Industry and Careers
What is Urban Planning?
Urban and regional planning is a highly collaborative field, requiring planners to work with the public, developers and government officials to create and present visions of sustainable communities that accommodate growth, improve accessibility and maintain the health of people and natural resources.
“The understanding and practice of planning is thus at the interlocking of the study of the dynamics of urban and regional change and the study and normative practice of government,” writes Patsy Health in her book, Collaborative Planning.1
Most urban planners work for local, state and federal governments, non-profit organizations, architectural and engineering consulting firms, and real estate developers. Common types of urban and regional planning roles include:
- Urban design planners
- Land use and code enforcement planners
- Environmental and natural resource planners
- Economic development planners
- Transportation planners
Urban Planners are not only tasked with planning and designing beautiful and functional cities, they must also use diplomacy and communication to create buy-in for their ideas. But "such multi-vocal planning is not cause for despair,” write Lewis D. Hopkins and Marisa A. Zapata in a Planetizen article urging planners to embrace differences.2 “If we believe that making and using plans enables people to achieve their aspirations, then plans should speak in the voices of poverty as well as wealth, renter as well as owner, recent arrival as well as longtime resident, region as well as municipality, and insurgent advocate as well as authority.”
Job Market for Urban Planners Looks Bright
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics,3 the need for urban and regional planners is expected to grow 16 percent from 2010 to 2020. Driving the demand for more skilled urban planning professionals is the growing number of challenges being faced by today’s urban and regional centers.
“Urban areas will need planners to accommodate an expected influx of people into metropolitan areas,” according to BLS. “Within cities, urban planners will be needed to develop revitalization projects and address problems associated with population growth.”
BLS forecasts suggest that job growth, for the urban planning profession, will be fastest among private engineering, architectural and consulting firms as governments and real estate developers continue to contract out various planning services.
Planners will also be vital for helping suburbs overcome myriad challenges such as housing, transportation, storm water management, environmental regulations and the preservation of historical sites. In meeting such challenges, planners will be called upon to ensure the development of sustainable communities, both new and established.
Planning and Designing for the Future
“Cities are an immense laboratory of trial and error, failure and success, in city building and city design,” writes Jane Jacobs in her book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities.4
In a time of economic recession, the many challenges faced by cities are multiplied. In 2012, 84 percent of Americans believe their communities are getting worse or staying the same and two-thirds say improved market forces and community planning are necessary for economic improvement and job creation, according to the American Planning Association (APA).5
"Planners are at the forefront of building communities that foster economic growth and create jobs,” said APA Chief Executive Officer Paul Farmer in his organization’s press release. “We're working to add value to communities around the country, and this poll confirms that our expertise is aligned with the priorities of most Americans.”
2 Hopkins, L. and Zapata, M. (2008, January 14). Planners Need to Work with Difference. Planetizen. Retrieved October 22, 2012, from http://www.planetizen.com/node/29189
3 Bureau of Labor Statistics (n.d.). Urban and Regional Planners. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Life-Physical-and-Social-Science/Urban-and-regional-planners.htm
5 American Planning Association (2012, June 14). Community Planners Essential to Putting America on Road to Economic Recover. Retrieved October 22, 2012, from https://www.planning.org/newsreleases/2012/jun14.htm