Difference Between Urban Planner & Urban Designer

This article compares two very similar career options: urban planning and urban design. Degree requirements, job outlooks, and salary are all compared, as well as daily tasks for each job.

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Comparing Urban Planners to Urban Designers

Urban planners and urban designers work to develop cities. Urban planners work closely with public and governmental officials to plan and execute new development plans. Urban designers, on the other hand, focus on creating the beautiful architecture and landscapes of public spaces. Both attempt to make cities more attractive and functional, but there are subtitle differences between them to be aware of.

Job Title Educational Requirements Median Salary (2016) Job Growth (2014-2024)*
Urban Planner Master's Degree $70,020* 6% (Urban and Regional Planners)
Urban Designer Bachelor's Degree $57,539** 6% (Urban and Regional Planners)

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **

Responsibilities of Urban Planners vs. Urban Designers

Urban planners are involved in the actual planning of a public space. It is their job to engage the community and see that land is being developed in a way that will benefit the members the most. Urban designers also thrive on designing spaces that will make the public happy, but they are more similar to architects in that they develop plans for the actual buildings and parks that will be built. While both utilize similar design and planning software, such as AutoCAD and GIS, urban designers are much more interested in the look and feel of the space, while urban planners need to ensure it meets certain regulations.

Urban Planner

Urban planners often begin by speaking to the public and gathering market research data on what exactly the community wants and needs. They then work with public officials and land developers to create a plan to develop buildings and parks that can be enjoyed by everyone. Part of the planning is deciding on if the idea is possible, which can be done by actually going into the field and reviewing the proposed site. The goal of urban planners is to assess public spaces such as parks, homeless shelters, and areas that might attract new businesses.

Job responsibilities of an urban planner include:

  • Deciding which building sites should be zoned for residential, commercial, or industrial purposes so land is developed properly and safely
  • Being aware of building codes and ensuring the proposed project adheres to them
  • Analyzing data based on maps and population densities
  • Implementing plans to protect historic sites and buildings

Urban Designer

Urban designers meet with clients and utilize programs such as SketchUp, GIS, and AutoCAD to create blueprints for public buildings and city parks. Though this is a career that requires artistic vision and creativity, they typically meet with landscapers and civil engineers to make sure their design is also workable. When working on a team with other designers, it may be the job of one designer to redline (or change) the original blueprints proposed by someone else. Once the construction is complete, the urban designer to ensure it meets the request of the client.

Job responsibilities of an urban designer include:

  • Providing cost and timeline estimates for a client
  • Researching design plans for existing spaces to gain inspiration
  • Utilizing data on spatial dimensions to complete a scaled drawing of the building or landscape
  • Going to worksites to check on the progress, ensuring everything matches the blueprints

Related Careers

If you've been researching a career in urban planning, you may be interested in a career as an economist, as these individuals also study community trends and address economic issues. Additionally, the responsibilities of a landscape architect are similar to those of an urban designer, so this could yet another career of interest.

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