What is Urban Planning?

Have you wondered how cities are planned? This major is a multi-disciplinary professional degree that prepares students for careers in planning cities and regions. The major addresses planning and climate change, fair housing, urban design, Native Nations and Indigenous communities, sustainable transportation, recovery from disasters, and natural resources management while promoting social and environmental justice.

Urban Planning Degree(s)

Urban Planning and Sustainable Development, BA

Learn and apply innovative approaches to city planning and to improve the quality of communities from the local to the global level. The program stresses progressive change that leads to equitable, healthy, livable, and sustainable communities with an emphasis on social and environmental justice and equity.


Nicholas Zaferatos, Professor and Planning Program Advisor
Nicholas.Zaferatos@wwu.edu | 360-650-7660

Kathryn Patrick, College of the Environment Professional Advisor
Kathryn.Patrick@wwu.edu | 360-650-3520

Urban Planning at Western

The Urban Planning and Sustainable Development (UPSD) program is one of only 16 nationally accredited planning programs in the nation. The major emphasizes progressive change and prepares students to become planning professionals who can develop and implement solutions that improve the quality of the natural and built environment and that promote social justice and equity. The curriculum integrates city planning with knowledge from sustainable design, environmental policy, Native Nations and Indigenous communities, and environmental sciences. We encourage students with a breadth of backgrounds and life experiences to apply.

Program Mission and Vision

Program Mission

The mission of the Urban Planning and Sustainable Development Program is to cultivate students to become future planning leaders who are ethical, knowledgeable, and technically capable to assist communities as they plan their futures. The Urban Planning program’s mission affirms and works within the broader mission of WWU’s College of the Environment to integrate an outstanding urban planning educational program through faculty-student collaboration, applied research, and professional and community service.

Program’s Vision for Society

The program envisions a society where individuals and groups can fully participate in the planning and development of their communities such that basic needs of safety, shelter, livelihoods, and opportunity for self-realization are met for all. Community aspirations, as understood by diverse segments of the community, are discussed freely and form the foundation of planning for a more sustainable, equitable, and just future, with special consideration for those who are most marginalized and for the ecological systems that sustain and inspire us.

We shall seek social justice by working to expand choice and opportunity for all persons, recognizing a special responsibility to plan for the needs of the disadvantaged and to promote racial and economic integration. We shall urge the alteration of policies, institutions, and decisions that oppose such needs.

From the Code of Ethics of the American Institute of Certified Planners

Student Experiences

Organizations and Clubs

Planning majors, as well as other WWU students interested in urban planning issues, are invited to join the WWU Urban Planning Club. The Club is open to all WWU students and generally meets weekly to engage students in films, trips, discussions, shared experiences and to support their studies.

AICP Candidacy Pilot Program

American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) certification is the professional credential for planners. As a nationally accredited urban planning program, our students qualify for a fast track membership in the AICP Candidate Pilot Program. Upon graduation from the Urban Planning major, students qualify to take the national AICP exam. Once passed, and following earned professional experience, they automatically become “certified planners.”  Certified planners earn an additional $16,000 more annually.

Hands-on-Experience and Internships

Study Abroad

Bringing together even broader communities, the College of the Environment's urban planning and sustainable development students have the opportunity to take international classes through a number of the College of the Environment's faculty-led study abroad summer programs.

Community Partnerships

Each year, our urban planning studio classes participate in community partnerships through the College of the Environment's Urban Transitions Studio program and Western's Sustainable Communities Partnership program to apply classroom research and learning to help solve real life community problems.


Student work has been recognized from national, statewide, and international organizations for exceptional problem-solving solutions. In 2017, student work received the “Outstanding Student Planning Project” award from the American Planning Association Washington Chapter, and the Planning Association of Washington, for a sustainable development planning study.

In 2019 UPSD Professor Zaferatos was awarded the Myer R. Wolfe Awards for professional achievement to the advancement of the Planning Profession.

The UPSD program received the 2020 Washington American Planning Association and Planning Association of Washington Excellence in Planning Award for the City of Ferndale Downtown Redevelopment Plan.

PAB ACCREDITATION: On December 11, 2020, the Planning Accreditation Board has approved our application for national re-accreditation. The WWU BA in Urban Planning is one of only 16 nationally accredited programs in the United States.

A bamboo village shelter design for Haiti hurricane relief. Bamboo and corrugated steel structures with people doing various tasks.

Students work with local communities to address planning issues. Students partnered with a Haitian community to develop a housing emergency shelter plan in a sustainable design class.

A group of students sitting and standing around a miniature model of a housing settlement.

Urban Planning students in the senior planning studio examine alternatives for designing a homeless housing settlement for a site in Bellingham, Washington

A digital rendering of a designed building on a street corner.

An example of student designs for compact green development using computer aided design software taught in the program.

A group of students sitting on large rocks by the coast, with several islands in the distance.

Students in the field in the Greek islands, one of several Global Education programs offered by the Urban Planning and Sustainable Development program. Here, students explore the site of the ancient Palace of Odysseus on the Island of Ithaca in Greece.

What can you do with a degree in Urban Planning?

The program prepares students with the knowledge and skills needed to make positive changes towards a socially and environmentally just world. Graduates are prepared for professional careers in public planning agencies, consulting firms, and nonprofit advocacy organizations at the local, state, national, and international level, as well as advanced graduate study.

The job outlook for Urban Planners is very strong. According to the American Planners Association's 2018 survey, the median salary for an urban planner is $79,000 a year. WWU’s Urban Planning program graduates show a high percentage of placement in professional planning jobs within six months of graduation.

Urban Planning Careers

  • Urban Planner
  • County planner
  • Regional Planner
  • Sustainable Development Consultant
  • Planning Consultant
  • Environmental Planner
  • Natural Resources Policy Analyst
  • Non-Profit Organizations