What is an urban planner?

If done well, you’ll hardly notice the influence of an urban planner—but their work shapes the places around us, from public parks to train stations. 

A blur of people walking in a public space

The goal of an urban planner is simple: improve towns, cities and regions for those living there. In reality, however, urban planners need to understand and balance many different factors when assessing how land should be used. They must consider the needs of the community, the natural environment and unique ecology of an area, while also considering social and economic issues.

When an urban planner does their job well, nobody notices. Public places such as parks, train stations and recreation facilities are built to make everyday life easier and better. 

Urban planners are critical to shaping cities and regions that are resilient to the impacts of climate change. As extreme weather events, including heatwaves, become commonplace, urban planners must design cities that work harmoniously with nature and minimise climate change’s impact on residents. 

What does an urban planner do?

As an urban planner, you’ll work with cities, councils and developers to design liveable public spaces. To do this effectively, you’ll research things like demographics, environmental concerns and government regulations, while also asking for community feedback through surveys and public meetings. 

Urban planners work in various fields including town planning, traffic or transport planning, and even policy development. They’re typically employed at a town or state level, but there are opportunities to use your skills in the private sector as well. 

What is the difference between an urban planner and an architect?

Architects typically work on one structure at a time or a small group of structures, like a new housing development. Urban planners work on a much bigger scale. As an urban planner, you’ll be the architect of an entire region or town. 

There’s a good chance you’ll work alongside architects because they can help you bring your vision for a town to life. 

As an urban planner, you’ll plan how public space in your town or region should be used. For example, you’ll help determine where transport hubs go, how traffic flows through your city and where new housing developments should be located. Architects then design the structures that make up this plan. 

Are urban planners in demand in Australia?

If you’re considering a career in urban planning, you’re in luck. Demand for urban planners in Australia is expected to grow significantly over the coming years due to an uptick in migration.

The Australian National Skills Commission predicts there will be 18.6% more job opportunities by 2026, with the population calling out for more housing, more effective public transport, and more recreation facilities to promote health and wellbeing. 

What degree do you need to be an urban planner?

You need a bachelor degree in urban, environmental or regional planning to become an urban planner. 

If you already have a degree in a related discipline like architecture, economics or environmental management, you can switch to urban planning with a postgraduate qualification such as a Master of Urban and Regional Planning

In addition to a recognised urban planning course, you’ll need a range of soft skills to succeed as an urban planner. These include teamwork, excellent communication, strong interpersonal, and great analytical skills.  

Where to find urban planning courses

You can compare online urban planning courses offered by leading universities right here on Open Universities Australia.

If you’re unsure which option is the best fit for you, reach out to one of our student advisors by starting a chat or booking a one-on-one call. They can help you find the right course so you can pursue a fulfilling career designing where we live, work and play in the future.