The 10 Best Urban Planning Schools in the US

Once a relatively uncommon part of human existence, cities have become a fact of life. Not only do most people in the world live in a city of some type, but urban areas have become the center of cultural life. Even those in the rural parts of the world come to the cities to do business and to interact with the government. 

For that reason, urban planning is now one of the most important majors available for college students. Urban planning is exactly what it sounds like: the process of designing the layout of an urban region. This discipline covers everything from distinguishing between commercial and residential zoning to tracking roads to making ways for pedestrians. 

Those who hold urban planning degrees go onto careers in public service, academia, government, and more. They can do practical work, literally plotting the path of new highways and intellectual work, studying the prejudices and policies that brought large cities into existence. 

With so many varieties to the discipline, it’s especially important to know what to expect when looking for a school.

This list ranks 10 of the top urban planning schools in the United States. By studying this list, you’ll get all the information you need to create the living spaces of the 21st century.  

Georgia State Andrew Young School of Policy Studies (Atlanta, GA)

Georgia State University Andrew Young School of Policy Studies
Public domain photo by Thomson200 via Wikimedia Commons

Dating back to 1972, Georgia State University has worked to train students in public policy, but urban planning became a focus with the establishment of the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies in 1996. 

The School’s Urban Studies Institute exists to address the challenges of urbanization. The Institute’s curriculum emphasizes access and sustainability, working to make cities more livable. To this end, the Institute engages in research and classes to help students explore these issues. 

Recent publications from members of the faculty and student body address these concerns. Articles from the institute include “How Does an Expansion of Mandatory Inclusionary Housing Affect Housing Supply?” and “Beyond bouncing back? Comparing and contesting urban resilience frames in US and Latin American contexts.” 

With support such as this, any student who wants to improve urban landscapes will be well-served by the Young School of Policy Studies. 

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Department of City and Regional Planning (Durham, NC)

For 75 years, the Department of City and Regional Planning at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has trained the best in city planners. The department achieves this goal not just by bringing in some of the greatest minds the field has to offer, but also by hosting events and publishing research briefs. 

The department can establish this reputation thanks to the work of its outstanding and award-winning faculty. Teachers at the school include Dr. William Rohe, who has written over 70 scholarly articles on urban planning topics. For his efforts, he received the 2021 Contribution to the Field of Urban Affairs Award from the Urban Affairs Association. 

Students in the department are ready to make their own defining contributions. Doctoral candidate Lindsay Martin Oluyede has received attention for her work in transportation, which has earned funding from the STRIDE Center. 

Ohio State University John Glenn College of Public Affairs (Columbus, OH)

For those passionate about social justice, environmental sustainability, and the future of our cities, the John Glenn College of Public Affairs at the Ohio State University is an excellent choice. 

In addition to offering a wide range of degrees for students interested in urban planning, from high school seminars to advanced degrees, Glenn College also provides professional development support to those in the field. Working under celebrated faculty, students benefit from the experience and perspective of urban planning experts. 

But the most impressive part of Glenn College may be its Washington Programs. Through these programs, students can earn certifications and internships while working at the nation’s capital in Washington, D.C. 

In addition to mentorship opportunities and exposure to an unparalleled alumni network, these programs give students first-hand experience witnessing the creation of laws that affect our cities. 

University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs (Minneapolis, MN)

Named for the former Vice President of the United States, the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs is one of the most respected schools for urban planning. 

The Humphrey School earned its reputation thanks to the work of research centers such as the Roy Wilkins Center for Human Relations and Social Justice. Bringing together committed researchers and teachers, the Wilkins Center examines and addresses issues of racism and sexism as they exist in the creation of American cities. 

Students working with the Wilkins Center learn how to improve accessibility for everyone in our urban environments. 

Likewise, the Center for Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy helps students and researchers plan for sustainable cities. In addition to classes and initiatives, the Center hosts a number of events and seminars, giving students access to the ideas that will shape the cities of the future. 

Portland State University Hatfield School of Government (Portland, OR)

Portland State University
Visitor7, Portland State University, CC BY-SA 3.0

Portland State University may not have the name recognition of many other schools on this list, but one look at its Hatfield School of Government demonstrates that it deserves more attention. Taking advantage of its location in the heart of Portland, the Hatfield School brings students face-to-face with the challenges and possibilities of modern urban planning. 

