How to Become an Urban Planner in Illinois

Illinois MapThe Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning has begun a Future Leaders in Planning (FLIP) program to attract youth, especially young people of color, to the planning profession. Working with diverse high school students in the seven-county Chicago area, the FLIP curriculum teaches children how to describe the world around them, and how planning can attack social issues and shape urban development.

Becoming an urban planner in Illinois has many benefits, in addition to the monetary ones. The work of planners is collaborative, with individuals sharing ideas, strategies and resources to shape their environment and their future.  As of July 2019, the population of the state of Illinois was just over 12.5 million. The net migration in 2018, however, was a loss of 6.5 people for every 1000 residents. Combine this with an aging population, and the state is estimated to lose population as the years go on, with the number of people leaving the state greater than the number entering it. Additionally, more people are moving out of the urban areas of Illinois and into the suburban and rural areas. This will still, however, present challenges to planners in adapting to Illinois’ future.

A recent Moody’s report noted that Illinois is experiencing a slowdown in manufacturing, poor agricultural conditions, and demographic and economic problems. However, the economy of the state is improving, with a lower employment rate and stable labor force.

If you would like to learn how to become an urban planner in Illinois and attack these problems head-on, keep reading.

Urban Planning Pay in Illinois

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that as of May 2019, urban planners employed in Illinois averaged an annual median salary of $73,000. Those working in various cities throughout Illinois brought home more or less than this average, as you can see below:

  • Champaign $72,820
  • Chicago $77,160
  • Elgin $77,160
  • Moline $70,150
  • Naperville $77,160
  • Rock Island $70,150
  • Urbana $72,820

Urban Planning Laws and Regulations in Illinois

The Illinois Local Land Use Management Planning Act of 1985 recommends, but does not mandate, municipalities and counties to adopt comprehensive plans. If adopted, a comprehensive plan must protect the land, air, water, natural resources, and environment of the state and use resources in a socially, economically desirable manner. A municipality or county that has a comprehensive plan in place must implement ordinances and zoning regulations. Planning in municipalities and counties increases livability in these communities. Some examples of comprehensive plans in Illinois include (but are not limited to):

  • Village of Riverton Comprehensive Plan
  • Kane County 2040 Plan
  • Hancock County Comprehensive Plan 2014
  • Go to 2040 Comprehensive Plan (Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning)
  • City of Ottawa Comprehensive Plan
  • City of Leland Grove Comprehensive Plan

Local government land use plans in Illinois include (but aren’t limited to):

  • Peoria County 2009 Comprehensive Land Use Plan
  • Madison County 2020 Land Use Plan and Resource Management Plan
  • Grundy County 2020 Comprehensive Land Use Plan

Considering Ecological Planning in Illinois Land Use Planning

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Services for Illinois notes that soil must always be kept in mind in land use planning in Illinois. Soil is the fundamental basis for every land use project in the state. It will also determine the long-term success of a land use plan. Soils beneath a proposed development or road, for example, must be strong enough to support the increased traffic. Soils around a new subdivision must be well drained and not prone to flooding. Soil must be able to adequately absorb water and prevent flooding. Soils must be suited to landscaping as well, so that plants will grow and flourish. Ecological planning is a big part of land use planning. This takes into account the following:

  • Surface geology
  • Soil
  • Wildlife
  • Geology
  • Vegetation
  • Groundwater hydrology
  • Surface hydrology
  • Physiography

Schooling for Urban Planners in Illinois

Undergraduate Programs for Illinois Urban Planners

The first goal that you should set your sights on in becoming an urban planner in Illinois is to earn an undergraduate degree. You should select a program that has been accredited by the Planning Accreditation Board (PAB) of the American Planning Association. Illinois has one such undergraduate program:

  • Bachelor of Arts in Urban Studies and Planning – University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Graduate Programs for Illinois Urban Planners

After obtaining an undergraduate degree, you must get a graduate degree in urban planning, preferably from a program accredited by the Planning Accreditation Board (PAB) such as:


  • University of Illinois at Chicago- Master of Urban Planning & Policy

College of Urban Planning & Public Affairs, Department of Urban Planning & Policy

