How to Become a Community Planner


If you want to become a community planner, you first need to determine if this career path is a good fit for your skills, interests and personality traits. Does the following describe you?


• You have an interest shaping the economic, physical, social and geographic elements of your community 

• You are interested in developing, presenting and defending community development project proposals

• You enjoy working on a team, and bringing people with diverse interests together

• You are interested in working with city officials, architects, engineers, land developers and private citizens

• You enjoy working with data and numbers

• You have, or are willing to earn a degree in planning or a related field of study


Below we've outlined how to get started in this profession. We've also included helpful supplementary information, such as a job description, an overview of the job duties, salary expectations, a list of possible employers and much more!



Education Needed to Become a Community Planner

Community planning (whether urban, rural or regional) requires knowledge in diverse fields such as community design, economics, architecture, ecology, sociology and geography.


Because of the diversity of skills and knowledge required in this line of work, many who become planners choose to pursue a degree in planning, as it best covers all topics as they apply to planning. However, many planners may go into the profession with an undergraduate degree in a field closely related to planning, followed by a graduate degree in planning.


Undergraduate Degree in Planning

Having an undergraduate degree in planning, or a closely related field, will typically qualify you for entry-level jobs in community planning, such as Community Planning Technician. A degree from a from your national planning accreditation board is considered the most thorough educational preparation for the community planning field.


In Canada, the Canadian Institute of Planners (CIP) accredits university degree programs in planning, and in the United States the Planning Accreditation Board (PAB) accredits planning programs.


Graduate Degree in Planning

To become a community planner practitioner you typically need a graduate degree in planning, or an undergraduate degree with several years of work experience. Some practicing community planners have an undergraduate degree in planning, although others may have studied geography, urban studies, architecture, economics, forestry or sociology.


In addition to accrediting undergraduate degree programs in planning, the PAB (United Sates) and the CIP (Canada) also accredit master's degree programs in planning.





General Job Description

Community planners are responsible for developing plans and programs for the use of land in their community, which may refer to a rural community, an urban community, or an entire region.


Their ultimate goal is to improve their community by accomplishing goals such as accommodating population growth, and revitalizing physical facilities and infrastructure.


To develop these plans and programs, planners must study the social, cultural, environmental, political and physical conditions of their community using various sets of data, and develop conclusions based on their analysis and study.


Whether working in the public sector or the private sector, the job of a community planner is one that is incredibly collaborative, and they spend much of their time working with other professionals, such as architects, health professionals and engineers, in order to work out the details of their plans. 



Typical Duties of the Job

• Prepare land development guidelines for assigned tracts of land or regions

• Prepare statutory plans, community plans and land use bylaws

• Review plans that have been submitted for land development or subdivision

• Provide guidance pertaining to community development and renewal

• Coordinate public forums and public participation meetings

• Assess the economic, physical, political, environmental, social and other conditions of the area and identify trends

• Maintain information systems and databases

• Confer with local authorities, civic leaders, architects, engineers, developers, land surveyors, land owners, social scientists, lawyers and other professionals



Certification You'll Need

Certification Needed in Canada

In Canada there the Registered Professional Planner (RPP) designation is available for community planners. This designation may be required by some employers in order to qualify for senior-level jobs, although it is not necessarily required to work in community planning.


To earn this designation, you'll likely have a completed a four-year bachelor degree; have a few years of acceptable work experience; and successfully pass the approved examinations. Contact your provincial planning institute to find out more information related to becoming a Registered Professional Planner.


Certification in the United States

The American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) offers the professional AICP Certification for community planners in the United States. To become certified, candidates must meet certain education and work experience requirements, as well as pass an examination. This certification is not necessarily a requirement for employment as a community planner, although many employers prefer to hire candidates who have it.


As of 2012, New Jersey was the only state that required community planners to be licensed, although Michigan required registration to use the title “community planner.” Contact your state planning institute or authority to find out more information on licensing and certification requirements for community planners. 



