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Thread: Highest salaries you've seen for urban planning jobs

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
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    Highest salaries you've seen for urban planning jobs

    We have a lengthy "Lowest salaries" thread, now what about the highest?

    I'm assuming the highest salaries go to those with the good credentials + experience, but what are the highest you've seen?

  2. #2
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Good question!

    I haven't seen such a job listing in a while, but back in the boom years, I'd see positions advertised for entry-level and mid-level planners in NWT and Nunavut with large "northern allowances" and "attraction bonuses". No cite, but I remember seeing mundane entry/mid-level jobs in the Arctic with salaries around CAN$80K and up.

    Such benefits for jobs in isolated parts of the US are nonexistent in the planning profession; usually jobs in isolated regions pay less. I've seen such bonuses for doctors, dentists, social workers and so on.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

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    Cyburbian chupacabra's avatar
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    Not too long ago there was a PD job (required a BA and 5 years) in the Aleutians that was $95k. This is post-bubble, too.
    You can grow ideas in the garden of your mind.

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    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    I interviewed in July for a Principal Planner position for the City of Santa Monica. Starting Salary was $105,000K per year (plus incentives/performance pay). God knows what the PD makes.
    Men do dumb $hit... it is what they do to correct the problem that counts.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian
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    Planning Manager jobs in Australia typically pay 120-200k AUD. Which is about 90 cents on the US dollar. The problem is planners that make alot arent typically called planners, but might have a planning degree. Urban designer planners in pre bubble Middle East jobs could bring home around 300-500k US. Most of the people I know to make big $$ in the US do so with commercial real estate, or masterplanning, but again before the Sh%% hit the fan. ULI has good links to these jobs, APA I found to more "social engineering" planning, even the transport planning division.

  6. #6
    NIMBY asshatterer Plus Richmond Jake's avatar
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    The last position I held in California is now paying $161K + per year.



    In a County I formerly worked in.

    http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/ci_...11244044041047
    Last edited by Richmond Jake; 20 Dec 2009 at 2:22 PM. Reason: just because
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    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    I forgot: a few years ago, the US State Department was hiring planners to work in Iraq. Salaries were around $150K to $200K, and housing was included.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

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    Cyburbian
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    Forgive my noobishness, but I don't know all of the job title acronyms. I can usually figure them out, but what is "PD"?

  9. #9
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Mr_Bacon View post
    Forgive my noobishness, but I don't know all of the job title acronyms. I can usually figure them out, but what is "PD"?


    Just kidding. We sometimes use PD as an acronym for planning director.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  10. #10
    Cyburbian
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    oooh, "Director". Thanks.

    Wow, some very impressive numbers in this thread. They're all pre-recession, right? How long would any of you estimate before those sorts of numbers start coming back?

  11. #11
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    I've recently seen USAID post planner positions in the neighborhood of $150K, with the position being based in Washington, D.C.
    Last edited by Suburb Repairman; 21 Dec 2009 at 10:56 AM.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

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    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Mr_Bacon View post
    oooh, "Director". Thanks.

    Wow, some very impressive numbers in this thread. They're all pre-recession, right? How long would any of you estimate before those sorts of numbers start coming back?
    Mine was as of this past July 2009, in california no less, one of the hardest hit areas of the country. than again, oh that pesky cost of living.
    Men do dumb $hit... it is what they do to correct the problem that counts.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian rcgplanner's avatar
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    No surprise most of the big salaries are from CA where even an assistant planner position might be posted at $50,000 plus, which is comparable to $35,000 in the rest of the US.

    Here is a current opening on the APA website for a Director of Development Services for Monterey Park, CA: http://www.planning.org/jobs/search/...htm?AdID=39986 Salary: $9,880 to $12,640 a month ($116,560 to $151,680/yr.)

    Late this past summer I saw a posting for the Planning Director for L.A. County, I believe the salary was $168,000 to $213,000/yr.

    Even with the high cost-of-living in CA, I imagine those are still pretty nice salaries.

