How to Become an Urban Planner in Tennessee

Tennessee MapThe planning website notes that Knoxville, Tennessee was one of the highest-paying metropolises in which urban planners worked in 2018. Per their data, urban planners within that city earned a median annual wage of $90,849. It can be quite lucrative to become an urban planner in that part of Tennessee.

While planning occurs at the local government level in Tennessee, as in most states, Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPO) and Transportation Planning Organizations (TPO) help to strategize and administer funding to areas. Tennessee has eleven MPOs and TPOs working in Nashville, Memphis, Lakeway, Knoxville, Kingsport, Johnson City, Jackson, Cleveland, Clarksville, Chattanooga, and Bristol.

Rural Planning Organizations (RPO) function similarly in less populated areas of Tennessee and work on transportation planning in those areas, which include Southwest Tennessee, Southeast Tennessee, South Central West, South Central East, Northwest Tennessee, West Tennessee, Middle Tennessee, First Tennessee, East Tennessee South, East Tennessee North, Dale Hollow, and Center Hill.

Additionally, nine development districts consisting of municipal and county governments work to plan and develop land use and transportation regulations together. These include:

  • Northwest Tennessee Development District – headquartered in Martin
  • Greater Nashville Regional Council – Nashville
  • Upper Cumberland Development District – Cookeville
  • First Tennessee Development District – Johnson City
  • Memphis Area-Cordova
  • Southwest Tennessee Development District – Jackson
  • South Central Tennessee Development District – Mt. Pleasant
  • Southeast Tennessee Development District – Chattanooga
  • East Tennessee Development District – Alcoa

If you would like to become an urban planner in Tennessee and discover how local governments and agencies work together for the good of the state, read on.

Average Salary for Urban Planners in Tennessee

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in May 2019, urban planners employed in Tennessee earned an annual median wage of $59,080. If you note that this seems much lower than the figure quoted above, understand that this is just an average, and that, depending upon where you live within Tennessee, you might make more or less than the average. For example, per the BLS, urban planners within the following Tennessee metropolitan areas earned at that time:

  • Chattanooga $47,830
  • Clarksville $48,750
  • Davidson $65,960
  • Franklin $65,960
  • Memphis $58,760
  • Murfreesboro $65,960
  • Nashville $65,960

Tennessee’s Urban Planning Regulations and Laws

Like most states, Tennessee’s planning regulations and laws occur at the local governmental level. The first planning commissions in the state were in Memphis (1921), Knoxville (1922), Chattanooga (1922), Nashville (1925) and Johnson City (1927). Shelby County had the state’s first county-level planning commission.

The Tennessee State Planning Commission was created by the State and Regional Planning Act and no longer exists. Today, there is no formal state land use planning body. Most cities that have over 1000 in population statewide have a local planning commission. Tennessee’s Code Annotated, Title 13, authorizes local governments to develop planning and land use regulations.

Municipal Planning Commissions

Municipal planning commissions, under Tennessee law, have these powers:

  • To prepare and adopt an official general plan
  • To make advisory reports and recommendations to public officials and agencies regarding plan/development of an area
  • To have advance notification of location and extent of construction of any area in the municipality
  • To regulate the development of land through subdivision regulations and reviewing of site plans
  • To prepare and recommend zoning ordinances and maps
  • To review and make recommendations for amendments to zoning ordinances and maps

Regional Planning Commissions

In Tennessee, regional planning commissions have similar powers to those of municipal planning commissions. There are some differences, however, Regional planning commissions are at the county level and may include one or more county/parts of counties. Their powers include:

  • Promoting mutual cooperation of municipal planning commissions within the region
  • Coordinating plans of the municipalities within the region
  • Confer with/advise municipal and county legislators to promote coordinated, adjusted regional development
  • Advise county and municipal legislators in forming public improvement programs
  • Prepare and adopt general regional plan for region’s physical development
  • Regulate land development through subdivision regulations/site plan review
  • Review and approve design, opening, grading, lighting, paving on any road or utilities
  • Prepare and certify a zoning ordinance and map for the region
  • Review/recommend amendments to zoning ordinance and map

Tennessee Growth Policy Act.

In 1998, the Tennessee Growth Policy Act was adopted in response to Tennessee’s rapid population growth. At that time, Tennessee was the 14th fastest growing state in the country, with the fourth fastest land development rate. Unfortunately, the act proposed no statewide solutions. It included five statements of the intent of legislators:

  • Eliminating annexation or incorporation out of fear
  • Establishing incentives to incorporate or annex when/where appropriate
  • Closely match timing of development to providing public services
  • Stabilize each county’s education funding base, establishing incentives for counties to be more interested in education
  • Minimize urban sprawl

Since 2000, the population of Tennessee has increased 12 percent. The amount of developed land in the state increased by 18 percent from 1997 to 2012. Areas within the state which show the fastest rates of growth include the counties around Nashville/Davidson County. By 2035, it is estimated that one million additional citizens will be living in that area.

