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#ACareerIn - Urban Planning

If you’ve played Sims or watched NBC’s Parks and Recreation, you probably already have an idea of what urban planning is! From government to consultation, planners work at all levels, responsible for making communities better places to live.

Urban planning is the real life version of Sims. Urban planners have a special role in cities which is creating places and designing spaces.

- Annie Yang, Development Coordinator @ Northcrest Developments

Source: Professional Planning in Canada, Canadian Institute of Planners

Urban planners mostly work in large metropolitan areas. But you’ll also find them working for various levels of government, real estate developers, nonprofits and planning consulting firms.

Planners work with public officials and members in the community - they evaluate the needs and goals of a community, formulate and present strategies to meet these goals. To carry out these projects, they often collaborate with public officials, engineers, architects.

The first rule of being a planner is to understand the people you are planning a city for. Cities are constantly changing and as planners, it is important to be active listeners and action-takers. Urban planning is more than just designing cities. It involves understanding the way people interact with the environment and implementing innovative ways to deliver safe, inclusive and accessible places.

- Jennifer Man, 4th Year Student @ Waterloo School of Planning

Urban Planning is a technical and political process that is focused on the development and design of land use and the built environment, including air, water, and the infrastructure passing into and out of urban areas, such as transportation, communications, and distribution networks and their accessibility. Urban planners work in an interdisciplinary field that includes engineering, architecture, geography, politics, social science and design sciences.

- Annie Yang, Development Coordinator @ Northcrest Developments

How can high school students prepare for careers in urban planning?


The best way to set yourself up for any career aspirations is to work on your professional skills - these transcend career fields and industries, so you can continuously work on them in school clubs, group projects and volunteering!

Analytical and critical thinking skills: From market studies, environmental studies and censuses, urban planners need to be able to review and analyse a lot of data in order to formulate solutions. Many of these skills can be developed from data analysis courses or in specialized planning programs.

Communication skills: Interacting with community members like councils, boards and businesses is an important part of getting to know the needs of a community as well as communicating your ideas. If you’re in school and doing presentations and writing reports, you’re already working on your communication skills! Communication, written or verbal, is a valuable asset in almost any environment.

Judgment and decision-making skills: Urban planners are constantly considering the relative costs and benefits of potential actions to choose the one that will solve a problem and minimize negative impacts. Other than your personal decisions, you can work on your judgement skills in any leadership position!


Specialized Urban Planning degrees teach students how to design communities, cities and towns - determining where infrastructure goes like roads, buildings, utilities, parks, airports, etc. The courses you might take include: economic development, environmental planning, transportation planning, cartography, histories of cities and regions, land use law.

Most urban planners begin with a bachelor’s degree in a program with a specialized planning program like the following:

Associate degrees last 2 years, typically with lower tuition and prepare you for technician roles if you want to begin your career quickly.

While the list of schools with specialized programs is short, degrees in economics, geography, architecture, and environmental sciences are also quite common - and these are available in a majority of Canadian post-secondary schools.

From land-use planning to urban design to transportation planning, my program has given me a vast understanding of different practical skills to help me make informed career path decisions. There is not a day studying planning where I felt I wasn’t challenged enough. There is always something new to explore and problems to learn from - and that is what I love most about studying urban planning!

- Jennifer Man, Fourth Year Student @ Waterloo’s School of Planning

And that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Planning students gain experience through co-op placements in undergraduate studies or master’s studies, internships and entry-level positions after graduation. Many also go on to pursue a master’s degree in urban or regional planning as well as urban design and geography. If you’re curious about graduate studies, you find more information here!


  1. Urban Planning Jobs: How to Get Them and What to Expect | Brazen

  2. Planner, Urban And Regional in Canada | Government of Canada

  3. Canadian Institute of Planners (CIP)

  4. What do Urban Planners Do? | thebalancecareers

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