    If you are more of a fan of cold-weather, Barrow, AK has been advertising a Community Development Planner for a nice salary of $95,000 plus relocation assistance. Of course you have to deal with nearly 3 months of complete darkness and milk at $9.00 a gallon! http://alaskaphotographics.blogspot....aska-this.html

    It makes you wonder who actually gets these positions.

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    Cyburbian kltoomians's avatar
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    Does anyone know what the avg life expectancy of a PD? I hear it's about 6yrs...I'm guessing that's why there are so many openings for PDs. It's almost as bad as a City Manager.

    Every place I've been at, we've been through 2 min...
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    Cyburbian LTKS's avatar
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    CA has pretty high paying salaries w/ public jurisdictions, in addition to some good benefits, despite all the potential CalPERS nightmares. I just saw a posting for a Sr Planner in Foster City (Bay Area) for $85k to $104k, not including all the retirement and health benefits. Not bad, but the area is pretty pricey to live in.

    It is all relative. You live in an area that isn't too expensive to live in, and you won't get outrageously high salaries.

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    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by LTKS View post
    It is all relative. You live in an area that isn't too expensive to live in, and you won't get outrageously high salaries.
    It is pretty much relative. Your right, 85K salary sounds like a lot to those here on the board, but than you start factoring in cost of housing (if you don't own, rent will around 1800 to start for 1 bed room in the area, add a family in to the mix, than we are talking 2500 and up), taxes (high in this state in terms of income/sales tax), transportation costs, etc. that 85K price tag now affords you a comfortable living rather than extravagant.
    Men do dumb $hit... it is what they do to correct the problem that counts.

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    Cyburbian Otis's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by kltoomians View post
    Does anyone know what the avg life expectancy of a PD? I hear it's about 6yrs...I'm guessing that's why there are so many openings for PDs. It's almost as bad as a City Manager.

    Every place I've been at, we've been through 2 min...
    I would guess that 6 years is about right. I've been PD for 10 years here in Otisville, and my predecessor was here less than 3 years. I hope to make it to 16 years.

  18. #18
    From what I've seen, higher salaries in the planning profession are like higher salaries in other professions: at the executive level, you might make more money, and in areas with a high cost of living, you might also make more money.

    Some of the most common highest-paying planning jobs I've seen are management positions with HUD and other federal agencies.

    Planning directors can make good money, but there are only one of them per jurisdiction. Not a lot of those to go around, and the people who have those jobs have put the time in to get there. Plus, in many case, I'm not sure if its worth it. Depends on who's elected, and their shelf life is shorter than a director's shelf life, which means more inside politics for the director. It does seem like its better to keep moving, because your bound to make some enemies in such a politically-charged environment of multiple interests. The ones that have spent 10+ years in one location seem to get a little stale... not that they really are stale, but there's always some elected official who thinks they know better than staff. (Which they don't.) Doesn't matter if the director has been doing his or her job for 20 years, the 22 year old who got elected because nobody in his town votes will tell the director how to do things and wreak a path of destruction that the manager and PD have to sweep up. I digress.

    Planning isn't one of the professions you can just jump into with minimal experience and education and have a good shot at making the big bucks, not like banking was before the crash. The people who make good money have put the time in and have groomed their career. But for every public-sector director "making the big bucks," there are a dozen senior planners that have been passed over after decades of service with nothing but a double chin and a fine-tuned understanding of bureaucratic nuance.

    They should parade in all those senior planners into planning schools and show them how it is. "This is you, after years and years of doing the best job you can, but long after your youthful ideals have faded away into the miasma of lost dreams and other cliches, having succumbed to the inevitability of cynicism in the face of not really having any control. You relish the chance to nitpick the ideas of those beneath you, and have wet dreams at the thought of teaching a planning class, where you can lecture about the "red pen" and grade tech memos."

    Last edited by chocolatechip; 22 Dec 2009 at 1:34 AM.

