Skip to main content

How to Become a City Planner

Go Back

Published on:

January 15, 2019


How to Become a City Planner

 Changing The World We Live In 

For those seeking a career path that directly affects our environment, pursuing an occupation as a city planner may be the right fit for you. Developing plans for the usage of land in urban areas, counties and small towns, city planners meet with architects, government officials, and the public to determine how best to utilize the land. Whether the plans are created to accommodate population growth, improve the aesthetics of a city or increase local business, city planners play a pivotal role in the decision-making process that impacts the cities we live and work in.  If you’re interested in this challenging but rewarding occupation, you will need to complete graduate-level coursework to become a city planner, including your master’s degree.

With the potential to have a positive effect on the social, environmental and economic issues affecting the city where you’re working, the role of a city planner is multidimensional and demanding on many levels. The most successful municipal planners have the ability to anticipate the future needs of the population they’re serving in order to make the proper recommendations, whether it concerns the location of businesses or schools, determining the placement of roads or buildings, or other infrastructures that could improve or impede their efforts. Therefore, it’s important to possess excellent communication, leadership and interpersonal skills, as well as a high proficiency in geography, mathematics, political science, economics, architecture, engineering and environmental studies if you’re considering a career in urban planning.

City Planner Job Description

City planners (also known as urban planners, municipal planners, land use planners, and urban designers) are responsible for the development and implementation of plans as approved by local and state authorities. They are also instrumental in making decisions and recommending policies that will determine the appropriate usage of land, buildings, facilities and infrastructures affecting and serving urban, rural and remote regions.

Your breadth of responsibilities will include but not be limited to reviewing development proposals, staying up to date with building codes and zoning laws, and keeping abreast of local activities affecting your industry. In addition to excellent communication and negotiating capabilities, you must have the ability to handle stress with grace and diplomacy. Typically, plenty of travel and working nights and weekends will be expected of you in this role.

In order to be fully qualified for this rigorous, fast-paced career path, you need to be able to work with other professionals within your industry, including colleagues in the community planning field, those who work in urban design, politicians, and even community members. Ultimately, your objective as a successful city planner should balance your particular city’s long and short-term needs.

Job Requirements

When becoming a city planner, it’s strongly encouraged to obtain a master’s degree after a student finishes getting their undergraduate degree. Note that licensure is only required depending on the state you live in. In fact, only a few states require licensure. According to the U.S. Bureau of Statistics, the following are important and core requirements when learning how to become a city planner:

  • Degree Level: Master’s degree
  • Degree Field: Accredited program in urban and regional planning
  • Experience: 1-2 years or related experience. For example, this could be in economic development, public administration, and policy, or architecture
  • Key Skills: Data analysis, speaking, writing, management, collaboration and teamwork, critical thinking, problem-solving, and decision making
  • Computer Skills: Database programming, spreadsheet programs, and presentation programs
  • Technical Skills: Geographic information systems (GIS). The purpose of this system is to be able to analyze, organize, and data and statistical information.

How to Become an Urban Planner: Education & Certification

As you can see, pursuing a career as a city planner is demanding and requires a broad skill set in order to achieve success. If you think you’ve got what it takes to make it in this exciting industry, you’ll need to obtain your certification as well as a Bachelor’s degree; read below for a step-by-step guide on how to become a city planner:

Earn Your Bachelor’s Degree

If you’re considering a career in urban planning, bachelor’s degree programs cover a broad array of topics, including government budgets, site planning, urban neighborhood analysis, and public and private development, among others. You may also wish to obtain your bachelor’s degree in a related subject, such as environmental design, public administration, or civil engineering.

Helpful Tip: Find an internship program while you’re getting your undergraduate degree – if you’re not sure where to look, ask your department head; you can even search popular sites such as for relevant work opportunities. Internships are a great way to gain real-world experience that will make you stand out to potential employers when you’re on the job market.

Obtain Your Master’s Degree

In order to complete your education as a city planner, you will require a master’s degree in either urban or regional planning, urban design, environmental planning, or geography. During your master’s degree program, you’ll learn how to plan urban spaces, develop the type of policies that need to be implemented during your day-to-day activities, and other requirements to prepare you for your career. Your coursework will include topics such as environmental law, urban transportation, policy analysis and building codes, among others.

Helpful Tip: You may want to consider a dual degree program, which will allow you to combine an urban planning degree with another graduate degree (such as law, business or even public policy). Upon graduation, this may improve your marketability when looking for work.

Obtain Your Certification

Once you’ve earned your master’s degree, you are ready to obtain your certification as a city planner. In order to receive your certification, you must pass an exam and maintain your credentials through continuing education. For more information, visit The American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP).

What to Expect: Your Future as a City Planner

Once you’ve completed your education and certification, you may be wondering what a typical day may entail as a city planner. Here’s a general overview of the job duties you can expect:

  • As mentioned, there are many instances in your career as a city planner where you’ll be interacting with your local legislative committees, where you will be required to explain and defend proposals and other urban planning processes.
  • General duties include the preparation of materials for community relations meetings.
  • In addition, you may be required to act as a mediator in public disputes, which could potentially involve the presentation of mutually acceptable alternatives to disputing parties.
  • Other functions may involve the development and modeling of possible transportation systems.
  • You may be required to present transportation system models to planning boards as well as the general public
  • You may be required to focus on a particular specialized area, such as urban design, community development, transportation planning, or land use code enforcement, among others.
  • You will also be obligated to prepare reports and recommendations for land developers, municipal government officials, and builders.
  • Your daily responsibilities will include speaking at civic or town hall meetings and working with land developers, public officials, and civic leaders.

Average Salary For A City Planner

The national average salary for an urban planner or city planner is $66,995 per year. This will vary on the location the city planner lives in, agency they work for, and experience level.

With more experience, a city planner has the ability to advance positions and make a salary of $85,903 per year. Other careers offered in the field of city planner can differ. Those with a specific concentration like an environmental planner or transportation planner have the opportunity to earn more. For example, environmental planners make a national average of $74,006 per year.

Who Hires Urban Planners?

Due to the specialized nature of city planning, there isn’t a broad range of employers or industries that hire urban planners. According to data from the Canada census in 2006, urban planners find work primarily through the following organizations:

  • Government (mainly municipal)
  • Professional, Scientific and Technical Services (mainly architectural and engineering)
  • Other

For additional occupational employment statistics, visit the US Bureau of Labor Statistics page, which provides a comprehensive industry profile including wage information.