Furthermore, the school allows students to engage with cutting-edge research in the field. The Hatfield School Journal of Public Affairs is a leading journal publishing work from scholars across the globe. Articles provide space for debate, imagination, and critique, equipping students to take on the next generation of concerns. 

The success of the school can be measured in part by the achievements of its faculty. Recently, Associate Professor Jennifer H. Allen was selected as the Portland Professor in Environmental and Natural Resources. This appointment recognizes Professor Allen’s contributions to improving the quality of the school’s host city. 

University of Southern California Sol Price School of Public Policy (Los Angeles, CA)

University of Southern California
EEJCC, Gwynn Wilson Student Union, University of Southern California, CC BY-SA 4.0

Founded in 1929 as the School of Citizenship and Public Administration, the Sol Price School of Public Policy at the University of Southern California is one of the oldest institutions on this list. Thanks to its long history, the Price School has the unique ability to trace the evolution of American cities. 

The Price School also boasts some of the discipline’s most accomplished alumni. 

In addition to earning degrees from the Price School in 2010 and 2018, Mike Davis has represented California’s 48th district as a state assemblyman. Currently, Davis is the President Pro Tem for the Los Angeles Board of Public Works Commission. 

Tim Leslie earned his MPA from Price School in 1969 and used that education to become a public servant in the state. Leslie served as a California state senator from 1991-2001 and had two stints as a state assemblyman, from 1986-1991 and 2000-2004. 

Massachusetts Institute of Technology Department of Urban Studies and Planning (Cambridge, OH)

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is renowned as one of the world’s best STEM schools, famous for its advances in the fields of science and mathematics. But it should come as no surprise that MIT applies those same standards of observation and research to issues such as urban planning. 

MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning takes a scientific approach to the study and design of world cities. Using advanced modeling technology, students and researchers within the department work to rethink the possibilities of urban areas. 

The Department put that approach to work with a recent study that reimagined the roles of pedestrians in cities. The models they developed drew attention to the relationship between pedestrians and traffic, offering insights on ways to integrate the needs of both better. 

UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs (Los Angeles, CA)

UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs
Luskin School of Public Affairs – Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons

Located in one of the world’s most populated cities, the Luskin School of Public Affairs at the University of California at Los Angeles provides research space for students right outside its front door. Established in 1994, this relatively young department has everything one needs to engage with the contemporary challenges of urban planning. 

The Luskin School’s most pressing work happens in coordination with its major research centers and initiatives. 

The Institute for Transportation Studies provides an interdisciplinary home for students, faculty, and researchers working to solve problems posed by modern transportation needs. 

Their Wachs Lecture series invites scholars from institutions such as Columbia University and the University of California Berkeley to present their work, exposing students to the latest theories in the field. 

The Center for Neighborhood Knowledge trains students and community leaders to prioritize the needs of the people in urban planning. The Center gives voice to residents, bringing their experience into conversation with design strategies. 

Cleveland State University Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs (Cleveland, OH)

Cleveland State University Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs
Levin College of Urban Affairs – photo via Wikimedia Commons

To see the quality of Cleveland State University’s Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs, one needs to look no further than the record of public service among their alumni. 

Since earning her MPA from Levin College in 1992, Nickie Antonio has been a constant public servant. In addition to her work as a scholar and teacher, Antonio took office in 2005 by winning an at-large seat on the Lakewood City Council. She currently represents the 23rd district in the Ohio Senate, a position she’s held since 2019. 

Matt Zone completed his BA in Urban Studies in 1999. Today, he not only serves as a city councilman in Cleveland but also as the President of the National League of Cities.

This is just a small sampling of the Levin College alumni. Everyone who graduates from the school leaves well-equipped to improve our nation’s cities. 

Rutgers University Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy (New Brunswick, NJ)

While there are admirable qualities to every school included on this list, nearly every ranking outlet agrees that the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy deserves the top spot. The Bloustein School is the premier home for innovative approaches to city planning and continues to lead the world in imagining the cities of the 21st century. 

One of the Bloustein School’s most notable innovations is its partnership with the School of Public Policy and Management of the Korea Development Institute. By bringing students from Korea, the School fosters cross-cultural exchange and invites new ways of looking at common urban problems. 

Additionally, the Bloustein School houses programs such as the Center for Urban Policy Research. Thanks to projects such as its oft-cited Cost of Sprawl report, the Center helps planners look toward the future by addressing the concerns of the past.

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