How to become an urban planning consultant
How does one go about becoming an urban planning consultant? Are there any educational or licensing requirements?
We have experience with this particular question! Glad you asked. Our answer will be opinionated of course, since we've lived through it.
Certainly being an urban planner requires specialized education. We suppose it's possible for some people who have political science, public policy, or urban studies degrees to work themselves into being urban planners by being around the profession in a junior level position.
We all four think that someone without the educational background in urban planning as such never will attain the same level of sophistication and expertise in their practice as the person who has been formally educated in planning.
While there are undergraduate programs at some universities throughout the U.S., it's also possible and even customary to enter the urban planning profession at the graduate student level. But at least an undergraduate planning degree should be a requirement for becoming an urban planning consultant.
The reason is that while policy-oriented folks and architects, for instance, can mimic those with a planning education well after they gain a certain amount of experience with a particular community, consulting requires being able to analyze a situation and determine what is needed rather quickly.
That's why we think that an urban planning consultant virtually always should have an urban planning degree, not urban design, urban policy, anthropology, and so forth.
Next you asked if there are licensing requirements. That depends on the nation or state where you wish to practice or to base your business.
Generally there are no particular educational or professional licensing requirements, but there probably will be ordinary business license requirements, as well as sometimes fictitious name registration or incorporation, if you're going to the sole proprietor as an urban planning consultant.
If you're going to work for an established firm, of course business licenses and such will be their responsibility.
The U.S. does have the American Planning Association, a professional association, and then the American Institute of Certified Planners, which maintains a certification program for planners.
If practicing in the U.S., obtaining the AICP designation, as the certification is called, certainly is desirable. Standards are fairly low, so if you know enough to be a city planning consultant, you can meet the education and experience requirements fairly easily and then pass a brief written exam. Oh, and pay dues.
Some states have a certification process of some type also, but these generally don't preclude starting in the consulting business.
Various specialties of urban planners might have licensing or certification requirements. We think of economic development through the programs of the International Economic Development Council.
The American Planning Association also has just launched specialty certification programs in transportation planning and environmental planning.
If you want to see things from the client's perspective, we hope someone soon will tell their war stories on our page about city planning consultants.