This article is from US News & World Report, an American magazine that, besides putting out a list of best careers for 2009, is also most famous for its rankings of US colleges. Urban planning is one of 30 professions that the magazine feels  “offer strong outlooks and high job satisfaction. ”  The article is good to read for information about a ‘typical’ day for an American urban planner. You might want to read the comments section for insight into what some current and  future planners are thinking.

Best Careers 2009: Urban Regional Planner

Overview. Should a new stadium be built downtown? How can a county reduce sprawl while providing appealing, affordable housing? What should the city demand of a developer who wants to build a new project?
To address questions like these, planners analyze trends, population needs and desires, the area’s assets and liabilities, and laws and policies. Planners conduct studies, lead meetings with experts, and hold public hearings.

Before making a recommendation, planners end up wearing many hats: civil engineer, architect, economist, budget analyst, sociologist, and politician. A diplomat’s touch is necessary if you expect your plan to survive all of the stakeholders’ competing interests.

In larger communities, you might be able to specialize in redeveloping blighted areas; choosing proper land use for a particular parcel; or managing transportation, housing, environmental protection, or historic preservation. In smaller communities, you may handle it all.

A Day in the Life. You’re a planner for a rapidly growing small city and, rather than filling the distant suburbs with mini-mansions, you’re eager to redevelop faded urban areas. That approach will require fewer new roads and make better use of existing resources. So, you’ve solicited proposals from developers and selected one.

For more, go to the article

In my opinion, more Americans approach urban planning from a social justice point of view, than the  engineering/architecture point of view which is more common here in China. As a result, some people getting a Master’s in Urban Planning might also get a Master’s in Social Work at the same time–or maybe a Master’s in Natural resources. Of course, strict urban design is usually done by those with architecture backgrounds.