Urban Planner Job Description

An Urban Planner generally works for the government on either the local or state level to oversee the plans and programs in place for land use. They may plan how a city will expand to accommodate an expected growth in population, coordinating between the communities various facilities to ensure their citizens’ needs are met.

Urban Planners often work to revitalize towns, counties and cities by managing plans and programs for modernizing or preserving the land within their borders. Demand for Urban Planners is expected to grow by 6 percent by 2024, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics Reports, creating 2,400 new job openings.

 

Urban Planner Duties and Responsibilities 

An Urban Planner’s main duties involve managing a town or city’s current utilities, designing their future plans for additional growth and keeping the community informed of those plans. We reviewed multiple job listings for Urban Planners and identified the following core duties and responsibilities.

Maintain and Inspect Public Utilities

Urban Planners often review and improve upon a community’s public Utilities. These include transportation services, such as improving the pavement on roads. These responsibilities can also extend into maintaining or replacing waterlines, sewage pipes and similar public utilities. This includes ensuring all these services comply with the city’s land development ordinances or zoning laws.

Design Urban Settings

The Urban Planner can also be called upon to work on developing site plans for specific buildings and projects, making sure all parking, trees, shrubs, driving and handicap access, are all in accordance with local and federal regulations. This could also extend out to include something as large-scale as assessing or designing the installation of additional forms of public transportation, such as subways, bus systems or rail networks.

Design Maps and Graphical Representations of Data

Since Urban Planners are often the ones responsible for connecting the community with the city leader’s vision of the future, the Urban Planners are often in charge of designing maps for future projects or organizing relevant information into easy-to-read formats. This may include using diagrams, graphs and massing models to show the community how the city is expected to grow and change over time.

Collaborate with Specialists and the Community

Urban Planners often serve as a link between the average citizen and the highly skilled people working to improve the city. They review plans for a city’s growth and use the advice of technical specialists to overcome any issues, then reach out to the community to explain the utility of these changes in language the average citizen can understand. Urban Planners often associate with neighborhood groups on evenings and weekends.

Communicate with Peers, Subordinates and Supervisors

Urban Planners are team players, working with a network of city employees to help the community to grow. In order to make sure their plans for the community meet the needs of the majority while still falling within state and federal regulations, the Urban Planner will rely on the input from a variety of local and specialized sources. Managing, organizing and presenting this information in engaging and understandable ways will help to unify the community.

 

Urban Planner Skills

The Urban Planner relies on analytical skills to review the current and proposed plans for maintaining a city’s growth. They also rely on some creative skills in order to display those plans in a clear and engaging way, which the community can understand and support. They also need strong social skills, since they’re often called to work within the community and among the citizens themselves. Employers of Urban Planners are also watching for people with the following skills.

Core skills: Based on job listings we looked at, employers want Urban Planner with these core skills. If you want to work as an Urban Planner, focus on the following.

  • Managing interconnected projects with both a holistic and detail-oriented perspectives
  • Making high-quality graphics, diagrams, maps, sketches and/or renderings. Experienced with Adobe Creative Suite programs, such as Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign
  • Analyzing, manipulating and generating visual depictions of large data sets.
  • Collaborating with cross-functional teams

Advanced skills: While most employers did not require the following skills, multiple job listings included them as preferred. Add these to your Urban Planner toolbox and broaden your career options.

  • Experienced using web-based mapping platforms like, CartoDB, MapBox or other platforms designed to use Open Street Map
  • Previous experience working in civil planning or environmental engineering
  • General interest in and understanding of multi-modal transportation, public transit, and the principles behind new urbanism, transit-oriented development, and complete street design

 

Urban Planner Q & A

Thinking about pursuing a career in urban planning? We talked to Eric Raasch, Assistant Planning Administrator for Orange County, Fla., and Alexis Jackson, Planning Manager for the city of Farmers Branch, Texas, to find out more about what being an Urban Planner is all about. Here’s what they had to say:

What do you enjoy most about being an Urban Planner? 

