urban planning vs. landscape architecture

Landscape Architecture for Landscape Architects Forums EDUCATION urban planning vs. landscape architecture

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    Caleb Diehl

    I’m trying to decide between going into urban planning or landscape architecture. It looks like planning has a higher median salary and faster job growth compared to landscape architecture (according to bureau of labor statistics), but I think I would enjoy LA more. I’m wondering if it’s possible to get planning jobs with an MLA degree. Then I wouldn’t have to choose.

    It also looks like there are some schools that offer dual MLA and planning degrees, but it adds another year to an already three year program.

    Leslie B Wagle

    I’m not familiar with the dual programs, but I am an LA who worked for 15 years in a planning department, and I know of others who also have. The best I can tell you is that yes, some positions exist in planning for people with other backgrounds, not just LA but geography, even political science and GIS trained people. However, they are usually bigger departments that can sub-assign roles and I never left mine (reviewing plan sets for landscape compliance with the development ordinance, and assistance to the historic preservation commission). You would probably rise faster and have more opportunities with training in planning. On the other hand, planning won’t satisfy a deep desire to do site design, and a planning degree is not training that will help you in most LA offices. Money is important but life is long – base the decision on what you know about yourself and where you think you can weather the ups and downs. Notice I didn’t say “do what you enjoy the most.” You can’t really predict how far you can go, you probably won’t have a completely smooth ride, and both can be satisfying when they are the right fit.

    Mark Di Lucido

    Key phrase in your question is ‘higher median salary’. Depending on many variables e.g., policy versus physical planning, big/small market, private/public sector etc., LAs can make much more, or less than planners. And I would argue that the Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t consider the potential income from moonlighting available to LAs.

    In the private-sector, I worked alongside those with planning degrees to produce urban designs (physical planning) for private and public-sector projects. There was trivial difference in pay assuming the planner and LA had the same years of experience and tenure with the firm and were both registered.

    Now as the lone LA within my agency, I make about $10,000 less per year on average than those with planning degrees and similar years of experience and tenure though strictly speaking, I do physical planning (create exterior space) instead of policy planning (and by most accounts have more fun/less stress doing so).

    At the university I attended and from anecdotal evidence, LAs and Planners take many of the same classes, so I would say yes, it’s possible for MLA holders to get planning jobs though they may be limited to entry-level. Then as you learn the ‘planning ropes’ just as an employee with a planning degree does, you’ll advance.


    I think you should review the degree requirements for the types of organizations you intend on seeking employment from to find your answer. There was a time when LAs were the primary source to fill planning positions. This is changing. As graduates from planning programs become more experienced and more plentiful, you will find fewer opportunities for LAs as planners in the future I suspect. If you plan on going the policy route, a degree in planning is going to get you further, faster. If you are more concerned with immediate salary, get a law degree and forget about LA vs PLA entirely 🙂

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