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How To Become An Urban Planner

By David Krug 9 minute read

What exactly is urban planning?

It’s important to understand the role of an urban planner before diving into degree options. You’ll be able to better understand college-level courses if you understand these concepts.

It doesn’t matter if you’re in a tiny town like Chicago or an enormous metropolis like Atlanta; urban planning goes by numerous different titles. 

These include public transit, aesthetics, and parks as well as sanitation and traffic. Planning also takes into account a wide range of concerns such as environmental sustainability.

Electrical, water and transportation infrastructures are all included in this category. Residents and visitors alike should find it easy to make use of all of these features.

Mesopotamian poetry is written about 2100 BCE, Epic of Gilgamesh is the first known allusion to urban planning, and it dates back to that time period.

Around 4500 BC, Uruk was established in what is now Iraq. One square mile appears in several places throughout the epic poem, including the city center, the orchards, the clay pipes, and the open area around Ishtar’s shrine. Uruk is a city of three square miles and open space.

Later, Hippodamus of Miletus, an ancient Greek philosopher who was described by Aristotle as the father of city planning, may be considered one of the first planners in history.

Your first encounter with the Hippodamian Plan (so named for its orthogonal city layout) comes as a student of urban planning in the early 20th century. 

This technique employs a grid of right angles to map roadways. Although Hippodamus was incorrectly referred to by Aristotle, archaeological research has shown that the Egyptians were the first to use right-angle urban planning. This contradicts Aristotle’s claim.

As a case study, the city of Al Lahoun in ancient Egypt had a sewage system to convey garbage from the homes of its residents. At some point between 1991 and 1802 BCE, the Twelfth Dynasty was in power.

All of the aforementioned concerns need an urban planner to be knowledgeable in a variety of fields. Civil engineering, politics, architecture, geography, landscape design, public administration, and the social sciences are among the examples.


Associate Diploma

What is the minimal level of education required for urban planning? To save time and money, you might earn an associate’s degree at a local community college or online.

A two-year urban studies degree at Monroe Community College in Rochester, New York encompasses sociology, cultural anthropology, urban sociology, human rights, human geography, and criminology.

Internet searches for associate degrees in this field are uncommon, though. Furthermore, work options with this degree will be limited.

Students should strive for the next level, which will vastly expand their options and in most cases result in a higher wage.

Bachelor Degrees

There are several online and on-campus bachelor’s degree programs to select from, as we’ll see later in this article. The following are a few examples of the sorts of courses you might anticipate taking.

At Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, students can earn a Bachelor of Science in Urban and Regional Planning from the Department of Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning.

It is the goal of the program to provide students with the knowledge and skills they will need to thrive in today’s rapidly changing urban environments. 

Natural, physical, and social sciences theory and practice are all part of the curriculum, and students can expect to learn about anything from housing and environmental problems to jobs and all in between.

Writing, rhetoric, mathematics, economics, and statistics are just a few of the subjects covered at Texas A&M, as are state government, social issues, the environment, and wildlife conservation.

Consider Arizona State University’s Bachelor of Science in Urban Planning for those who like to learn on the go.

Critical thinking, ethics, economic development, government planning, Geographic Information Science (GIS), and transportation are all taught to students in this course. 

As with A&M, the courses include arithmetic, writing, social science and natural science; GIS; urban planning; and geographic information systems (GIS). An internship is required for both degrees.

For example, South Dakota State University in Brooking has a B.S. in Community and Regional Planning, which is a new name for an undergraduate degree.

Students who get this degree want to work as municipal, city, state, or regional city managers or community planners. There aren’t many differences between this curriculum and urban planning degree programs.

GIS, urban geography, environmental concerns, criminology, and state and regional planning strategies are just some of the courses you’ll take at South Dakota.

Numerous employers in the state of South Dakota, Oregon, the Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (GSA), Garmin International, and SD District Planning have hired recent graduates with this skill set.

In Oneonta, New York, the state university (SUNY) offers a four-year Bachelor of Science degree in Geography with three tracks:

  • Geography
  • Geography – Geographic Information Systems
  • Geography – Examines how geography, population, economy, and sustainability are all intertwined with the city’s physical environment, as well as the city’s access to water and other resources.

The following are some of the fields of study:

  • Case studies of the Colorado River and New York City’s water supply are used in the water resources lesson.
  • Regionalization, land-resource scarcity, and land-use policy are all major concerns in economics.
  • There are 7 billion people on Earth, a food shortage and nuclear weapons the world, as well as natural catastrophes, sanitation, and endangered animals.

Master’s Degree

More career opportunities and higher compensation are often associated with a graduate degree. However, in the field of urban planning, job openings do not support this notion.

For the most part, job postings call for a bachelor’s degree in a relevant discipline such as urban and regional planning, environmental studies, or geography.

Some argue that a master’s degree is appropriate if one lacks expertise in the field. Job seekers in Hastings, Nebraska (2021) can expect to earn between $29.83 and $41.80 per hour as a City Planner.

As of October 2021, the following is a sampling of job postings on Indeed for urban planners, city planners, and related roles, along with the stated income and degree.

