How to Become an Urban Planner in Rhode Island

Rhode Island MapThe smallest state in the nation by land area, Rhode Island’s population as of July 1, 2019 was just over one million residents, according to the US Census Bureau. These residents live in a state with a land area of just 1033 square miles. The population per square mile is quite dense, at 1018. Rhode Island is just 48 miles long and 37 miles wide. All of these factors help to explain why Rhode Island’s land use and planning regulations are some of the most stringent in the country.

Also known as The Ocean State, Rhode Island consists of the Coastal Lowland to the south and east, and includes the islands of Narragansett Bay and Block Island. It also has sandy beaches and lagoons, with forests west of the bay. In the northeastern corner of the state, you will find the Eastern New England Upland, containing lakes, ponds and hills, including Rhode Island’s highest point, Jerimoth Hill.

Urban planners in Rhode Island can expect to have much work in the coming years, as planning is mandatory in the state. As state navigators try to figure out how to create smart growth, not urban sprawl, while at the same time preserving the unique ecosystem of Rhode Island, there are many challenges presented for planners at the government and private levels. Would you like to learn how to become an urban planner in Rhode Island? If so, keep reading.

How Much Can I Expect to Earn as an Urban Planner in Rhode Island?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) of the US Department of Labor, as of May 2019 urban planners working in Rhode Island averaged an annual median wage of $76,250. Per, those working in various areas of the state earned differing salaries, as noted below:

  • Cranston: $64,894
  • Pawtucket: $64,894
  • Providence: $64,894
  • Warwick: $64,894

What Are Rhode Island’s Laws Regarding Land Use?

Rhode Island is among the states with some of the most restrictive regulations for land development and use. A recent study by the Cato Institute found that Rhode Island ranks third among the most restrictive state zoning regulations in the country, and eighth for restrictiveness in land use regulations. Providence’s metropolitan area is the most heavily regulated region in the country when it comes to land use regulations.

Adopted in 1988, the Rhode Island Comprehensive Planning and Land Use Act governs comprehensive planning statewide. Under this act, all municipalities in Rhode Island must prepare and adopt a comprehensive plan that is updated at least every 10 years. Each plan must include content, goals and policies addressing a minimum of 20 years in the future. These comprehensive plans must serve as the municipality’s foundation for zoning, and must be reviewed by the state to make sure that are consistent with the act. Things that must be addressed within comprehensive plans in Rhode Island include:

  • Agriculture and food systems
  • Climate change adaption/mitigation
  • Economic development
  • Forestry
  • Hazard mitigation/planning
  • Land use
  • Placemaking
  • Public health
  • Recreation
  • Smart growth
  • Social sustainability and equ8ity
  • Transit-oriented development
  • Transportation planning
  • Water resources

Land Use in the Narragansett Bay Watershed

Many point to the Narragansett Bay area as Rhode Island’s most valuable natural resource. It is full of fish, clams, fertile soil, and acts as a shipping and trade gateway to the Atlantic Ocean. Mass Audubon, along with the University of Rhode Island’s Coastal Resources Center and the Natural Capital Project, undertook a three-year project to determine the economic value of the Narragansett Bay’s ecosystem services. Ecosystem services and economic activities that they determined to be included in this area are:

  • Ports and harbors
  • Tourism
  • Transportation
  • Recreation
  • Commercial and recreational fishing/shellfishing
  • Control of nutrients and water pollutants
  • Climate regulation
  • Protection from floods and droughts
  • Healthy animal and plant populations

Sixty present of the 1600 square miles of the Bay’s watershed is located in Massachusetts, which is important to consider when planning for the future of the area. Changes of natural habitat, like forests and wetlands, into urban areas have impacted the delivery of water to rivers, lakes, groundwater and to the bay. Much of the forest land has been converted to residential, commercial, and industrial developed lands. Forests in the area are severely declining. Coastal subwatersheds in the area are the most urbanized, and forest lands have decreased by four percent from 2001 to 2011 (while urban lands increased by 8.5 percent).

Where Can I Study Urban Planning in Rhode Island?

Can I Undertake Undergraduate Urban Planning Studies in Rhode Island?

An undergraduate degree is your first step towards becoming an urban planner in Rhode Island. It is recommended that you choose an undergraduate program that is accredited by the Planning Accreditation Board (PAB) of the American Planning Association. However, Rhode Island has no such programs. You might consider one of these instead:

  • Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies- Concentration in Urban Studies; Brown University
  • Bachelor of Landscape Architecture – University of Rhode Island

Can I Complete Graduate Urban Planning Studies in Rhode Island?

Rhode Island also does not house any  Planning Accreditation Board (PAB) –accredited graduate urban planning programs. Instead, opt for one of the following accredited programs in nearby Massachusetts or New York:


  • Harvard University – Master in Urban Planning

Graduate School of Design, Department of Urban Planning and Design

Gund Hall 312, 48 Quincy St.

