A master’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning enables graduates to work in a variety of areas. Planners share interests in social justice, affordable housing, sustainable cities, mobility and traffic congestion, climate and the environment, community development and economic development, to name a few.  What distinguishes planners is their ability to work in some or all of these areas—the critical skills, knowledge areas, and values they obtain in a master’s degree program in urban and regional planning, such as ours, permits planners to shift from one area to another as their interests evolve as well as the opportunities shift.  Therefore, the most important thing about the planning degree is the degree itself and less so the specific specialization(s) that a student chooses when they are in graduate school.  Nevertheless, the following specializations—what we call concentrations—are available to planning students at Iowa and constitute some of the most central career paths in the planning field.   

For more on why planners select planning as a profession, the American Planning Association provides a sampling of professional planners telling why they chose the field.


Economic Development careers

The economic development area of concentration prepares students for positions with city planning departments, regional planning agencies, state development agencies, neighborhood economic development groups, and other nonprofit or public/private economic development organizations.

Students study regional economic growth processes, the changing structure of employment, and the relationship between local industrial sectors and national and international economic trends. Courses also focus on forecasting the economic impact of business location decisions, alternatives for financing development, state and local development policies, entrepreneurship and how communities can promote entrepreneurship, innovative institutional arrangements such as public/private partnerships, and other issues such as plant closings, job training, tax incentives, and federal small business programs. 


Housing and Community Development careers

Urban decay, lack of affordable housing, the loss of population and jobs, and the mounting costs of public services threaten our towns, cities, and regions. The concentration in housing and community development gives students knowledge of affordable housing and community development issues; federal, state, and local housing and community development policies; and innovative public/private/neighborhood partnerships.

Graduates with this background are prepared for positions in housing and community development divisions of city, regional, and state planning agencies and departments; community-based organizations focusing on low-income housing development; and community development corporations.


Land Use and Environmental Planning careers

Urban sprawl and haphazard, uneven growth have meant significant environmental degradation in most regions. Shortsighted land use decisions have led to the destruction of sensitive natural resources such as wetlands and woodlands (and the wildlife they support), development patterns that precipitate "natural" disasters because they encroach on and alter floodplains or fragile slopes, and a dependence on unrenewable fuels that pollute the atmosphere with greenhouse gases.  The abandonment of older developed areas for new suburban "greenfields" sites has other consequences - the decline of traditional neighborhoods, and the dilemma of what to do with old, abandoned industrial sites (brownfields). Planning to protect and preserve environmental values is intimately connected with planning to manage growth, counter sprawl, promote sustainability, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, mitigate the impacts of climate change, and revitalize distressed communities.

The land use and environmental planning concentration combines coursework in environmental policy and management and in several aspects of land use planning, including GIS applications. Supplementary environmental science courses in the Departments of Geographical and Sustainability Sciences and Civil and Environmental Engineering complement the policy and planning emphasis offered in URP courses.

Students in this area of concentration generally pursue careers in local, regional, state or federal government agencies, or in private consulting firms or environmental advocacy organizations.


Transportation Planning careers

Transportation facilities have been used to encourage economic development, to shape growth patterns, to improve opportunities for disadvantaged persons, and to elevate the general quality of life in and around urban areas. Students in this concentration become competent in developing transportation policies, understanding the interaction between transportation and land use, and measuring transportation demand.  They learn how transportation plans are produced and what regulations govern transportation planning. They investigate new transportation laws and regulations, financing systems, and the impact of transportation facilities or modes on environmental quality.

These students find employment in consulting firms, state transportation agencies, regional organizations, cities, metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs), and transportation districts. A certificate in transportation can be earned in addition to the master's degree.


Geographic Information Systems (GIS) careers

The GIS specialty prepares students for positions with city planning departments, regional planning agencies, state development agencies, neighborhood economic development groups, and other nonprofit or public/private economic development organizations.

Students learn how to use and apply GIS software to urban planning and various techniques for spatial analysis. Some policy courses make use of GIS for analysis and forecasting purposes, including our Field Problems capstone course. Supplemental classes in remote sensing, as well as other GIS courses (offered by the Department of Geographical and Sustainability Sciences) are available.

Students with a GIS specialty are also required to develop a concentration in one of the other planning areas offered by the planning program.