  • Assistant Planner in Fairfield, California ($80,642 – $108-202): Bachelor’s, Master’s desired plus 3 years of experience.
  • Local government planner in Tomball ($70,756 – $95,729 per year) with at least four years of relevant work experience
  • A bachelor’s degree in urban or regional planning, architecture, engineering, or landscape architecture is required to become an associate city planner in Denver.
  • Planning, business administration, or a related discipline is required for the Associate Planner position in Mount Vernon, Washington ($5,376 to $6591 a month).

Before or after getting a job, those looking to further their education with a master’s degree can find various options.

The Planning Accreditation Board has recognized the University of Central Florida’s (UCF) two-year Master of Science in Urban and Regional Planning program.

More than half of the course’s 42 credit hours are devoted to land-use and planning law, transportation policy, economic development, and urban design. Nine hours of electives are also available.

This master’s degree in real estate development and urbanism is available to students at the University of Miami and can be completed in as little as one year.

With this degree, students benefit from the expertise of both the architecture and business schools. It’s possible to earn a degree in urban planning as well as a degree in real estate law. Urban planners who desire to expand their horizons might find this course useful.

The Department of Political Science at Auburn University’s College of Liberal Arts also offers a degree in Community Planning.

This recognized program touts a 95 percent placement record for its alumni, and no prior majors are required to apply.

Urban design, land use legislation, geographic information systems (GIS), and quantitative approaches in urban planning are some of the topics covered in some of the required core courses.

Certification and Registration

The State Board of Professional Planners in New Jersey is the only state that requires urban planners to be licensed and renewed every two years (part of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs).

There is a professional AICP certification for planners who fulfill the AICP education, experience, and test requirements, though.

Certified planners, according to the AICP, make more than $16,000 per year than non-certified planners do. This means that certification is more than just an achievement to be proud of; obtaining one has its own set of advantages.

With the help of trade publications and career advice, student members of the American Planning Association (APA) may learn more about the profession at no cost.

You’ll be one of over 40,000 people from all across the United States and 90 other countries who have access to one of the 47 local chapters.

The APA and AICP’s price schedules are based on planners’ incomes, and the fees grow accordingly. Dues are $79 per year for individuals making under $42,000 and $70 per year for those making above $42,000. There is no need that one is a member of both organizations.

The pay range of $120,000 and above has APA and AICP fees of $431 and $185, respectively. The Undisclosed Salary is the highest tier, and it costs $5 more per month than the preceding tier.

Job Requirements

Architects, developers, contractors, and members of the general public want urban planners to be able to effectively communicate their ideas orally and in writing.

Urban or regional planners may have to deal with contentious problems, such as providing refuge for the homeless or developing a tax-funded public park. Apathy and diplomacy will be required in situations when there is a need to see both sides of a disagreement.

In the field of city and urban planning, there are a variety of specialties, each with its own set of responsibilities and responsibilities.

A transportation planner is responsible for coordinating mass transportation, including pedestrian and bicycle routes. What’s your city’s take on a new light rail line?

It’s safe to assume that Transportation Planners are collaborating with local authorities and consultants on this endeavor.

Land and Code Enforcement Planners examine historic preservation (if appropriate), zoning, flood plain management, infrastructural demands, and energy consumption when addressing land-use activities.

All aspects of code enforcement, including restaurant inspections, waste disposal, abandoned cars, and unsafe constructions fall under the jurisdiction of this position.

Environmental planners focus on the long-term viability of their work. Protecting natural habitats and preventing pollution from man-made sources are the goals of this concept.

Most of their work involves meeting with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as well as non-profits that represent quiet fish and animals. Some careers may need a degree in environmental engineering.

Planning for economic development includes boosting small enterprises, retail sales, tourism, and the number of people employed.

If you are a code enforcer or a building safety specialist or work with housing aid programs or parking services, your duties as an economic developer may cross over.

Other Expertise

To be effective, urban planners must be comfortable working with digital technology and be able to think critically and analytically in the face of large amounts of data.

To be a successful urban, city, municipal, or regional planner, you must have these two qualities. There is some truth to this, according to a poll done by Hart Research Associates in 2013.

A survey conducted by the Association of American Colleges and Universities found that 82% of respondents thought that colleges should place more emphasis on critical and analytical thinking!

Of those polled, eighty percent admitted to having poor communication abilities in both written and spoken form.


It’s always a good idea to look into the employment market before going back to school. A degree isn’t worth much if you can’t find work after graduating, no matter what your level of education.

It makes more sense to major in something you’re passionate about and know you’ll be able to find work when you graduate.

There will only be a 7% increase in employment between 2020 and 2030, or 2,700 jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

For urban and regional planners with a master’s degree, the May 2020 median salary was $75,950. The most people are employed in California, Florida, Washington, and Texas, in that order (7930, 2950, 2270, and 2180, respectively).

At $107,810, the San Francisco-Oakland region has the highest average pay in the country, presumably due to the high cost of living.

Planners typically work regular business hours, however, there are occasional meetings with politicians, planning commissions, or neighborhood organizations that take place at night or on the weekends.

Our cities, suburbs, and small towns will require more future planners in the future because of population increase and environmental issues.

Because of the growing focus on sustainability, developers are turning to planners for help with land-use initiatives.

As an urban planner, you can work in a variety of related fields, including environmental consulting, commercial real estate, historians and municipal councilors and park planners and regional development managers and project managers, and housing consultants.

David Krug