Cambridge, MA 02138

Accreditation through December 31, 2026

Ann Forsyth, Program Director



  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology – Master in City Planning

School of Architecture & Planning, Dept of Urban Studies & Planning

77 Massachusetts Ave. – Room 7-337

Cambridge, MA 02139

Accreditation through December 31, 2020

Eran Ben-Joseph, Department Head



  • Tufts University – Master of Arts in Environmental Policy & Planning; Master of Science in Environmental Policy & Planning

Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, Dept of Urban & Environmental Policy & Planning

97 Talbot Ave

Medford, MA 02155

Accreditation through December 31, 2025

Mary Davis, Chair



  • University of Massachusetts at Amherst – Master of Regional Planning

College of Social & Behavioral Sciences, Dept of Landscape Architecture & Regional Planning

210 Design Bldg, 551 N Pleasant St.

Amherst, MA 01003-2901

Accreditation through December 31, 2026

Mark Hamin, Program Director



  • Columbia University, New York – Master of Science in Urban Planning

Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation

1172 Amsterdam Ave, 413c Avery Hall

New York, NY 10027

Accreditation through December 31, 2021

Weiping Wu, Director



  • Cornell University, Ithaca – Master of Regional Planning

College of Architecture, Art & Planning, Department of City & Regional Planning

106 W. Sibley Hall

Ithaca, NY 14853

Accreditation through December 31, 2021
Jeffery M. Chusid, Department Chair


  • Hunter College, City University of New York – Master of Urban Planning

School of Arts & Sciences, Dept of Urban Planning and Policy

695 Park Ave, West Bldg 1611

New York, NY 10065

Accreditation through December 31, 2022
John Chin, Director


  • New York University – Master of Urban Planning

Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, Urban Planning Program

295 Lafayette St., 2nd floor

New York, NY 10012

Accreditation through December 31, 2026
Zhan Guo, Director


  • Pratt Institute – Master of Science in City & Regional Planning

School of Architecture, Graduate Center for Planning and the Environment

200 Willoughby Ave.

Brooklyn, NY 11205

Accreditation through December 31, 2020
Eve Baron, Chair


  • University of Albany, State University of New York – Master of Regional Planning in Urban & Regional Planning

College of Arts & Sciences, Dept of Geography and Planning

Arts & Sciences 218

Albany, NY 12222

Accreditation through December 31, 2023
Catherine T. Lawson, Director


  • University at Buffalo, State University of New York – Master of Urban Planning

School of Architecture & Planning, Dept of Urban and Regional Planning

Hayes Hall

Buffalo, NY 14214-3087

Accreditation through December 31, 2021
Daniel Hess, Chair


Should I Strive to Become a Credentialed Urban Planner in Rhode Island?

American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP)

If you wish to earn your professional credentials after graduation, you must work in the field for two years post-graduate degree, then take an examination sponsored by the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP). The test is offered periodically at one of the following Prometric test centers in Rhode Island:

  • Cumberland: 1300 Highland Corporate Drive
  • Warwick: 2346 Post Road

Maintaining AICP Credentials in Rhode Island

Once you are AICP-certified, you must complete 32 Certification Maintenance (CM) credits every two years to keep your credentials active. The American Planning Association Rhode Island Chapter can help you find in-person and online events to fulfill these requirements.

More Professional Credentials Offered for Urban Planners in Rhode Island

You may opt to seek other professional urban planning credentials, like:

How Do I Get Started Working in Urban Planning in Rhode Island?

What Are Some Exceptional Urban Planning Projects in Rhode Island?

Across the state of Rhode Island, there have been some outstanding planning projects, such as:

  • City of Providence Great Streets Plan
  • Grow Smart Rhode Island Revitalized Urban & Town Centers
  • Newport’s North End Urban Plan

How Can I Find Urban Planning Internships in Rhode Island?

Urban planning internships in Rhode Island and surrounding areas can include titles like the following:

  • Preservation Intern – Providence Preservation Society
  • Housing and Urban Development Interns Program – various locations
  • Ascendant Neighborhood Development Corporation – East Harlem, New York City, NY
  • New Hampshire Institute of Politics Internship – Manchester, NH
  • Environmental Education/Community Outreach Intern – Hispanic Access Foundation, Providence

What are Examples of Public Sector Urban Planning Jobs in Rhode Island?

Jobs in the public sector in Rhode Island may be at federal, state and local levels of government and may include:

  • Community Planner- US Navy, Newport
  • Director of Planning & Economic Development – City of Newport
  • Associate Planner/Code Compliance Officer – City of Cranston
  • Principal Planner- Town of Westerly
  • Project Manager- I-195 Redevelopment District, Providence

What are Potential Private Sector Jobs in Urban Planning in Rhode Island?

Private sector urban planning jobs in Rhode Island may be found in nonprofit organizations and companies and may include:

  • Senior Environmental Planner/Project Manager- Stantec, Providence
  • Adjunct Faculty, Urban Studies- Roger Williams University, Bristol
  • Community Impact Manager – POAH Communities, Narragansett
  • Research Coordinator – Upstream, Providence
  • Transportation Coordinator – University of Rhode Island, Kingston

What Does the Future Look Like for Urban Planning and Real Estate in Rhode Island?

Housing prices have risen in Rhode Island in the past years, mainly due to strict land use regulations, which have also pushed the construction of single-family homes down. Building permits in Rhode Island declined from a high of 5000 in the 1980s to just 1000 in more recent years. Home prices have risen 6.3 percent to $255,000 in 2017, per the Rhode Island Association of Realtors.

Urban planners can expect to have much work in coming years in Rhode Island. The state’s mandatory planning regulations ensures this, as does the small area and relatively large volume of population density for the area.

Are There More Resources in Rhode Island I Should Check Out?