulations and impact, economic ramifications, historic preservation parameters, zoning laws and the likelihood of receiving government and community buy in must all be considered. Additionally, an area’s long and short-term goals are reviewed.
Not all planners perform the same type of work. Some specialize in topics such as economic improvement, zoning analysis, transportation, landscape or environmental design. Additionally, some focus on specific project aspects, while others follow projects through their implementation. Despite their differing approaches, all urban and regional planners share a desire to help their subject cities or communities grow and prosper.
Analytical capabilities: Urban and regional planning decisions are not made on a whim. For example, when planners are tasked with determining appropriate city-wide infrastructure updates, field investigations and surveys are completed.
Creativity: Urban planners work with thriving cities and with those in need of revitalization. In rundown areas, planners may suggest methods to enhance business development or to create additional livable space.
Interpersonal and communication skills: Urban and regional planners do not work alone. Rather, their work involves frequent collaboration with state and local government officials, developers, architects, engineers and community organizations.
Institutional and government knowledge: All planners must balance the needs of states, cities and communities, while being cognizant of applicable public policies and potential political agendas.
Technological prowess: Design programs and computerized mapping and planning tools help ensure the efficient completion of accurate work.
The current push for environmentally friendly cities has presented unique opportunities for urban and regional planners. Planners are designing increasingly walkable cities and neighborhoods, adding multi-use parks, forming green spaces, integrating green technology and incorporating numerous other elements of sustainability.
Smart city technology is also changing the urban and regional planning landscape. Some of this technology includes sensors that measure rainwater to reduce flooding and prevent expensive damage, smart technology traffic lights that regulate traffic patterns and decrease congestion, LED streetlights that brighten when people pass by or autonomous vehicle capabilities that could increase road safety. The sky is the limit.
How do you enter this exciting field?
Most urban and regional planners have studied topics such as architecture, economics, design or public administration. Many also hold master’s degrees in these areas of study. For instance, urban and regional planners with a Masters in Public Administration (MPA) understand the relevance of economic considerations, are knowledgeable of government operations and have strong financial management skills. Many urban and regional planners bolster their skillsets by competing planning certificate programs.
Urban and regional planners help keep our cities vibrant while moving our economy forward.