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    Cyburbian kltoomians's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by chocolatechip View post
    But for every public-sector director "making the big bucks," there are a dozen senior planners that have been passed over after decades of service with nothing but a double chin and a fine-tuned understanding of bureaucratic nuance.
    Agreed...I'm sure it's hard for the PD to manage their egos. Many senior planners do not become PDs for very good reasons
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  20. #20
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by chocolatechip View post

    They should parade in all those senior planners into planning schools and show them how it is. "This is you, after years and years of doing the best job you can, but long after your youthful ideals have faded away into the miasma of lost dreams and other cliches, having succumbed to the inevitability of cynicism in the face of not really having any control. You relish the chance to nitpick the ideas of those beneath you, and have wet dreams at the thought of teaching a planning class, where you can lecture about the "red pen" and grade tech memos."

    This is part of why a leap at every opportunity to speak at the local university, usually doing 1-2 classes a semester. I'm fortunate that the planning department there brings in practicing planners on a fairly frequent basis. I actually call my presentation "Sunshine, Ponies and Planning," and talk about the reality of working in a planning department--how to maintain idealism/optimism in the face of political realities, how putting on a cynical front can preserve your sanity, understanding how much influence you really have on the process compared to the real decision-makers, etc. It operates a bit like a local government political science class tailored to planners.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  21. #21
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    10+ years in one location seem to get a little stale...
    My director tenures have been 8, 12, and 11 years before Greensburg. Sometimes I get in the survival mode, but most frequently after 10 or so years I start to tell them what I really think.

  22. #22
    Cyburbian WSU MUP Student's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by rcgplanner View post
    If you are more of a fan of cold-weather, Barrow, AK has been advertising a Community Development Planner for a nice salary of $95,000 plus relocation assistance. Of course you have to deal with nearly 3 months of complete darkness and milk at $9.00 a gallon! http://alaskaphotographics.blogspot....aska-this.html
    If I wasn't married and hadn't recently bought a house, I would jump at that job. As cool (pun intended) as a location like that is to somebody like me, I cannot imagine that they expect people to stay in geographies like these for many many years.
    "Where free unions and collective bargaining are forbidden, freedom is lost." - 1980 Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan

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    Cyburbian rcgplanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by WSU MUP Student View post
    If I wasn't married and hadn't recently bought a house, I would jump at that job. As cool (pun intended) as a location like that is to somebody like me, I cannot imagine that they expect people to stay in geographies like these for many many years.
    Same here, if I hadn't just taken a new job, I would jump at that position. I am lucky that I only have a lease to worry about. I would imagine that position has a fairly short shelf life, no longer than a year or 2. I would think the intense boredom of living in a city of 3,000 with no one else for hundreds of miles would begin to wear on someone. But it would be one helluva position to put on a resume!

  24. #24
    Cyburbian Masswich's avatar
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    First to answer the question- the highest salaries are the Planning Directors of large cities and the jobs at certain consulting firms. The Planning Director of a large city (over 250K) can often make $150K or more. The principals at large consulting firms often make far more.

    Now to defend Planning Directors. Some planners clearly think that PD's are sellouts who are only in it for their ego and money and then move on when the heat turns up. I think that may be true for some, but others are actually working hard in the larger sphere of government trying to turn the good ideas that senior planners have into reality. That can be very hard when a City Council or Mayor doesn't even know what zoning is other than that it stops some projects they like, or allows some things they don't like. A lot of it is education and political game playing, while trying to respect the integrity of urban planning. It gets tiring and sometimes one moves on because all your political capital is exhausted in one place. But it is a different job from senior planner - some people who are good at one would not be good at the other (and I mean both ways - some PD's would not make good senior planners because their technical skills are not good enough...) For those who are interested, I recommend a good book on the politics of planning - perhaps Alan Altshuler's "The City Planning Process."

  25. #25
    Cyburbian
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    Highest paying jobs have to be in Abu Dhabi, though this is in 2007. Vancouver's top 5 planners recruited there. No exact numbers on their salaries but you can do that math: top level positions, 600k population, city where planning is respected... and Abu Dhabi offers to TRIPLE their salary.

    http://www.canada.com/vancouversun/n...8-42e8fd0301db

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