Best Cities to be an Urban Planner (and not have to explain what you do)

Sir Lancelot the Llama confused by what Robert Moses actually does for a living. The image is from the John and Nora Wise Papers, Dallas Museum of Art:

The profession of urban planning always befuddles my friends and relatives: “so are you like an architect or engineer” the question usually goes. If they have ever played the SimCity videogame, it is usually a little bit easier to explain what we do, and if shouting over the din of a bar, I respond “yeah, it is kind of like playing SimCity.” Luckily for us planners, the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (these numbers are from 2011) can tell us what cities we are more likely to run into other urban planners, and vis a vis, more likely to not have to explain ourselves. The “Left Coast” seems to have us beat in terms of overall employment of planners:

Top 10 Cities with the Highest Number of Urban Planners:

  1. Los Angeles – 1,910 planners
  2. Seattle – 1,540 planners
  3. San Francisco – 1,220 planners
  4. Oakland – 1,020 planners
  5. Washington DC – 870 planners
  6. Sacramento – 750 planners
  7. Boston – 730 planners
  8. Baltimore – 700 planners
  9. New York City – 690 planners
  10. Minneapolis – 660 planners

What if you want to go to a city with a high-probability of running into a fellow planner? Well looks like you better check out the west coast again, because these cities are overrun with urbanophiles looking to talk your ears off about land uses:

Top 10 cities with the Highest Concentration of Urban Planners:

  1. Olympia, WA
  2. Bremerton, WA
  3. Bend, OR
  4. Corvallis, OR
  5. San Francisco, CA
  6. San Luis Obispo, CA
  7. Dover, DE
  8. Redding, CA
  9. Boulder, CO
  10. Seattle, WA

Ah, but I know what your real question is: “where are the planners pulling in the big bucks?” Amahright?

Well look no further than the state of California. They crush the cash competition with their fiscal fealty to urban planners. Looks like the urban planning gold rush really is out west!*

Top 10 Cities where Urban Planners make the most dinero (mean wage):

  1. Napa, CA – $113,390
  2. San Jose, CA – $92,960
  3. San Francisco, CA – $90,680
  4. Salinas, CA – $87,770
  5. Oxnard, CA – $87,020
  6. Oakland, CA – $83,980
  7. Santa Barbara, CA – $83,510
  8. San Diego, CA – $83,410
  9. Santa Rosa, CA – $83,260
  10. Redding, CA – $82,740

The cool thing about planning is that you can work in so many different fields and sectors. So which industries employ the most you ask? Well of course, it tends to be government.

Top 5 Industries Urban Planners Most Likely Work In:

  1. Local Government – 66%
  2. Architectural, Engineering, and Related Services – 14%
  3. State Government – 10%
  4. Management, Scientific, and Technical Consulting Services – 7%
  5. Federal Executive Branch – 2%
  6. Other Stuff – 1%

While these industries employ the most, they also tend to have the highest concentrations of Urban Planners save the Federal Government. The industry which includes Social Advocacy Organizations actually has a very high concentration of Planners relative to their entire workforce. Something to note though, the Social Advocacy Organization Industry does not make it into the top 5 paying industries for Urban Planners:

Top 5 Paying Industries for Urban Planners:

  1. Management of Companies and Enterprises – $91,690
  2. Federal Executive Branch – $89,500
  3. Management, Scientific, and Technical Consulting Services – $78,460
  4. Architectural, Engineering, and Related Services – $75,850
  5. Scientific Research and Development Services – $68,390

So how can you get into Management of Companies and the Scientific R&D fields? Don’t bother. Between the two of those industries, they employ only a total of 180 Urban Planners nationally. Ppfff, you have a better chance of making it big with your themed garage-rock band “Robert Moses and the Highways.”


Number of Urban Planners in the US: 38,260

Mean Annual Wage: $67,350

*I beg your forgiveness for these two sentences.

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