Urban Planning Salary and Career Outlook

Bike paths along a local river, local parks and roads around the city are ordinary locations with something in common. An urban planner likely designed these everyday places.

As cities and towns constantly change, urban planning is a necessary profession. But the profession includes more than just designing edifices. Urban planners strive to enhance communities. This includes revamping old or unused plots of land and creating spaces that account for environmental impact and population size. 

Urban planning presents a wide array of opportunities to impact a community. Read on to learn about the urban planning career outlook, including the best jobs in the industry and a typical urban planner salary. 

Is Urban Planning a Good Career Choice?

The urban planning career outlook is promising in terms of growth. Reports by the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate 11% job growth between 2018-2028. This above-average growth rate is one indicator of the positive state of urban planning. 

In addition to job growth, a career in urban planning offers the chance to improve the lives of individuals. In fact, urban planning is closely tied to environmental factors that influence the quality of life. 

Urban planners have the opportunity to address these concerns in city design and revitalization projects. The layout of cities greatly affects the health of people living in it. In light of this, the designs of urban planners have a sizable impact on communities.

As the WHO points out:

“Clustering homes around green areas, well-planned pedestrian and cycle paths, and efficient public transport promote air quality, children’s mobility, and reduced traffic injuries.” 

With a projected increase in employment levels and the ability to affect change in communities, the urban planning career outlook may be bright. Below, we delve into educational requirements for a career in urban planning and the average urban planner salary.

Employer Demand for Urban Planners with Master’s Degrees

If you are considering a career in urban planning, obtaining the proper credentials is vital. According to 2018 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) data, the following key industries employ the majority of urban planners:1

  1. Federal government 
  2. Architectural, engineering and related Services
  3. State government (excluding education and hospitals)
  4. Management, scientific and technical consulting services

Holding a Master of Urban Planning (MUP) is the industry standard for most urban planners. With a bachelor’s in urban planning, you can qualify for assistant planning jobs and other lower-level positions. However, your opportunities expand with an urban planning master’s degree. 

Programs vary depending on the institution. However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that the core curriculum is similar. Urban planning master’s programs “have students spending considerable time in seminars, workshops, and laboratory courses, in which they learn to analyze and solve planning problems.”

When researching different urban planning master’s programs, remember to consider the time commitment needed to pursue this degree. Several university pages indicate that completing an MUP program typically takes two years. Luckily, you don’t have to put your current career and responsibilities on hold to do so. There are online urban planning master’s programs available that allow students to access courses on a much more flexible schedule.

Whether you select an in-person or online urban planning master’s program, make sure that the school is accredited by the Planning Accreditation Board (PAB). This ensures an approved institution backs your degree. 

If you wish to boost your credentials, the American Institute of Certified Planners offers the only nationally recognized certification for planners. There are multiple requirements for those wishing to earn the AICP certification, including passing the exam. According to the AICP Salary Survey, “certified planners earn more than non-certified planners, even when experience and responsibility are considered.” 

In short, earning an MUP improves your urban planning career outlook and provides a firm launchpad into an urban planning career. 

7 of the Great Jobs for Urban Planning Grads

Once you have earned the necessary credentials, there are several occupations available. Of course, job opportunities vary by location, your experience in the field and other factors. Nonetheless, here are some of the best paths for recent grads looking to enter the urban planning field.

1. City Planner Jobs

City planners develop the organizational layout of cities. They must consider important details throughout this process, including the placement of street signs and heights of buildings. This job is layered and complex. It requires the planner to work within a specific budget and adhere to legal requirements.

2. Environmental Planner Jobs

If you are passionate about sustainability, consider a role as an environmental planner. These professionals ensure that new projects meet environmental standards. On top of this, environmental planners develop more eco-friendly construction methods. They usually have at least a bachelor’s degree in biology, environmental science or a similar field.

3. Transportation Planner Jobs

Transportation planners evaluate current transportation systems and develop updates based on community needs. This could include planning new roads, installing bike lanes and using design strategies to solve congestion issues.

4. Assistant Planner Jobs

When you first start in urban planning, you’ll need to build up your experience. It is not uncommon to first learn under the wing of an experienced planner. Assistant planners work directly under senior planners on a given planning project.

5. Urban Design Jobs

When it comes to the layout of public parks, urban design landscapers play a large role. These planners work on an array of projects, including revitalizing old or unused land. Typically, urban landscapers have a background in environmental design or in-depth knowledge of the subject.

6. Land Use Planner Jobs

Before construction ever takes place, land use planners draft a detailed plan for the development and layout. Land use planners work collaboratively with government officials and land developers. Furthermore, they verify the safety and viability of plans using data collected about the land.

7. Planning Manager Jobs

Once you have some experience in planning, you are better equipped to serve in higher-level roles. Planning managers oversee a variety of urban planning projects. They can juggle multiple projects at one time, depending on the size. Additionally, project managers are expected to report progress of the site and other relevant information to those involved.

Beyond these roles, there are higher-level positions open to experienced urban planners. As expected, these positions come with increased responsibilities and higher incomes. Below you’ll find recent numerical data on the average salaries for urban planners.

