City Planner: Job Description, Duties and Requirements

Mar 28, 2021

City planners plot out the best use of land and geographic resources in urban areas. They plan out infrastructure construction and use over time and must think analytically about the best way to use and develop urban resources.

Essential Information

City planners make long- and short-term plans/goals about the use of land in cities. They must keep in mind the future needs of the city's population and recommend placement of various infrastructures such as schools or roads. A master's degree in urban or regional planning, environmental planning, urban design, or geography is a requirement for city planners. Licensure is not required by many states but is optional for city planners.

Required Education Master's degree in urban or regional planning, environmental planning, urban design, or geography
Other Requirements Licensure is optional but required by a few states
Projected Job Growth (2019-2029) 11%* (for all urban and regional planners)
Average Salary (2019) $77,750* (for urban and regional planners)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)*

City Planner Job Description

City planners determine the best way to use a city's land and resources. They may help draft legislation, plan the construction of new public housing or buildings, help protect the environment, and suggest zoning regulations for private property. City planners may choose to specialize in transportation planning, community development and redevelopment, code enforcement, or environmental and urban design. However, those who specialize must keep the bigger picture in mind when creating plans for a city.

City Planner Duties

To prepare for community development, city planners often study their city's population and current use of land through surveys, field investigations, and other research methods. They may use computers to analyze their information, map land areas, project program costs, and predict trends. Other duties require preparing reports regarding the locations of different infrastructure, as well as population characteristics. City planners use their reports and community input to plan how the city's land should be used. They may also plan public transportation systems if necessary.

City planners spend much of their time interacting with other professionals. They may need to hold public meetings with government officials, land developers, lawyers, special interest groups, and the general public to develop or address issues regarding city land use. They may hear proposals and recommend denial, approval or conditional approval, as well as make changes as necessary. City planners must also defend their own proposals before legislative committees.

City Planner Requirements

A master's degree is the most common educational requirement for city planners. Master's degree programs in urban or regional planning, environmental planning, urban design, or geography may all prepare students for careers as city planners. Specific undergraduate majors are usually not required for admission into these master's degree programs, but common majors include economics, environmental design, geography, political science, and urban planning. Although less common, students who earn a bachelor's degree in urban planning can sometimes find employment without attending graduate school.

Graduate students spend much of their time learning to analyze and solve planning problems through laboratory courses, seminars, and workshops. They may also be required to gain practical experience by working in a planning office either part-time or during the summer. It is recommended that students also take courses in related subjects, such as architecture, geography, economics, management, earth sciences, law, and health administration. Since city planners need to be familiar with computer models and statistical techniques, students may be required to take courses in computer science, statistics, and geographic information systems.

Licensure or registration is not a requirement for city planners in most states. However, as of 2013, New Jersey requires its city planners to be licensed and Michigan requires registration. In both cases, passing examinations are required.

The American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) offers optional certification for those who have met educational and professional planning experience requirements. Those who have less education need more professional experience and vice versa. Passing an examination is required to earn certification, while continuing education is required to maintain the designation. Continuing education is necessary to keep up-to-date with the latest technologies, building codes, zoning codes and environmental regulations.

Job Outlook and Salary Info

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the employment of urban or regional planners is expected to grow by about 11% between 2019 and 2029. Individuals with a master's degree and work experience will fare better than their counterparts when in competition for positions. The mean annual salary earned by planners was reported as $77,750 in May 2019 by the BLS.

Analytical skills are crucial for city planners, as they must analyze geographical data to help determine the best use of land within a city. City planners must also conduct research and write grant proposals, so good written communication skills are also important. This job typically requires a master's degree for entry-level work, and certification is often beneficial.

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