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What Factors Affect an Urban Planner's Salary?

A neighborhood designed by an urban planner.
Urban planners are typically employed by city and town governments.
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  • Written By: Susan Abe
  • Edited By: Jessica Seminara
  • Last Modified Date: 10 October 2014
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Urban planners — also known as city planners, community planners or regional planners — are responsible for planning, designing and implementing the infrastructure necessary to support a population within a given location. Problem solving is also a significant part of their job descriptions. Among their many responsibilities, city planners design roads, alternative transportation methods and public areas, such as parks, libraries and schools. Unsurprisingly, two-thirds of urban planners are employed by local governmental entities. An urban planner's salary is based upon her education, certifications, experience, employer and specializations she might hold, such as urban design or environmental planning.

In the US, less than 20 colleges offer a bachelor's degree in urban planning. There are more than three times as many universities in the US that offer a master's degree in urban planning, which is the minimum amount of educational preparation required by the vast majority of governmental employers. In most instances, an undergraduate student first obtains her bachelor's degree in a related field such as political science, economics or geography and then enters a master's degree program to study urban planning. A graduate student may pursue a general program or a specialized urban planning education. An urban planner's salary is directly proportional to her amount of education and degree of specialization.

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Another factor that influences an urban planner's salary is that of certification. Certification by the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) requires an active membership in the profession's primary organization — the American Planning Association® (APA®) — in addition to a combination of minimums in work experience and education. Certification is thus an indication of professional recognition, experience in the field and educational preparation. As such, it usually has a very positive influence on an urban planner's salary. As emphasized by the AICP prerequisites, an urban planner's salary is also strongly correlated with the experience she has in the field.

An urban planner's salary is also influenced by her employer and whether the organization is public or private in nature. As indicated earlier, local governments employ most urban planners. Local governments, despite being named "local," can vary considerably in geographic and population sizes, and range from a New York City borough to a three-county regional association in Tennessee. An urban planner's salary is positively associated with higher populations of citizens. Most private firms pay higher planner salaries, although the number of positions they offer is much smaller than those of public institutions.

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