What is the Average Salary for Urban Planners?1

Salary also plays a significant role in the urban planning career outlook. An urban planner’s salary varies based on multiple factors, including the given industry and the state the planner is employed in. However, Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) data reveals that the median annual salary for urban planners is $73,050. 

To break this down, let’s examine the wages of urban planners that fall into different sectors of the wage spectrum. The annual salaries cover urban planners on both sides of the median. To clarify, a planner in the 10th percentile makes less than 90% of urban planners. A planner in the 25th percentile makes less than 75% of urban planners and so on. 

10%: $45,180

25%: $56,970

Median: $73,050

75%: $92,180

90% : $114,170

The median salary for urban planners is above the U.S. median salary for all occupations, which is good news for those looking to enter the field. As planners grow in experience, they can pursue senior-level positions with higher wages.

5 Highest Paying Urban Planning Fields1

While there are many sectors open to urban planners, certain industries are statistically proven to pay more. The following industries rank as the top-paying industries for urban planners, according to OES data.

1. Land Subdivision

Land subdivision refers to breaking up pieces of land into plots that will later be developed. This sector deals with engineering and construction-related services. As such, planners are needed. 

Median Urban Planner Salary: $104,150

2. Federal Executive Branch 

Urban planners can work with local, state and federal governments to organize the layout of communities. The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is one government entity that utilizes urban planning services. Urban planner salaries at the federal level are typically higher than the salaries of state-level urban planners. 

Median Urban Planner Salary for this Industry: $97,640

You might not think of the legal field as a place for urban planners. However, legal and urban planning industries do cross paths. In fact, urban planners often meet with city officials and lawyers to discuss community needs throughout a project. An urban planner can be a benefit to a law firm as they have a deep knowledge of zoning laws, environmental regulations and so forth. 

Median Urban Planner Salary for this Industry: $92,030

4. Electric Power Generation, Transmission and Distribution

Urban planners are knowledgeable in regards to utility networks that provide the foundational elements of a functioning city. One of these utility networks is electricity. Urban planners understand how to implement effective power systems, including sustainable energy sources.

Median Urban Planner Salary for this Industry: $88,560

5. Management of Companies and Enterprises

There are also opportunities for urban planners in the private sector. Corporations may hire urban planners to develop new properties in cities. The knowledge of zoning laws and skills in creative problem solving allow urban planners to excel in this industry. 

Median Urban Planner Salary for this Industry: $88,030

While these are the highest paying industries, they are not the most common fields for urban planners. Percent of industry employment statistics reveal that local government is the sector with the highest amount of urban planners. Furthermore, certain areas of the country have statistically higher urban planner salaries.

5 Top Paying States for Urban Planners1

The urban planning career outlook is bright in terms of earning potential. In certain states, this high earning potential is amplified. The states below have the highest median salaries for urban planning jobs and services. 

  1. Urban planner salary in Washington, D.C.: $110,100
  2. Urban planner salary in California: $93,790
  3. Urban planner salary in Alaska: $83,630
  4. Urban planner salary in Massachusetts: $81,660
  5. Urban planner salary in Oregon: $81,590

The values above represent the median wages in each state. Keep in mind that the cost of living in states like California and Washington, D.C., are higher than national averages. This higher cost could offset increased wages.

5 Top Paying Metropolitan Areas for Urban Planners1

Bustling cities are a prime location for urban planners to put their skills to use. Here are some of the highest paying cities along with the median urban planner salary in the area.

  1. Urban planning salary in San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA: $110,150
  2. Urban planning salary in Napa, CA: $105,850
  3. Urban planning salary in Seattle, WA: $90,430
  4. Urban planning salary in Alexandria, DC: $90,000
  5. Urban planning salary in Jersey City, NJ: $89,880

While this list showcases cities from across the country, many of the highest paying cities for urban planners are located in Northern California. This is no coincidence. Northern California is actively looking for ways to accommodate its burgeoning population. The San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) (PDF, 3.4 MB) released a report urging planners to tackle the problems arising in the area. In short, this region needs urban planning solutions. 

5 Top Paying NonMetropolitan Areas for Urban Planners1

Nonmetropolitan areas face urban planning issues, as well. Often, planners in less populated regions must determine how to repurpose unused land or revitalize sections of the city. The following cities boast high median wages in non-urban areas. 

  1. Urban planning salary in Hawaii/Kauai nonmetropolitan area: $83,150
  2. Urban planning salary in Eastern Sierra-Mother Lode Region of California: $80,650
  3. Urban planning salary in Nevada nonmetropolitan area: $80,470
  4. Urban planning salary in West Texas Region of Texas nonmetropolitan area: $78,740
  5. Urban planning salary in Alaska nonmetropolitan area: $78,610

Urban Planning Career Path

As you can see, urban planning is not a one-size-fits-all profession. The skillset of an urban planner allows him or her to take on a variety of roles. Due to this, the urban planner career outlook can look different among professionals.

This growing industry requires creative problem-solving. It also offers the opportunity to improve communities. If the challenges facing urban planning interest you, consider a career in one of the many urban planning roles available.

Last Updated June 2020

1 Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2019, Urban and Regional Planners.” Accessed June 2020. https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes193051.htm