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What can you do with an urban planning degree

What can you do with an urban planning degree?

Published 23 Feb, 2023  ·  6-minute read

Climate change, the pandemic, industrial transformation and growth of the metaverse are disrupting how we work, live, and play in cities, towns and villages across the world.

Urban planners (also referred to as town planners) are in high demand as governments and businesses seek new and innovative solutions to these complex global challenges. With a job in town and regional planning, you can contribute to a more sustainable and inclusive future for generations to come.

It's an exciting time to be an urban planner, particularly in South East Queensland. Urban planners are not only working to address the UN Sustainable Development Goals but are also aiming to drive urban transformation in the lead up to the 2032 Brisbane Olympics and Paralympics.

But town and regional planning isn’t the only career available to you with an urban planning degree. There are other exciting specialisations and paths you could find yourself exploring in this field. So, let’s take a closer look at how to become a town planner, and discover the other jobs you can pursue with an urban planning degree.

In this article, we use the terms ‘urban planning’ and ‘town and regional planning’ interchangeably. In most cases, the titles ‘town planner’ and ‘urban planner’ refer to the same job.

Urban planner

This is the most common career outcome for town and regional planning graduates. Put simply, urban planners lead the planning stages of the development of cities and towns.

Working alongside other built environment professionals, urban planners set the vision for how communities should grow through the regulation of land use and development. They work across a wide range of sectors, including transportation, city strategy, conservation, rural planning, planning law, community development, energy, cultural heritage, and more. Jobs in this field are on the rise, and there is a growing demand for specialists in urban planning.

What does an urban planner do?

The role of an urban planner is to:

  • design, devise, and recommend smart solutions to how land is developed and used
  • present plans, programs and designs to organisations and individuals
  • contribute to social and environmental impact reports
  • work with other built environment and development professionals involved in the development assessment process
  • meet with government officials and elected representatives to discuss, negotiate, assess, and gain approval for development proposals
  • advise government, organisations and communities on how to prepare their urban centres for the shift to a low-carbon and sustainable future.

Urban planner skills

To be an effective urban planner, you’ll need the following skills:

  • a future-focused mindset
  • the ability to think and act strategically
  • strong communication, stakeholder management and project management skills
  • an aptitude for teamwork
  • to be organised, efficient, creative and adaptable.

Meet Penny, senior planner at Economic Development Queensland

Penny graduated from the Bachelor of Regional and Town Planning (Honours) program at UQ in 2014 and is now forging a successful career as a senior planner at Economic Development Queensland (EDQ).

“In my role as senior planner in Development Assessment at EDQ, I am responsible for analysing and evaluating development proposals against the relevant statutory instruments,” Penny says.

“The main focus of my role is to identify any potential issues and opportunities of development proposals, to help facilitate high-quality development outcomes.”

Penny’s passion for urban planning comes from the desire to help people through the improvement of the communities in which they live, work, and play. To ensure her career is as successful as possible and those goals are met, Penny likes to keep it simple when working on planning projects.

“Throughout my career so far, I have learned that the key to achieving good outcomes is the balancing of early and broad stakeholder engagement and expectations, quality research and analysis of relevant information, and project planning and implementation within a timely and financially minded manner,” she says.

Equipped with years of experience as an urban planner, Penny now sees her time at UQ studying the Bachelor of Regional and Town Planning as the foundation for her flourishing career.

“The Bachelor of Regional and Town Planning program is structured to provide a multi-disciplinary degree which provides an overview of a range of professions and disciplines including architectural, environmental, urban design, law, geography, and property economics,” Penny says.

“I’ve found the skills and knowledge I developed throughout my time in this program as a crucial element in my development as an urban planner.”

Penny Milton quote

Understanding a range of disciplines allows you to critically analyse issues and opportunities, work collaboratively with other professionals and ask the right questions to get the best outcome for a community.

Penny Milton
Senior Planner at Economic Development Queensland, Bachelor of Regional and Town Planning (Honours)

Since this article's original publish date in March 2022, Penny has moved into a role as a Principal Planning Officer in the Growth Areas Team in the Department of State Development, Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning with Queensland Government, where she works with local government, state agencies and industry to ‘unlock’ land to facilitate housing and well-planned community outcomes.

Transport planner

Transport planners work alongside urban planners and other built environmental professionals to logistically plan infrastructure and services that help people and goods get to where they need to be as efficiently and safely as possible. Transport planners play a vital role in ensuring transport systems and infrastructure support our national and local economies, connect our communities, take advantage of new digital technologies (e.g. electric vehicles) and protect environmental values.

Transport planners plan for people and all forms of transport, from a bike to an e-scooter, or a fast rail service. Typically, they work in government where they develop and implement plans and programs to manage traffic as the result of population trends. They also work alongside engineering firms, developers, and environmental planners to ensure new development proposals have appropriate transport infrastructure and adhere to environmental and planning law.

What does a transport planner do?

As a transport planner, you can expect to:

  • work on large, logistical projects from ideation through to completion and review
  • develop and design ideas to improve transport infrastructure
  • examine statistical data to reveal and report on travel, population, or accident data
  • design information materials as part of the public consultation process regarding proposed developments, improvements or changes to transport infrastructure and services that might affect them
  • research, review, and present transport reports to internal and external stakeholders relating to projects.

Transport planner skills

To become a transport planner, you’ll need the following skills:

  • the ability to interpret large amounts of complex data
  • strong communication
  • project management and organisational skills
  • computer literacy
  • self-motivation to stay on top of emerging technology and political trends that could affect the future of the industry.
Team of urban planners working together on laptop and with maps

Heritage consultant

Heritage consulting is about protecting places and sites of cultural or historical significance in our cities and regions for future generations. Heritage consultants must strike a balance between the interests of development proposals and the protection of sites that hold a cultural, historical, social, and often emotional importance to communities.

Heritage consultants work as technical specialists in engineering and planning firms, within non-government organisations (NGOs) as freelancers, or as policy advisers within government.

What does a heritage consultant do?

As a heritage consultant, you can expect to:

  • inspect and document historic sites and structures to assess any requirements a development proposal may need to abide by to conserve culturally or historically significant sites
  • conduct research into the history and ongoing cultural significance of places, sites, and buildings
  • provide technical advice to construction managers, architects, conservationists and clients regarding maintenance strategies, management policies and policy frameworks for environmental protection and preservation of heritage sites and their contents
  • prepare easy-to-understand reports and other resources for non-specialist audiences regarding monuments, places, events, sites, or buildings.

Heritage consultant skills

To become a heritage consultant, you will need the following skills:

  • an extensive understanding of history and culture
  • strong communication
  • effective stakeholder management, project management and organisational skills
  • knowledge of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures
  • the ability to work in fast-paced project environments as part of multidisciplinary teams
  • strong research skills.

Want to know more about the types of careers you can pursue with a university degree in science and design?

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