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Urban and regional planners are often referred to as community or city planners because many are employed by local governments. They develop long and short-term land use plans to provide for growth and revitalization of urban, suburban, and rural communities, while helping local officials make decisions on social, economic, and environmental problems.
Planners devise plans promoting the best use of a community's land and resources for residential, commercial, and recreational activities. Planners also are involved in various other planning activities, including social services, transportation, resource development, and the protection of ecologically sensitive regions.. They address issues such as traffic congestion, air pollution, and the effect of growth and change on an area. They may formulate capital improvement plans for the construction of new school buildings, public housing, or sewage systems. Planners are involved in environmental issues ranging from pollution control to wetland preservation, forest conservation, and the location of new landfills. Planners also may be involved with drafting legislation on social issues such as the needs of the elderly, sheltering the homeless, or meeting the demand for new correctional facilities.
Planners examine proposed community facilities such as schools to be sure these facilities will meet the demands placed upon them over time by population growth. They keep abreast of the economic and legal issues involved in zoning codes, building codes, and environmental regulations. They ensure that builders and developers follow these codes and regulations. Planners also deal with land use and environmental issues created by population movements. For example, as suburban growth increases the need for traveling, some planners design new transportation systems and parking facilities.
Before preparing plans for community development, planners report on the current use of land for residential, business, and community purposes. These reports include information on the location of streets, highways, water and sewer lines, schools, libraries, and cultural and recreational sites, and provide data on the types of industries in the community, characteristics of the population, and employment and economic trends. With this information, along with input from citizens' advisory committees, planners design the layout of recommended buildings and other facilities such as subway lines and stations, and prepare reports that show how their programs can be carried out and what they will cost.
Planners increasingly use computers to record and analyze information and to prepare their reports and recommendations for government leaders and others. Computer databases, spreadsheets, and analytical techniques are widely used to determine program costs and forecast future trends in employment, housing, transportation, or population. Computerized geographic information systems enable planners to map land areas and overlay maps with geographic variables, such as population density, as well as to combine and manipulate geographic information to produce alternative plans for land use or development.
Urban and regional planners often confer with land developers, civic leaders, and public officials. They may function as mediators in community disputes by presenting alternatives that are acceptable to opposing parties. Planners may prepare material for community relations programs, speak at civic meetings, and appear before legislative committees and elected officials to explain and defend their proposals.
In large organizations, planners usually specialize in a single area such as transportation, housing, historic preservation, urban design, environmental and regulatory issues, or economic development. In small organizations, planners must be generalists, able to do various kinds of planning.
Urban and regional planners spend much of their time in offices. To be familiar with areas that they are developing, however, they periodically spend time outdoors inspecting the features of land under consideration for development, including its current use and the types of structures on it. Some local government planners involved in site development inspections spend most of their time in the field. Although most planners have a scheduled 40-hour workweek, they frequently attend evening or weekend meetings or public hearings with citizens' groups. Planners may experience the pressure of deadlines and tight work schedules, as well as political pressure generated by interest groups affected by their land use proposals.
Urban and regional planners held about 29,000 jobs in 1994, 2 out of 3 of whom were employed by local governments. An increasing proportion of planners work in the private sector for companies involved with real estate and transportation. Others are employed in State agencies that deal with housing, transportation, or environmental protection, and a small number work for the Federal Government.
Many planners do consulting work, either part time as a supplement to their regular jobs, or full time. They provide services to private developers or government agencies. Private sector employers include architectural and surveying firms, management and public relations firms, educational institutions, large land developers, and law firms specializing in land use.
Employers prefer workers who have advanced training. Most entry level jobs in Federal, State, and local government agencies require a master's degree in urban or regional planning or urban design, or the equivalent in work experience. A bachelor's degree from an accredited planning program, coupled with a master's degree in architecture, landscape architecture, or civil engineering, is good preparation for entry-level planning jobs in areas such as urban design, traffic, or the environment. A master's degree from an accredited planning program provides the best training for a number of planning fields. Although graduates from one of the limited number of accredited bachelor's degree programs qualify for many beginning positions, their advancement opportunities often are limited unless they acquire an advanced degree. Courses in related disciplines such as architecture, law, earth sciences, demography, economics, finance, health administration, geographic information systems, and management are highly recommended. In addition, familiarity with computer models and statistical techniques is necessary because of the increasing use of computerized modeling and geographic information systems in planning analyses.
