Certification Guide

Urban Planning Certification Guide

Everything you need to know and more

Urban planners are expected to be certified through the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP), as this has quickly become an industry standard for urban and regional planners working in the United States. But what about other, specialty certifications? Are there certifications that might benefit you if you work in a certain niche of urban planning? There are many such specialty certifications that are optional for urban planners, and we will discuss the most common credentials here.

State-Based Certification for Urban Planners

As of 2020, just one state – New Jersey– requires state licensure or certification of its urban planners. Being the most densely populated state in the country, with over eight million residents, the idea of state certification for New Jersey planners is not unreasonable. It has been undergoing much urban redevelopment in recent years and its proximity to the metropolitan hub of the world, New York City, makes New Jersey’s placement and planning of great importance.

New Jersey’s State Board of Professional Planners, under the Division of Consumer Affairs, is responsible for regulating the planning profession in the state. Licensure must be made through submitting the Application for a License to Practice as a Professional Planner. Once obtained, licenses remain valid for two years, with no continuing education necessary in order to maintain or renew a license.

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National Certification for Urban Planners

American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP)

The American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) of the American Planning Association is the national certification that is recommended for all urban planners working in the United States. In order to take the AICP certification examination, the normal standard is that you must have a graduate degree and work for two years in professional planning (see below for exceptions). Professional experience may include volunteer work, part-time work and internships Every two years, you must renew your AICP certification in order to continue working as an urban planner. You must also complete certification maintenance credits to maintain your AICP certification.

To summarize, here is the checklist you must complete in order to become AICP certified:

  • Be a current member of the American Planning Association
  • Meet the educational and experiential requirements in one of the following ways:
    • If you have no college degree, you must have eight years of professional planning experience
    • If you have a post-graduate, graduate or undergraduate degree in a discipline not related to planning, or an undergraduate degree from a program that is not Planning Association Board (PAB) –accredited, you must have four years of professional planning experience
    • If you have a graduate degree in planning from a program that is not PAB-accredited, you must have three years of professional planning experience
    • If you have a bachelor’s degree from a PAB-accredited program, you must have three years of professional planning experience
    • If you have a graduate degree from a PAB-accredited program, you must have two years of professional planning experience
  • Complete the AICP Certification Application:
    • Check the latest exam schedule and application window online to know when to submit your application
    • Provide a copy of your transcript(s)
    • Complete the essay required
    • Pay the necessary fees (listed online)
  • About 8 to 10 weeks after you have submitted your application, you will receive notification via email of its approval. You can then register for the exam and schedule it via Prometric, using the information and Eligibility ID you receive in the email.
  • You will receive your official score via email after completion of the exam. Scores are reported on a scale of 25 to 75, with 55 as a passing score.
  • The final step to becoming an AICP is to pay the membership dues. You will receive an invoice for dues after you have passed the exam. Once you have paid them, you will be a full member of AICP and can start using the AICP designation.

Canadian Institute of Planners (CIP)

The Canadian Institute of Planners (CIP) is the organization responsible for helping to regulate Canada’s 7500 planning professionals. While it does not directly certify planning professionals, it works with the Provincial and Territorial Institutes and Associations in Canada to certify them and accredit educational programs. The following groups administer certification examinations, based upon your location in Canada:

  • Atlantic Planners Institute
  • Ontario Professional Planners Institute
  • Manitoba Professional Planners Institute
  • Saskatchewan Professional Planners Institute
  • Alberta Professional Planners Institute
  • Planning Institute of British Columbia

For more information on planning certification in Canada, visit the CIP website.

Specialty Certifications for Urban Planners

Specialty planning certifications show the world that you are not only credentialed in urban planning, but that you also are experts in a specific discipline within planning. The AICP once offered the following Advanced Specialty Certifications, but the exams were suspended in 2018 (there is no word on when these specialty certifications will again be available, if ever):

  • Certified Transportation Planner (CTP)
  • Certified Environmental Planner (CEP)
  • Certified Urban Designer (CUD)

Other organizations, however, do offer a variety of specialty planning certifications to show that you have expert training and experience in certain areas of planning. They include (but are not limited to):

Certified Floodplain Manager (CFM)

Offered through the Association of State Floodplain Managers, the CFM designation creates a baseline of professional competence in floodplain management. It requires passing an examination and maintaining certification through continuing education credits. The CFM credential is recognized in six states, including Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas, North Carolina and Illinois. Although the national CFM credential is recognized anywhere in the U.S., a state-level credential in one of these states is equal to a national CFM credential.