412 S. Peoria St. – Suite 215 MC 348

Chicago, IL 60607-7068

Accreditation through December 31, 2025

Nik Theodore, Head



  • University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign – Master of Urban Planning

College of Fine & Applied Arts, Department of Urban and Regional Planning

111 Temple Buell Hall – 611 Taft Dr.

Champaign, IL 61820

Accreditation through December 31, 2021

Roff Pendall, Department Head



Certification for Illinois Urban Planners

American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP)

The next step in your quest to become an urban planner in Illinois is to seek professional certification. Most urban planners do this through passing an examination given by the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP). This is done once you have your graduate degree and have worked for at least two years in the urban planning/land use field. Check out one of these Prometrictest centers in Illinois where you can sit for the exam:

  • Carbondale – 239 S. Lewis Land
  • Champaign – University of Illinois Testing Center, Illini Plaza
  • Chicago – One North LaSalle St., Chicago MegaCenter (1,2, 3, 4 and 5)
  • Decatur- 2405 E. Federal Dr.
  • Deerfield – 770 Lake Cook Road
  • Joliet – 3033 w. Jefferson
  • Lombard – 1919 South Highland Ave
  • Peoria – 7501 N. University
  • Sycamore – 1830 Mediterranean Drive

AICP Certification Maintenance in Illinois

You must fulfill 32 Certification Maintenance (CM) credits every two years in order to keep your certification in the AICP active. Examples of online CM activities listed on the American Planning association – Illinois website include:

  • Tactical Transit and How It Can Help Improve Access & Ridership
  • Connect Illinois-Broadband Infrastructure Funding
  • CCAM Program Inventory- A Call to Coordination
  • American Highways Are Being Removed – What’s Next?

Other Certification Options in Illinois

Other organizations offering professional planning certifications include:


Professions for Urban Planners in Illinois

Projects in Urban Planning in Illinois

Notable projects across the state of Illinois have included:

  • Goose Island residential development – Chicago
  • 606 Bike and Pedestrian Path extension – Chicago
  • Green infrastructure – Peoria
  • New downtown housing units – Evanston

Internships in Urban Planning in Illinois

If your college program offers you an internship, take advantage of it. You might land in a spot like one of the following:

  • Planning and Development Services Intern – Village of Bartlett
  • Planning Intern – Village of Mount Prospect
  • Planning Intern- Village of Downers Grove
  • Planning Services Intern – City of Dubuque

Public Sector Professions in Urban Planning in Illinois

Federal, state, county and city jobs in urban planning comprise Illinois’ public sector and may include:

  • Director of Community Development – Village of Villa Park
  • Senior Planner- Village of Algonquin
  • Director of Planning and Transportation – Village of Hoffman Estates
  • Associate Planner- Village of Frankfort
  • Director of Community Development – Village of Wheeling
  • Community & Economic Development Coordinator – Village of Forsyth

Private Sector Professions in Urban Planning in Illinois

Private companies and nonprofit groups also offer planning positions, like:

  • Transportation Technical Planner- High Street Consulting Group, Chicago
  • Metropolitan Planner- Region 1 Planning Council, Rockford
  • Planner- Greater Egypt Regional Planning and Development Commission, Marion
  • Land Use Planner- Region 1 Planning Council, Rockford
  • Planner/Designer- The Lakota Group, Chicago

Future for Urban Planners and the Real Estate Market in Illinois

The housing market in Chicago is predicted to remain flat in 2020. It has been identified as one of the nation’s slowest housing markets, and is expected to remain that way until financial conditions improve. As property taxes rise statewide, home prices are not keeping up. Home prices in Illinois remain down 10 percent compared with 2006’s prices. By comparison, property tax bills are up more than 51 percent from 2006.

Although the residential real estate market in Illinois appears flat for the foreseeable future, there should still be plenty of work available for urban planners in the state. As more people move from the state’s urban to suburban and rural areas, challenges for planners will exist in accommodating this population shift.

More Resources for Illinois’s Urban Planners