How to Become an Urban Planner in Wisconsin

Wisconsin MapAccording to the Wisconsin Department of Administration, by 2040 the population of Wisconsin is projected to be 6.5 million, an increase of 14 percent over 2010’s population. The state’s median age is projected to increase from 38.4 years in 2010 to 42.4 years in 2040. Through 2040, 57 of the 72 counties in Wisconsin are expected to increase in population, with 25 exceeding the state’s growth. Some of the fastest-growing counties are expected to be Saint Croix, Calumet, Kenosha, Brown, Saulk, Dana, Washington, Clark, Vernon and Menominee.

Seventy percent of Wisconsin’s municipalities are projected to grow in population through 2040. Cities will have 54 percent of the state’s residents. The two largest cities of Milwaukee and Madison are both expected in increase in population as well. Other cities that are expected to increase in population by 2040 include Kenosha, Green Bay, Waukesha, Appleton and Racine.

This population explosion is naturally expected to have an impact on Wisconsin’s land use. Much of what is now used as cropland, rangeland, pasturelands and forests may be encroached upon by cities, towns and villages by 2040. Part of the job of Wisconsin’s urban planners is to manage this type of growth and ensure that it occurs in a manner that is the most advantageous for the state’s economy, health, and welfare as well as to preserve and maximize the greatest benefit of its natural resources. If you want to discover how you can become an urban planner in Wisconsin, keep reading.

Wisconsin’s Pay for Urban Planners

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) of the United Stated Department of Labor (DOL) notes that as of May 2019, urban and regional planners working in Wisconsin were paid an annual median wage of $62,780. Those employed in Wisconsin’s cities made more or less than this average salary, as noted below:

  • Green Bay: $59,250
  • Madison: $66,740
  • Milwaukee: $77,090
  • Oshkosh-Neenah: $60,850
  • Waukesha: $77,090
  • West Allis: $77,090

Wisconsin Urban Planning and Land Use Regulations and Laws

Wisconsin has 1922 counties, cities, villages and towns, per the Wisconsin Department of Administration. As of November 2010, 84 percent of Wisconsin’s governments had adopted a comprehensive plan or were in the process of doing so. Zoning is done more on a county level, with only 20 percent of Wisconsin’s towns having their own town zoning ordinances.

Wisconsin law allows local governments to create and follow their own comprehensive plans. These plans must be updated at least evert 10 years. This applies to counties, cities, villages, towns, and regions. Nine elements must be included in a comprehensive plan in Wisconsin:

  • Issues/opportunities
  • Housing
  • Transportation
  • Utilities/community facilities
  • Agricultural/natural/cultural resources
  • Economic development
  • Intergovernmental cooperation
  • Land use
  • Implementation

Any time a local government in Wisconsin makes changes to land division, zoning or mapping ordinances, they must do so consistent with their comprehensive plan. In 2015, the governor of Wisconsin signed Wisconsin Act 391 into law, which formally discusses the importance of consistency in comprehensive planning. If a local government enacts or amends ordinances, these ordinances must be consistent with its local comprehensive plan.

Wisconsin Coastal Management Program

Established in 1978, Wisconsin Coastal Management Program is designed to preserve and maintain access to historic resources of Wisconsin’s Great Lakes coasts. Fifteen of Wisconsin’s counties have frontage or Lake Superior and Lake Michigan:

  • Douglas
  • Bayfield
  • Ashland
  • Iron
  • Marinette
  • Oconto
  • Brown
  • Door
  • Kewaunee
  • Manitowoc
  • Sheboygan
  • Ozaukee
  • Milwaukee
  • Racine
  • Kenosha

The program is designed to:

  • Improve implementation/enforcement of state regulatory and management policies and programs affecting coastal areas/uses
  • Improve coordination of existing policies/activities on matters affecting coastal areas/uses
  • Strengthen local governmental ability to initiate/continue effective coastal management
  • Provide voice to advocate for wise, balanced use of coastal environment
  • Increase public awareness and opportunity for citizens to participate in decisions affecting the resources of the Great Lakes

Wisconsin Education for Urban Planners

Undergraduate Urban Planning Education in Wisconsin

You must start by obtaining an undergraduate degree in an urban planning-related field. In Wisconsin, some choices might include:

  • Bachelor of Science in Architectural Studies – University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
  • Bachelor of Science in Landscape Studies – University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Bachelor of Science in Urban Studies- University of Wisconsin-Green Bay

Graduate Urban Planning Education in Wisconsin

When looking at graduate urban planning programs in Wisconsin, select one that holds accreditation through the Planning Accreditation Board (PAB) of the American Planning Association. The following Wisconsin graduate programs hold such accreditation:


  • University of Wisconsin-Madison – Master of Science in Urban & Regional Planning

College of Letters & Science, Department of Planning & Landscape Architecture

925 Bascom Mall – Room 112 A

Madison, WI 53706-1317

Accreditation through December 31, 2022

Kenneth Genskow, Chair



  • University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee – Master of Urban Planning

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

P.O. Box 413

Milwaukee, WI 53201-0143
Accreditation through December 31, 2025
Lingqian Ivy Hu, Chair


Planning Education for High School Students

In addition to offering collegiate-level urban planning education, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee provides high school students with urban planning education in its PUPS: Pre-Urban Planners summer program. Contact the Department of Urban Planning at for more information.

Planning Education for Middle-School and Elementary Students

Other programs that are sponsored through the American Planning Association-Wisconsin Chapter focus on planning education for younger children such as:

  • Terrace Town – In this Madison program, grade school students build cities from boxes
  • Future City Competition – This program gives Wisconsin middle schoolers a chance to build a future city

Professional Certification for Wisconsin’s Urban Planners

American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP)

The American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) offers professional certification, through passing an examination after you have two years of professional work experience. If you are interested, you may take this test at Prometric test centers in Wisconsin including:

  • Ashwaubenon/Green Bay: 1525 Park Place
  • Brookfield: 19435 West Capitol
  • Eau Claire: 1903 Keith Street
  • La Crosse: 210 South 7th Street
  • Madison: 1721 Thierer Rd. East
  • Wausau: 1 Corporate Drive

Maintaining AICP Credentials in Wisconsin

The American Planning Association – Wisconsin Chapter offers courses and events that will help you fulfill the AICP’s mandate of completing 32 Certification Maintenance (CM) credits every two years. Right now on their website, they have posted the 2020 Local Land Use Planning & Zoning Webinar Series, with all content delivered online via webinar. Topics include:

  • Annual Case Law and Legislative Update
  • Planning Body Members’ Responsibilities as Local Officials
  • Managing Local Rights-of-Way and Wisconsin’s New 5G/Small Cell Law

Alternate Certifications for Wisconsin’s Urban Planners

More organizations that provide urban planning certification in Wisconsin are:

The Career of Urban Planning in Wisconsin

Planning Projects Across Wisconsin

Outstanding planning projects have taken place in Wisconsin, such as:

  • Wisconsin State Highway Plan 2020
  • Babcock Hall Renovation & CDR Addition, University of Wisconsin –Madison
  • Ascent mass timber tower- Milwaukee
  • Milwaukee Yards sports facility- Oak Creek
  • BMO Tower- Milwaukee

Wisconsin Urban Planning Internships

There are many opportunities for urban planning internships in Wisconsin, including:

  • Planning and Real Estate/Environmental Intern – City of Milwaukee Dept. of City Development
  • Planning Intern – City of Fitchburg
  • Planning & Parks Intern – Ozaukee County, Port Washington
  • GIS/GPS Intern – Village of Bellevue
  • Community Development Intern – City of Neenah
  • Intern – Waukesha County Center for Growth, Waukesha

Wisconsin Public Sector Urban Planning Jobs

Public sector jobs in urban planner might be at the federal, state or local/regional levels, like:

  • Environmental Resources Planner – Capitol Area Regional Planning Commission, Madison
  • Land Use Specialist- Waukesha County
  • Planner II – Bay-Lake Regional Planning Commission, Green Bay
  • Land Use & Conservation Specialist – St. Croix County, Hudson
  • Director of Community Development – City of Wisconsin Rapids

Wisconsin Private Sector Urban Planning Jobs

Companies and nonprofits in Wisconsin often offer urban planning positions such as:

  • Community Development Planner- Short Elliott Hendrickson, Inc., LaCrosse or Chippewa Falls
  • Researcher – Wisconsin Policy Forum, Madison or Milwaukee
  • Procurement Forester – Rockbridge Sawmill, Richland Center
  • Urban Planner- Ayres Associates, Madison
  • GIS Contractor- System One, Madison

Real Estate and Urban Planning Forecast in Wisconsin

Per the Wisconsin Realtors Association, available home inventory in Wisconsin dropped by almost five percent from November 2018 to November 2019. The largest drop was in micropolitan counties, followed by rural counties and metropolitan counties. This shows that there are more buyers than sellers in what is a competitive housing market in Wisconsin. This ongoing inventory problem is expected to continue into 2020. Such a tight market creates opportunities for urban planners in Wisconsin, who are called upon to find new and creative ways to manage growth throughout the state.

More Resources for Wisconsin’s Urban Planners