Education and Careers in Planning

What Do Planners Do?
Planning is a systematic, creative way to influence the future of neighborhoods, cities, rural and metropolitan areas, and even the country and the world. Urban and regional planners use their professional skills to serve communities facing social, economic, environmental, and cultural challenges by helping community residents:

  • develop ways to preserve and enhance their quality-of-life;
  • find methods to protect the natural and built environment;
  • identify policies to promote equity and equality;
  • structure programs to improve services to disadvantaged communities, and;
  • determine methods to deal effectively with growth and development of all kinds.

Urban and regional planners do many types of jobs and are involved in almost any kind of government or private activity which seeks to affect the future or respond to community change. The majority of planners work in traditional planning areas such as land use, environmental protection, economic development, transportation, community design, housing, and social planning. However individual planners can still have a wide variety of responsibilities within these broadly defined specialities. Other planners work in less traditional areas, often with people from other disciplines, such as healthy communities or energy development or school planning.

Some planners become generalists–they develop a level of expertise in several substantive areas. Others become specialists and define themselves as housing or transportation or environmental planners for example. Most planners share a common set of skills and values even though they may specialize in one or two substantive areas. Using their “planning toolkit” they:

  • involve all affected parties in important planning decisions;
  • help communities to develop their own vision of the future, preparing plans responsive to shared community objectives;
  • analyze qualitative and quantitative information to suggest possible solutions to complex problems;
  • evaluate the cost-effectiveness of proposed projects and plans; and
  • present recommendations to public officials and citizen groups in a comprehensive and understandable way.

Planners work in government, with non-profit agencies, and in private industry. Those in the public sector often work for city or county governments or regional planning agencies but there are also planning jobs at the state and federal level.