The responsibilities of an urban planner are too numerous and varied to describe a typical day. The tasks of a planner in a major city as Los Angeles, with a population of 4 million, will be different from the same position in Greenwood, Indiana. The latter has a population of about 60,000, with a geographical area of only 21.23 square miles. Greenwood posted a job opening on the employment site, Indeed, for an entry-level city planner. One of the duties is to work in conjunction with the City Engineer and Planning Director.
Employment sites are a source of information, from which you can ascertain what the typical duties and responsibilities are for planners. From these details, it is possible to deduce how one’s day might go. For example, the Greenwood posting mentions that the planner will review and update maps of variances, drainage routes, thoroughfares, and zoning. To accomplish this function, the planner may make field visits to the areas of concern.
Fieldwork is needed to verify signage installations are within municipal boundaries and view current public transit activities. Other out-of-the-office duties may involve examining pavement conditions, checking on air quality monitoring locations, and conducting field inspections of problems with the infrastructure (sewers, bridges, roads, utilities).
As he/she gains experience, the planner may present urban planning recommendations regarding expansion and improvements to city engineers and elected officials. In preparation, the planner would review all pertinent material, confer with colleagues and other departments, discuss the findings with city accountants and civil engineers. The scope of the project will influence who that planner needs input from before making the formal presentation. Therefore, the planner could spend much of the day desk-bound while she/he prepares for the speaking engagement.
The daily activities of a town planner will differ from those of a city planner. By city, we mean those whose population exceeds a million. For these metropolitan areas, there is an entire City Planning Department. With a heavily staffed department comes a diversity of tasks, from one day to the next. Cities with escalating residents are continually focusing on community planning. Planners must assess land use to suit the expansion of residential and commercial properties. New retail areas may require a specific type of architecture to blend in with the adjacent historical characteristics. Therefore, the planner may meet with architects, builders, and zoning officials to discuss the retail proposals.
Cities and towns situated and in proximity to the U.S. coast present challenges for planners. An impending disaster, such as a hurricane, becomes an immediate priority for planners. Natural catastrophes can have limited warning, therefore disrupting the planners’ typical day. Some events, like earthquakes, provide no notice. Floods, hurricane-force winds, and storm surge create emergencies for planners. Inundation of seawater, overflow of rivers, and power outages command the urgency of city officials, planners, engineers, and the supporting case to implement measures to mitigate damages and restore utilities.
After the natural disaster, when the city returns to its pre-catastrophe condition, the planners may spend their time reviewing the extent of the damage. From this analysis, they might make proposals to alleviate the same devastation from future storms. Again, the events dictate the daily routine beyond what the planner may have on her/his calendar. Planners and other government employees in Broward County, Florida, automatically become emergency service workers during any emergency.
Projects are generally a big part of a planner’s duties. A reassignment or the commencement of a new project might promptly change the planner’s work schedule. Projects vary from building more parkland, expanding highways, or beautifying downtown tourist attractions. Reviewing plans and zoning maps at the courthouse are other daily activities. Or conferring with accountants on cost issues related to the proposed enhancements of the city.
As mentioned above, the best resource to gain insight into the typical daily duties is to read online job postings, such as Indeed. You will find an extensive list of what employers expect from planners, whether it is a relatively small town or New York City. For example, the city of Destin, Florida, itemizes sixteen Essential Duties and Responsibilities in the job posting for an Urban and Regional Planner. To complement the duties is a list of eighteen Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities. This posting is not atypical – with so many possible responsibilities, it is not surprising that there is no definitive schedule to a planner’s workday.