While the Tennessee Growth Policy Act is still in effect, it has not done much in a practical sense to curb growth and development in the state.

Education for Aspiring Urban Planners in Tennessee

Undergraduate Degree Programs in Urban Planning in Tennessee

Earning an undergraduate degree in urban planning is the first step on your journey towards becoming an urban planner in Tennessee. It is recommended that you choose a program accredited by the  Planning Accreditation Board  of the American Planning Association. No such programs exist in Tennessee, however. Consider this alternative:

  • Bachelor of Science in Urban Studies- Tennessee State University

Graduate Degree Programs in Urban Planning in Tennessee

There is one graduate program in urban planning in Tennessee that is accredited by the  Planning Accreditation Board (PAB) of the American Planning Association:


  • University of Memphis – Master of City & Regional Planning

School of Urban Affairs & Public Policy, Department of City & Regional Planning

208 McCord Hall

Memphis, TN 38152

Accreditation through December 31, 2020

Charles A. Santo, Chair



Attaining Professional Urban Planning Certification in Tennessee

American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP)

The American Planning Association – Tennessee Chapter recommends that urban planners become professionally certified. You can do so through taking the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) examination, which is offered at Prometric testing sites in Tennessee such as:

  • Chattanooga — 7610 Hamilton Park Drive
  • Clarksville – 220 Forbes Ave.
  • Knoxville – 215 Center Park Drive
  • Nashville – 1410 Donelson Pike

The Tennessee Chapter of the APA holds one AICP exam preparation workshop each year, usually in the fall. Check here for information on this and other resources that you can use to ready yourself to take the exam.

AICP Certification Maintenance in Tennessee

The Certification Maintenance program of the AICP will help you to meet the CM requirements every two years. During this time, you must complete 32 CM credits. Examples of ways to find credit include:

More Certifications for Tennessee’s Urban Planners

The AICP is not the only professional certification available to Tennessee’s urban planners. Others are:

Career Paths and Job Opportunities for Urban Planners in Tennessee

Significant Planning Projects in Tennessee

Tennessee’s recent planning projects have included:

  • Magnolia Ave. Streetscapes Project in Knoxville
  • Countywide Parks and Greenways Master Plan in Nashville
  • 2040 Regional Transportation Plan by Middle Tennessee Connected
  • Plan for 14 GW of Solar Power by 2038 by Tennessee Valley Authority

Planning Internships in Tennessee

If your college urban planning program does not offer you internship opportunities, you might have to search for your own. Examples of internships across Tennessee have included:

  • Urban Planning Intern -Tennessee Department of Transportation, Nashville
  • Landscape Architecture Intern – Kimley-Horn and Associates, Inc., Nashville
  • Architectural College Intern – LRK, Memphis

Planning Jobs in the Public Sector in Tennessee

Jobs in Tennessee’s public sector involve working at the federal, state and local levels, and may include:

  • Strategic Planning Analyst – Tennessee Department of Transportation, Nashville
  • Assistant Planning Director – City of Cookeville
  • Special Projects Manager – The Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency, Nashville
  • Soil Conservationist – US Department of Agriculture, Blountville
  • Development Project Manager – Downtown Memphis Commission

Planning Jobs in the Private Sector in Tennessee

Private sector positions for urban planners in Tennessee may include:

  • Land Acquisition Manager – D.R. Horton, Inc., Nolensville
  • Sustainability Leader – Electrolux, Springfield
  • Mid-Level Landscape Architect/Planner – Ragan-Smith Associates, Inc., Murfreesboro
  • Senior Manager – Urban Science Applications, Inc., Franklin
  • Project Executive, Corporate and Urban Design – Gresham Smith, Nashville

Tennessee’s Urban Planning and Real Estate Forecast

According to the Zillow Home Price Expectation Survey, as of 2020, Nashville’s housing market is ranked as the fourth hottest in the nation. Home values within the area are expected to grow faster than the national average of 2.8 percent.

The 2019 Tennessee Housing Market at a Glance by the Tennessee Housing Development Agency notes that, statewide in 2019, the annual home price appreciation of seven percent was higher than the national average. Tennessee was ranked third in home price appreciation. Housing affordability continues to be a problem in rental and owner markets, however, as growing demand pushes prices higher. All in all, urban planners in Tennessee and those working in the real estate industry can expect upward trends to continue.

More Resources for Urban Planners in Tennessee