In 1994, about 80 colleges and universities offered an accredited master's degree program and about 10 offered an accredited bachelor's degree program in urban or regional planning. These programs are accredited by the Planning Accreditation Board, which consists of representatives of the American Institute of Certified Planners and the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning. Most graduate programs in planning require a minimum of 2 years.
Specializations most commonly offered by planning schools are environmental planning, land use and comprehensive planning, economic development, and housing. Other popular offerings include community development, transportation, and urban design. Graduate students spend considerable time in studios, workshops, and laboratory courses learning to analyze and solve planning problems. They often are required to work in a planning office part time or during the summer. Local government planning offices frequently offer students internships that provide experience that proves invaluable in obtaining a full-time planning position after graduation.
The American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP), a professional institute within the American Planning Association (APA), grants certification to individuals who have the appropriate combination of education and professional experience and who pass an examination. Certification may be helpful for promotion.
Planners must be able to think in terms of spatial relationships and visualize the effects of their plans and designs. Planners should be flexible and able to reconcile different viewpoints and to make constructive policy recommendations. The ability to communicate effectively, both orally and in writing, is necessary for anyone interested in this field.
After a few years' experience, planners may advance to assignments requiring a high degree of independent judgment, such as designing the physical layout of a large development or recommending policy and budget options. Some public sector planners are promoted to jobs as planning directors and spend a great deal of time meeting with officials, speaking to civic groups, and supervising a staff. Further advancement occurs through a transfer to a larger jurisdiction with more complex problems and greater responsibilities, or into related occupations, such as director of community or economic development. In the private sector, experience leads to increases in independence and compensation.
A master's degree from an accredited planning program, or a master's degree in civil engineering or landscape architecture coupled with training in transportation, environmental planning, geographic information systems, or urban design, provide the most marketable background. Graduates with a bachelor's degree in planning but no graduate degree will have more difficulty finding a job in this field, although prospects are much brighter for entry-level jobs for those from one of the ten undergraduate programs in the country with an accredited bachelor's degree.
Employment of urban and regional planners is expected to faster than the average for all occupations through the year 2005. Most job openings, however, are expected to arise from the need to replace experienced planners who transfer to other occupations, or retire or leave the labor force for other reasons.
The continuing importance of transportation, environmental, and housing planning will increase demand for urban and regional planners. Specific factors contributing to job growth include the need to regulate commercial development of suburban areas with rapidly growing populations and legislation related to the environment, transportation, housing, and land use and development. Movements such as historic preservation and central city redevelopment will provide additional openings. However, local communities have limited resources and many demands for services. When communities need to cut expenditures, planning services may be cut before more basic services such as police or education.
Most new jobs for urban and regional planners will arise in rapidly expanding communities. Local governments need planners to address an array of problems associated with population growth. For example, new housing developments require roads, sewer systems, fire stations, schools, libraries, and recreation facilities that must be planned while considering budgetary constraints. Small town chambers of commerce, economic development authorities and tourism bureaus are eager to hire planners, provided that the candidate has some background in marketing and public relations.
Salaries of planners vary by educational attainment, type of employer, experience, size of community in which they work, and geographic location. According to a 1994 report by the APA, urban and regional planners with less than 5 years of experience earned median annual salaries of about $30,000 to $37,000. Planners with between 5 and 10 years' experience earned median salaries of about $39,000 to $42,000. Those with more than 10 years' experience earned median annual salaries of about $52,000 to $63,000.
According to limited data, median annual earnings of full-time wage and salary urban and regional planners were about $45,000 in 1994.
Planners with a master's degree were hired by the Federal Government at a starting average salary of $28,300 a year in 1994. In some cases, persons having less than 2 years of graduate work could enter Federal service as interns at yearly salaries of about $18,700 or $23,200. Salaries of community planners employed by the Federal Government in nonsupervisory, supervisory, and managerial positions averaged about $55,500 a year in 1995.
Urban and regional planners develop plans for the orderly growth of urban and rural communities. Others whose work is similar to the work of planners include architects, landscape architects, city managers, civil engineers, environmental engineers, and geographers.
Information on careers, salaries, and certification in urban and regional planning is available from:
American Planning Association, Education Division, 122 South Michigan Avenue, Suite 1600, Chicago, IL 60630-6107.
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