Raasch: We spend hours on projects that will eventually be constructed and it is rewarding to see the final results, knowing that the project turned out better that it would have if you weren’t involved. 

What is challenging about being an Urban Planner?

Raasch: Resolving conflicts between numerous stakeholders. As a public servant, our ultimate responsibility is to serve the citizens. That said, there are many stakeholders in the development process including developers, attorneys, engineers, transportation planners, lenders, neighborhood organizations and citizen groups. It can be difficult to find solutions that please them all.  

Who is successful in this job?

Jackson: Someone who loves to plan on a personal level, as well. Someone who is detail-oriented and organized. Someone who can step back and see the big picture and doesn’t get mired down by the smaller details. Someone who likes to focus on the future. 

What skills do Urban Planners use most?

Raasch: I spend the majority of my time communicating with potential applicants and citizens. I think people skills are critical, particularly the ability to distill large amounts of highly-technical information and explain it relatively simple terms. 

How should someone prepare for a career as an Urban Planner?

Raasch: Graduate school is the first step. I would also encourage anyone interested in planning to travel extensively. It is eye opening to see examples of good planning that have been done throughout the world. You can then use those references to shape projects locally. 

What’s a misconception people have about what you do?

Jackson: People tend to think that we aren’t as savvy as architects or engineers, and that we just want things to be pretty. We are responsible for understanding how a building or a road may impact the entire city.  

 

Urban Planner Resources

We’ve put together a list of useful resources for anyone looking to explore a potential career as an Urban Planner. From leading industry groups to valuable resources, check below for additional opportunities to learn, connect and engage.

On the Web

ArchDaily.com – A powerful resource for anyone interested in learning about architecture, urban growth, and managing a metropolis. This site provides countless articles, reference materials, interviews and much more, to educate both professional and student alike.

Sokanu.com – Many sites will give you information about Urban Planning, but Sokanu takes things a bit further. Here you can assess your capabilities and interests towards various fields, to make sure a career like Urban Planning is a good fit for you. This also includes a thorough overview of the career at large, working conditions you can expect, etc.

Places Journal – This is an informative journal about urbanism, landscape and cotemporary architecture. They publish a variety of criticisms, essays, photography and peer-review articles all dedicated to keeping their readers on the cutting edge of architecture and Urban Planning.

On LinkedIn

Urban Planning – This resource provides member of LinkedIn with experts, job openings, articles and more. A great resource to provide professionals and students alike with important insights into the field of Urban Planning.

Urban & Regional Planning – This group centers around uniting professionals in Urban Planning from across the world. Here they share their experience, knowledge and interesting stories about their experiences in the field.
Smart Buildings and Urban Planning – This subgroup focuses on technological advances combing the latest ‘smart building’ designs with the needs of Urban Planners. They focus on efficient use of space, lowering operating costs, and managing the use of energy in these unique structures.

Industry Groups

American Planning Association – a professional organization for certified planners and students pursuing careers in planning the development of towns, cities and metropolitan areas. Their website includes additional resources designed to educate, find jobs and extend special benefits to enrolled members.

Planetizen – This is an information exchange for anyone working in urban planning, urban design, and community development. This site presents articles and studies about a variety of the issues and obstacles professional planners face.

EnviornmentalScience.Org – Not all Urban Planners work in a thriving metropolis. Many focus on protecting the environment and preserving the natural resources of a community. Click here to see some of the issues faced by and the requirements desired of Urban Planners with this specialization in mind.

Books

The Works: Anatomy of a City – This novel answers many questions about the ‘how’ and ‘why’ behind public utilities and their functions. Based off of the design and management of New York City, the lessons covered here in urban infrastructure are sure to apply, on some level, to any other community on the planet.

Urban Planning for Dummies – This is a great ‘starter’ option for the student of Urban Planning. This novel provides a practical overview of the career as a whole, while highlighting the necessary skills needs and issues faced by today’s Urban Planners.

Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design – Award-winning journalist, Charles Montgomery, sets out to examines the unique difficulties and solutions employed by some of the largest and most successful cities on earth.

 

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