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Urban Designer: Salary and Career Facts

Explore the career requirements for an urban designer. Get the facts about job duties, salary, training and certification possibilities to determine if this is the right career for you.

What Is an Urban Designer?

An urban designer is responsible for how land is used within an urban area. They may focus on the development of new residential housing to accommodate for population growth, and they also have to determine needs such as transportation and other services. They need to be familiar with building code regulations, zoning regulations, environmental regulations and other factors that may affect how land is used. They meet with developers and city officials, review plan proposals and determine whether or not the proposals should be approved. Urban designers have to consider the immediate needs of their community, as well as long-term needs that have to be factored into the development of available land.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree for entry-level; master's degree for advancement
Key Responsibilities Design urban environments, work with the community and developers, attend public hearings, address pertinent issues and regulations
LicensureOnly required in New Jersey; some designers may need to be registered in Michigan; no requirements in other states
Certification Voluntary; available through the American Institute of Certified Planners
Job Growth (2018-2028) 11% growth* (urban and regional planners)
Mean Annual Salary (2018) $76,240* (urban and regional planners)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Will I Do as an Urban Designer?

Working as an urban designer involves creating, adapting or reviewing plans for urban spaces. You may be responsible for the development, revitalization or rebuilding of an area. You may address a wide range of issues - including political, economic, social and environmental - from the local to federal level. For example, in designing a new neighborhood, you might need to consider how it will impact local wildlife or how changes in traffic patterns will affect adjacent communities.

Your job may involve working with community members, local political figures and land developers. In many cases, you'll take part in visiting sites intended for development, attend public hearings and participate in meetings.

Will I Need Licensure or Certification?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, urban designers are not required to be licensed except in New Jersey (www.bls.gov). Through the American Institute of Certified Planners - a part of the American Planning Association - you can take an exam to earn certification (www.planning.org). You must have a combination of work experience and education, or a minimum of eight years of experience without a college degree, in order to sit for the exam. Earning the certification proves that you have a high level of expertise in the field, and according to the BLS, completing the continuing education requirements to maintain your certification can improve your advancement opportunities.

What Salary is Possible?

As reported by the BLS, urban and regional designers earned a mean annual salary of $76,240 as of May 2018. At that time, you could find the highest average wages in the District of Columbia, where the mean salary was $110,100. Other states with higher than average salaries included California, Alaska, Massachusetts and Oregon.

What Type of Training Can I Complete?

In most cases, the first step towards a career in urban design begins when you enroll in a bachelor's degree program in design, architecture or planning. Programs in urban design provide you with foundational training in the issues that impact the field. For example, you'll learn about preserving historic sites, improving transportation and protecting the natural environment. Often, these programs include an internship requirement that helps you gain experience and develop connections that can jump-start your career.

Though you can find entry-level positions with a bachelor's degree, most advanced positions require earning a master's degree in urban design. Programs that offer a Master of Urban Design require you to possess a professional degree in a relevant field, such as architecture or landscape architecture. You'll take both lecture and studio-based courses that further develop your understanding of the concepts and practical applications of urban design. Among the many topics you may study are the politics and economics of urban design, spatial organization and the community's role in design initiatives.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Civil engineers and landscape architects are professionals whose work is similar to that of urban designers in several aspects. Civil engineers develop the design plans for roads, bridges and other structures. Landscape architects develop design plans for outdoor spaces. Urban designers may work closely with both civil engineers and landscape architects, because they may need to approve work on new roads or bridges or new parks. Landscape architects and civil engineers need a bachelor's degree, and - like urban designers - they need to be familiar with zoning and environmental regulations and other factors that may need to be considered when developing design plans.