Urban Planner Careers

By Eric Hammer

If you are interested in urban planner careers, then you should probably know something about Robert Moses. Few people have exemplified urban planning more than Mr. Moses. He was responsible for building New York City and the New York metro area into what it is today.

Moses was responsible for building the largest bridge in New York City, the tri-borough bridge, which connects Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens as well as for building the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel and for locating the United Nations building on the East side of Manhattan. He also built numerous other bridges and highways in New York City and is remembered for bulldozing his way through Manhattan. The thing is, even those who hated him agreed that he was able to get things done and the infrastructure he created then still exists and is a vital part of New York City today.

So why do we mention Mr. Moses when it comes to urban planning careers? Because of the fact that he exemplified what it meant to be an urban planner. Urban planners figure out how to move people and shape cities.

They also sometimes have to quite bull headed in order to get their projects done because people don't always want to agree with their ideas (witness again Mr. Moses, who found himself thwarted by none other than the president himself when he tried to build a bridge instead of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel). If you are thinking about urban planning careers, remember that they involve both being almost like a force of nature as well as being someone willing to listen to the people who will actually use your projects (something Mr. Moses never did).

How Much Can You Make?

According to the bureau of labor statistics, the average urban planner earned around $62,400 in 2008. However, if you end up with a job on the scale of Mr. Moses, you could be earning much more and if you work as an assistant urban planner (quite common when starting in urban planner careers), you could earn significantly less as well.

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Keep in mind that as an urban planner, you need to be able to see the forest for the trees as well as the trees for the forest. In other words, you need to be able to look at details as well as seeing the grand plan over-all. Your decisions, for good or bad will define how people live their lives in the cities that you help design and as such, you need to be detail oriented and also a big picture sort of person (i.e. you need to know why it makes more sense to run a highway along this route and not that route while at the same time keeping an eye on which points the highway will connect along the way).

You'll also need to have excellent oral and written communication skills. Being able to speak on the phone and in public at town meetings as well as being able to write articles for the local newspaper are all very important skills if you are interested in urban planner careers.

Qualifications / Requirements

Typically, you'll need a master's degree in urban planning in order to become an urban planner. Urban planner careers do however sometimes begin with nothing but a bachelor's degree and a willingness to learn.

First Steps

Start by taking courses in college in statistics and urban planning. Make sure that you are a detail oriented person who can take in both the big picture and the little details surrounding it. Then, get your master's degree. Once you have that, start by looking for a job as an assistant urban planner in an office of urban planners.


American Planning Association - The professional organization for urban planners.

About.com: Urban Planner or Regional Planner Quiz - While the answers are a little obvious, this quiz does show you if you are the right kind of person to be considering this.

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