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Urban planner career: pathways and opportunities

Are you curious about what urban planners do? Urban planners are integral in shaping the development of communities, playing a pivotal role in analysing factors such as population growth, transportation needs, environmental concerns, and economic development to create sustainable strategies for growing cities.

The career of an urban planner is both fulfilling and complex, being holistic and grounded in solving societies’ ‘wicked problems’. This career path offers exciting opportunities to positively impact the world around you. If you’re considering entering this field, read on to find out more about relevant urban planning degrees and certifications, as well as job opportunities for different types of planners and their day-to-day responsibilities.

What Does an Urban Planner Do?

An urban planner’s day-to-day life is dynamic and multifaceted, involving research, analysis, collaboration, communication, and supporting project management activities to shape sustainable and equitable development.

Typically, urban planners conduct research and analysis to understand urban dynamics, collaborate with stakeholders, complete site visits, and develop plans and policies for sustainable development. Community engagement and policy implementation are key aspects of their role. Documentation and reporting are also essential in effectively communicating planning recommendations.

Urban Planner vs Urban Designer

While urban planners and designers often work together on projects, their primary areas of expertise differ. Urban planners address the broader social, economic, and environmental issues relating to urban development, while urban designers concentrate on the functionality and aesthetics of urban spaces.

Urban planners primarily focus on the long-term development and growth of cities and regions by considering various factors such as population growth, land use, transportation, environmental sustainability, and economic development. They are involved in developing comprehensive plans and policies to guide urban development. Further details of the different types of planners are provided below.

Urban designers focus more on urban spaces’ physical and aesthetic aspects, including streetscapes, public spaces, buildings, and landscapes. They aim to create attractive, functional, and sustainable environments that enhance quality of life and promote community well-being. The principles of architecture and urban design shape the form and character of urban places. Urban designers collaborate with architects, engineers, and other professionals to integrate design solutions into urban projects.

Different Types of Planners

Land Use Planner

Land use planners, sometimes referred to as spatial or policy planners, provide input into legislation reforms and are instrumental in the spatial planning of cities. They focus on developing long-term policies and regulations to guide urban development to address issues such as housing, accessibility to transport, and sustainability.

Consent Planner

Consent planners provide advice on projects, big or small, to ensure compliance with the relevant legislation. This involves evaluating development proposals and assessing their impacts on the environment, infrastructure, and community.

Transport Planner

Transport planners are involved in the designing and management of transportation systems to improve mobility, safety, and accessibility within urban areas. Often transport planners work in transport agencies and collaborate with engineers to implement infrastructure projects.

How to Become an Urban Planner

The typical route to becoming an urban planner is to complete an undergraduate degree in urban planning. However, many urban planners come from backgrounds in geography, public policy or science.

To further advance as an urban planner, you can join urban planning institutes, which provide urban planner certifications that signify your expertise and commitment to the profession. For example, in New Zealand, there is the New Zealand Planning Institute (NZPI). In America, there is the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP). It is recommended to complete a degree that is certified by the organisation you plan on joining to improve your chances of being accepted and shorten the time to become a full member. These are typically undergraduate or post-graduate degrees in urban planning.

Where Do Most Urban Planners Work?

Urban planners work in both the private and public sectors. Often, they work for government agencies or urban planning firms, both of which may overlap to work on the same projects. Public and private organisations may offer the opportunity for internships so you can further determine if this is the field for you.

Is Urban Planning a Good Career Choice?

The career of an urban planner is rewarding with the opportunity to work towards addressing pressing issues such as sustainable development, transportation, housing, and social equity. Urban planning is very holistic, which may suit those who enjoy problem-solving and looking at the bigger picture. Urban planning integrates many different sectors and involves the balancing of different perspectives. Urban planner jobs are likely to grow as our cities do, so the prospects of finding a career in urban planning are promising.


To sum it up, urban planners play a vital role in shaping the future of cities and communities. If this entices you, consider pursuing a career in urban planning.

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