Requirements for the CFM credential:

  • Recommended for engineers, planners, architects, hydrologists, building code officials, working in private industry and public sector
  • Must be a member of the Association of State Floodplain Managers or a state floodplain association (listed above)
  • Must have experience in floodplain management or hydrology
  • Must pass examination
  • Must complete 12 continuing education credit hours every year to maintain credential

Professional Transportation Planner (PTP)

Regulated by the  Transportation Professional Certification Board, Inc. , the PTP certification program is targeted towards those working within the transportation planning niche. Transportation planning works with evaluating and examining actions to improve how people move from one place to another. This could be through public transportation, motor vehicles, walking, and cycling. Transportation professionals must balance the needs of accessing mobility and safety with environmental and social concerns.

Requirements for the PTP credential:

  • Must have one of the following combinations of experience and education:
    • A non-planning degree and five years of professional transportation planning work experience
    • A bachelor’s degree from an accredited transportation planning or planning program and four years of professional transportation planning work experience
    • A master’s or doctoral degree from an accredited transportation planning or planning program with three years of professional transportation planning work experience
  • Must take and pass the Professional Transportation Planning exam
  • Must pay application and examination fees and three-year certification fee
  • In order to maintain credential, must complete 45 professional development hours every three years

GIS Professional (GISP)

Offered through the GIS Certification Institute, the GIS Professional (GISP) provides stardards of excellence for GIS professionals working worldwide. The certification group notes that 675,000 GIS professionals are employed in the US in 2020, with 56 percent of them working for some level of government. Only 25 percent of GIS professionals, however, hold the title GIS Analyst. This GISP certification process can be started at any time during your career, as long as all of the requirements have been fulfilled at the time of final approval.

Requirements for the GISP include:

  • Must complete Educational Achievement Points, which can be done by documenting credential points (degree levels correspond to point levels, included and explained within the application section of the website). Subject matter must relate directly to geospatial information science or related technology and applications. This will comprise your educational portfolio, which will be reviewed.
  • Must have four years of full-time professional geospatial experience.
  • Must pass the GISCI Geospatial Technical Core Knowledge Exam
  • Must sign the Ethics Statement
  • Once certified, certification is good for three years. Recertification will be done for active members without continuing education necessary, although portfolios will be reviewed and updated.

Congress for New Urbanism-Accredited (CNU-A)

Offered through the Congress for the New Urbanism, the CNU-A credential is designed to advance best practices in creating walkable, sustainable places in urban planning. In conjunction with the Miami School of Architecture, the CNU is for planners who wish to work in New Urbanism.

Requirements for the CNU-A include:

  • Be a member of the Congress for the New Urbanism at the Urbanist level or higher
  • Pass the CNU Exam
  • Pay all necessary fees
  • Complete eight hours of continuing education annually to maintain credential

Certified Economic Developer (CEcD)

Regulated by the International Economic Development Council, the CEcD credential is a designation that is recognized around the world. It shows competency in economic development in planning, and the ability to handle new challenges that are always emerge in a constantly changing industry.

Requirements for the CEcD are:

  • Must have at least four years of full-time, paid economic development related experience.
  • Must take and pass six practitioner-based training courses available through the IEDC, the University of Oklahoma’s Economic Development Institute, and the Accredited Basic Economic Development Courses.
  • Must participate in a CEcD Exam Essentials Workshop in-person or online.
  • Must complete exam application form and submit payment 30 days before exam date.
  • Once certified, you must attend two IEDC events every three years to fulfill professional development requirements.

Housing Credit Certified Professional (HCCP)

Offered through the National Association of Home Builders, the HCCP is designed for those working in the affordable housing industry (such as developers, property managers and asset managers). This is particularly recommended for professionals who work through the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program.

Requirements for the HCCP include:

  • Two years of experience working in the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit industry
  • 10 hours of LIHTC training
  • Pass the HCCP exam
  • Adhere to the HCCP Code of Ethics
  • Once obtained, keep your HCCP designation by completing four hours of LIHTC-related continuing education each year

LEED Green Associate & LEED Accredited Professional- Neighborhood Development

Offered through the U.S. Green Building Council, these two LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) designations are the oldest, largest green credentialing program in the U.S.. Originally focused on buildings, the LEED program expanded to include neighborhoods in 2009.

The GREEN Associate is the entry-level credential, with the LEED AP-ND being the more advanced credential. The ND credential is the one most often obtained by planners, as it requires knowledge in smart growth, new urbanism and green infrastructure and buildings. Other specialty credentials are available, and include Building Design & Construction, Operations & Maintenance, Interior Design & Construction, and Homes.

Requirements for the LEED Green Associate credential are:

  • Must be 18 years of age
  • Must pass an exam (access exam prep resources here) (testing is offered through GBCI)
  • Must earn 15 continuing education hours within two years of passing exam (in-person or online)

Requirements for the LEED AP-ND include:

  • Must pass exam (access exam prep resources here) (this exam includes Green Associate and LEED AP with specialty exams; if you already have LEED Green Associate credential you can take the specialty-only portion)
  • Must earn 30 continuing education hours within two years of passing exam (in-person or online)

Living Future Accreditation (LFA)

Offered through the  International Living Future Institute (ILFI), the LFA credential goes along with Living Future Challenges and Living Building Challenges of the institute. When you receive the LFA credential, you show that you have met challenges of working towards making communities socially just, culturally rich and ecologically restorative.

