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Urban and Regional Planners

Urban and regional planners, often called community or city planners, develop programs to provide for future growth and revitalization of urban, suburban, and rural communities and their regions. They help local officials make decisions on social, economic, and environmental problems.

Planners examine community facilities such as health clinics and schools to be sure these facilities can meet the demands placed upon them. They also keep abreast of the legal issues involved in community development or redevelopment and changes in housing and building codes. Because suburban growth has increased the need for better ways of traveling to the urban center, the planner's job often includes designing new transportation systems and parking facilities.

Urban and regional planners prepare for situations that are likely to develop as a result of population growth or social and economic change. They estimate, for example, the community's long-range needs for housing, transportation, and career and industrial sites. Working within a framework set by the community government, they analyze and propose alternative ways to achieve more efficient and attractive urban areas.

Before preparing plans for long range community development, urban and regional planners prepare detailed studies that show the current use of land for residential, career, and community purposes. These reports include such information as the location of streets, highways, water and sewer lines, schools, libraries, and recreational sites. They also provide information on the types of industries in the community, characteristics of the population, and employment and economic trends. With this information, urban and regional planners propose ways of using undeveloped land and design the layout of recommended buildings and other facilities such as subway stations. They also prepare materials that show how their programs can be carried out and what they will cost. As in many other fields, planners increasingly use computers to record and analyze information.

Urban and regional planners often confer with land developers, civic leaders, and other public planning officials. They may prepare materials for community relations programs, speak at civic meetings, and appear before legislative committees to explain their proposals.

In large organizations, planners usually specialize in areas such as physical design, public transportation, community relations, and the renovation or reconstruction of rundown career districts. In small organizations, planners must be able to do several kinds of work.

Working Conditions

Urban and regional planners spend most of their time in offices. To be familiar with areas that they are developing, however, they occasionally spend time outdoors examining the features of the land under consideration for development, its current use, and the types of structures existing on it. Although most planners have a scheduled 40-hour workweek, they sometimes must attend evening or weekend meetings or public hearings with citizens' groups.


Urban and regional planners held about 22,000 jobs in 1990. Local government planning agencies--city, county, or regional--employ over 7 out of 10. An increasing proportion of public agency planners work in small jurisdictions with populations under 50,000. State and Federal agencies that deal with housing, transportation, or environmental protection employ most of the rest. The largest Federal employers are the Departments of Transportation, Defense, and Housing and Urban Development.

Some planners do consulting work, either part time in addition to a regular job, or full time for a firm that provides services to private developers or government agencies. Some planners work for surveying firms, market research organizations, or large land developers.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

Employers often seek workers who have advanced training in urban or regional planning. Most entry jobs in Federal, State, and local government agencies require 2 years of graduate study in urban or regional planning, or the equivalent in work experience. Although the master's degree in planning is the usual requirement at the entry level, some people who have a bachelor's degree in city planning, architecture, or engineering may qualify for beginning positions. Courses in real estate, finance, and management are highly recommended. In addition, familiarity with statistical techniques and computer usage is desirable.

In 1990, about 80 accredited colleges and universities offered a master's degree in urban or regional planning. Although students holding a bachelor's degree in planning, architecture, or engineering may earn a masters degree after 1 year, most graduate programs in planning require 2 years. Graduate students spend considerable time in workshops or laboratory courses learning to analyze and solve urban and regional planning problems and often are required to work in a planning office part time or during the summer.

Candidates for jobs in Federal, State, and local government agencies usually must pass civil service examinations to become eligible for appointment.

The American Institute of Certified Planners, a branch of the American Planning Association (APA). grants certification to individuals with the appropriate combination of education and professional experience who pass an examination. Data on APA membership indicate that certified urban planners tend to hold the more responsible, better paying positions in their field.

Planners must be able to think in terms of spatial relationships and visualize the effects of their plans and designs. They should be flexible and able to reconcile different viewpoints to make constructive policy recommendations. The ability to write clearly and effectively is important.

After a few years' experience, urban and regional planners may advance to assignments requiring a high degree of independent judgement such as designing the physical layout of a large development or recommending policy, program, and budget options. Some are promoted to jobs as planning directors and spend a great deal of time meeting with officials in other organizations, speaking to civic groups, and supervising other professionals. Further advancement occurs through a transfer to a large city with more complex problems and greater responsibilities.

Job Outlook

Employment of urban and regional planners is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through the year 2000. Most job openings will arise from the need to replace experienced planners who transfer to other occupations, or retire or leave the labor force for other reasons.

Demand will be spurred by the continuing importance of environmental, economic, and energy planning; interest in zoning and land-use planning in undeveloped and non- metropolitan areas, including costal areas; the need to replace old public facilities such as bridges, highways, and sewers; and expected population growth in suburban locations and in the South and West. Graduates of academic institutions with accredited planning programs should have the best job prospects. With increasing competition, geographic mobility and the willingness to work in small towns or rural areas are important for many jobseekers.


According to a 1990 survey by the American Planning Association, urban and regional planners earned a median annual salary of about $34,300. The median annual salary of planners in city, county, and other local governments was $36,100; in State governments, $32,800; in private consulting firms, $43,700; in career, $48,900; and in nonprofit foundations, $36,400. For planners with over 10 years' experience, county and joint city/county agencies paid about $42,640 annually, while private careeres and consulting firms paid about $52,000. Directors of public planning agencies earned as much as $11,200 more than staff members at comparable levels of experience. Salaries of planners in large jurisdictions may be as much as $6,240 a year higher than their counterparts in small jurisdictions.

Planners with a master's degree were hired by the Federal Government at a starting average salary of $24,800 a year in 1990. In some cases, persons having less than 2 years of graduate work could enter Federal service as interns at yearly salaries of about $16,300 or $20,200. Salaries of urban and regional planners employed by the Federal Government averaged $44,300 a year in 1990.

Related Occupations

Urban and regional planners develop plans for the orderly growth of urban and rural communities. Others whose work is related to the work of planners include architects, landscape architects, city managers, civil engineers, geographers, and urban designers.

Sources of Additional Information

Additional information on careers and salaries in urban and regional planning, a list of schools offering training, and job referrals are available from:

American Planning Association, 1776 Massachusetts Ave. NW., Washington, D.C. 20036


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