GIS Specialists, have you considered a job in urban planning?

April 22, 2021

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According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were just under 39,000 urban and regional planners in the United States in May 2020. This is a shockingly low number when one considers how incredibly important these positions are to addressing the unprecedented challenges our cities are facing, from severe weather incidents associated with climate change, to dramatic population shifts and the increasing demand for social and economic equity.  

In this environment, we can expect the number of planners to grow even faster than 11% forecasters originally predicted for the period between 2018 and 2028. With mean salaries currently sitting between $79,000-89,000, and even higher for planners employed by social advocacy organizations, there is a very real opportunity for the right candidates—those candidates with GIS skills. 

General GIS skills consistently appeared as the top skill required for new hires in Urban and Regional Planning positions across hiring websites, with ArcGIS proficiency specifically, consistently appearing in the top five skills in demand. Yet surprisingly, the resumes of most job seekers for these positions lacked applicable GIS skills. On Zippia, for example, just 11.4% of urban planner resumes listed GIS-related or geospatial technology skills.  

Why is this field in such high demand? 

Because the top trend in Urban Planning for 2021 and the foreseeable future is digital transformation. Everything is becoming increasingly interconnected, with increasing connectivity speeds and millions of new data points added daily—all of which need to be managed, analyzed, visualized, and interpreted for decision-making. The decisions made from these data will literally shape our cities, determining where and how resources are placed and distributed; how transportation flows; and where jobs, housing, schools, health facilities and public services are located. And as the recent struggles over social equity have demonstrated, these decisions will shape the futures of millions of Americans.  

For managing this digital transformation, one of the most powerful tools in the planners’ toolbox is Digital Twins. 

“A smart city digital twin (SCDT) — a living digital replica of a city that is continuously updated with real-time data and analytics on interactions between humans, infrastructure, and technology — offers a holistic view of the changes that take place in a city. By generating feedback loops of human-infrastructure interactions, SCDTs enable city governments and planners to make hyperlocal data-driven decisions, incorporate community and stakeholder priorities, and evaluate policies and initiatives through "what if" scenario analysis and prediction.” — John Taylor and Neda Mohammadi, Smart City Digital Twins. PAS QuickNotes 89

If you are considering getting into urban and regional planning, or find yourself with the responsibilities of a planner, even without the title, adding digital twin technology to your skillset will give you a competitive advantage. If that’s something that interests you, join us for a free webinar with Esri, April 27, to learn more. Register for “Exploring Digital Twins in Urban Planning and AEC.”  

For a look at ArcGIS in urban planning, watch “Smart City Planning with ArcGIS Urban” on demand. 

The potential impact of GIS on creating a more equitable future has never been greater! 

Reposted from The DirectionsMag Geospatial Community Blog, an extension of Directions Magazine. Visit us for daily geospatial news, exclusive articles, geospatial webinars, and podcasts. If you are interested in contributing, please email


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