Requirements for the LFA credential include:

  • Completion of 70 hours of education (live or online), courses listed here
  • Attendance at an ILFI workshop (live or online)
  • ILFI membership
  • Pay all required fees
  • Complete 36 hours of continuing education every two years to maintain credential

WELL Accredited Professional (WELL AP)

The International WELL Building Institute sponsors the WELL AP credential, which shows that you have expertise in the WELL Building Standard, the leading global rating system focused on the ways that buildings and planning can improve comfort, give us better choices, and enhance health and wellness.

Requirements for the WELL AP credential are:

  • Must be 18 years of age or older
  • Must pass a computerized examination on building standard subject matter (such as air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind–exam prep materials available online) (testing offered through GBCI)
  • Pay exam fees
  • Maintain credential by completing 30 hours of continuing education every two years

Envision Sustainability Professional (ENV SP)

Sponsored by the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure, the ENV SP credential is oriented towards engineers but also perfect for planners who are involved in capital improvements and community development. This globally recognized credential works with sustainable infrastructure.

Requirements for the ENV SP include:

  • Must have a bachelor degree or be a registered professional engineer
  • Must complete an online training course on things such as quality of life, leadership, resource allocation, the natural world, and climate risk
  • Must pass an examination
  • Must pay all associated fees
  • To maintain credential, complete continuing education requirements every three years (differ for ISI members and non-members and may be found here)

Certified Sustainability Professional (ISSP-CSP)

Created by the International Society of Sustainability Professionals , the ISSP-CSP credential is for planners who work with sustainability issues. The credential is now managed by Green Business Certification, Inc. (GBCI). There are two certification levels: ISSP-SA and ISSP-CSP – designed for sustainability planners and practitioners who provide third-party verification of competency in sustainability.

Requirements for ISSP-SA include:

  • Pass an online exam

Requirements for ISSP-CPS include:

  • Must have a bachelor’s degree
  • Must have sustainability-related professional experience
  • Combination of one of the following education and experiences also qualifies:
    • Five years of professional experience in the last 10 years
    • Four years of professional experience in last 8 years and one year of education/training
    • Three years of professional experience in last six years plus two years of education/training
  • Must have three professional references
  • Must pass exam

Renewal of both credentials occurs every two years.

Sustainable Transportation Professional (STP)

The Greenroads Foundation created the STP credentialing program for transportation practitioners using the Greenroads rating system. Four levels exist, and are each passed on the five content core areas of environment and water, access and livability, materials and design, construction activities, and utilities and control. Online exams must be passed to move from one level to the next. Only employees of Greenroads member organizations are eligible to take these exams.

Certified Climate Change Professional (CC-P)

The Association of Climate Change Officers has introduced the CC-P credentialing system. It is designed for mid-level professionals who work in climate preparedness and action.

Requirements for the CC-P include:

  • Masters/post-graduate degree plus two years of professional climate change/sustainability experience, OR
  • Bachelor’s degree plus four years of professional climate change/sustainability experience, OR
  • High school diploma and years of professional climate change/sustainability experience
  • Pass four online exams
  • Take 14 hours of elective training courses
  • To maintain credential, must participate in 8 hours of continuing education each year, and satisfy 40 hours of annual usage/service requirements

Certified Environmental Professional (CEP)

The Academy of Board Certified Environmental Professionals has created the CEP credential for those who wish to advance in the environmental profession.

Requirements include:

  • Bachelor’s degree and nine years of professional environmental experience, with five of those years in a supervisory position
  • A master’s degree may be substituted for one year of experience, and a doctoral degree for two years
  • Pay the fee and complete the online application
  • Once reviewed and approved, you will be notified by ABCEP

SITES Accredited Professional (SITES AP)

This credential is offered through the Sustainable Sites Initiative, and is the first credential targeted to professionals working and caring for land, its resources, and its communities. You must pass an examination to receive the credential. The exam is administered through GBCI.

City Climate Planner Urban Greenhouse Gas Inventory Specialist

Offered through CityClimatePlanner.org, this credential is designed for professionals working on climate action in cities around the world.

Requirements include:

  • Must have practical experience in project planning, emissions inventory, managing data, calculating emissions, synthesizing emission inventory results, and reporting activities
  • Must have a degree in higher education, beyond high school
  • In lieu of this, you may have five years working in a related field
  • Must pass an examination
  • To maintain credential, complete 50 hours of continuing education every five years; OR retake the examination