Skills Needed to Be Successful

To perform your planning duties with competence, you'll need a certain set of skills. These skills may vary depending on your area of specialization and the specific responsibilities of your job, but they generally include:


• Knowledge of urban spatial structure or physical design

• Able to discover trends in population, employment, and health by analyzing demographic data

• Able to effectively evaluate the status and success of a project

• Able to effectively juggle the (often competing) interests of various stakeholders

• Able to act as a mediator or facilitator when community interests conflict

• An understanding of local, regional, and federal government programs and processes

• An understanding of the social and environmental impact that planning decisions have on communities

• Able to articulate planning issues to a wide variety of audiences

• A deep understanding of the interaction between the economy, transportation, health and human services, and land-use regulation

• Able to envision alternative physical and social environments

• Proficient with geographic information systems (GIS) software




Crucial Personal Characteristics to Have

In order to enjoy performing the duties of a community planner, you need to have certain personality traits. Taking enjoyment from your duties is important, as it helps you maintain a positive attitude towards your work, which usually leads to having a long and successful career.


You enjoy teamwork: Community planners often work as part of a team, with other planners, engineers, politicians, architects, the general public and other stakeholders. Could you envision yourself bring these individuals and groups together, and taking enjoyment from being part of a team?


You enjoy working with data and numbers: In order to develop and support project proposals, community planners need to analyze and draw conclusions from data such as population statistics, economic and social data, geographical information, resource inventories and environmental indicators.


You have an interest in your environment: Most people who choose to become community planners have a genuine interest in their surroundings. They have a natural curiosity about things that affect the geography and environment of a community, such as how waste can be safely disposed, and how topography affects how roads and subdivisions are deigned.


You have an interest in the needs of the community: Becoming a planner involves balancing views on what a community needs, as voiced by different stakeholders. People within a community may have needs that are very different from one another, such as those who are single versus those who have a young family. If you want to work as a community planner, you should enjoy the challenge of understanding and balancing all of the needs within your community.


You are open to long hours: Community planners often find themselves having to attend meetings and giving presentations, which means they often have to put in hours during the evenings and on weekends. A career as a community planner is well suited from someone who doesn't need to leave the office right at 5 and forget about it until the next day.



Average Salary Level in This Profession

The salary level of community planners can vary based on a variety of factors, such as:


• Their level of education

• Their level of experience and aptitude

• The size and type of their employer

• The region in which they work


Salary - Canada (Alberta figures only): According to the 2016 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey, Albertans working in the Community Planners occupational group earn an average salary of $96,293 per year. Unfortunately, no similar statistics were available for the rest of Canada.


Community Planner Salary United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary level of American workers in the Urban and Regional Planners occupational group is $65,230 per year. 



Who Employs Them?

Community planners are employed, typically on a full-time basis, by the following types of organizations:


• Provincial/state government departments

• Federal government departments and agencies

• Municipal governments (including towns, counties or cities)

• Inter-municipal service agencies

• School boards

• Land development companies

• Research and policy institutions

• Universities (in research and/or teaching capacities)

• Not-for-profit organizations

• Large corporations in resource and utility industries

• Economic development authorities, and other such organizations



Job Opportunities - Current Postings

Our job board below has "community planner" postings in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia.



Similar Career Guides in Our Database

Listed below are career guides in our database for professions that are similar in nature to this one, as they may involve many of the same skills, competencies and responsibilities:


• City Councillor

• Real Estate Developer

• Sustainable Housing Policy Associate

• Urban Planner

• Urban Planning Technician




Please use the references below to find more information on the various aspects of a career in this field.


Occupations in Alberta: “Community Planner.” (March 9, 2016). ALIS website - Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved November 6, 2019.

Life, Physical, and Social Science: “Urban and Regional Planners.” (September 4, 2019). Occupational Outlook Handbook - United States Bureau of Labor Statistics website. Retrieved November 6, 2019.

Research & Development Jobs: “Job Description for a City Community Development Planner.” Piergagnon Coulibaly (n.d.). Houston Chronicle website. Retrieved November 6, 2019.



Scholarships for Becoming a Community Planner

The 'Relevant Fields of Study' section below lists areas of academic focus that pertain to this career. Scholarships matched to those fields of study can be found on our All Scholarships by Major page.


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!



Relevant Fields of Study

Studying one of the university majors listed below is an excellent starting point to becoming a community planner. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!


Top Banner Image: