The American Institute of Certified Planners in a nutshell

Outside the Architecture and Planning Library at the University of Texas at Austin - a place where I spent many hours during my Masters studies and later preparing for the AICP exam.

Outside the Architecture and Planning Library at the University of Texas at Austin – a place where I spent many hours during my Masters studies and later preparing for the AICP exam.

In my last post, I mentioned that I had been busy finishing up my professional development credit hours for my American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) credential. In case you’ve never heard of the AICP, here’s a brief summary:

What is it?

Pretty much anyone who is not an urban planner in America probably hasn’t heard of the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP). In the United States, the AICP for planners is a kind of like the Professional Engineer (PE) licensure for engineers or the PLA designation for licensed landscape architects. In a nutshell, an American Institute of Certified Planner has a combination of education and professional experience related to planning, a commitment to ethical conduct and professional development, has passed the AICP exam, and is a member of the American Planning Association.

How do you become an AICP?

To be eligible to take the exam to become an American Institute of Certified Planner, one has to be a current member of the American Planning Association, be working as a professional planner, and have completed a combination of education requirements and number of years working as a professional planner working in a variety of areas.

In my case, with a Masters of Science degree in Community and Regional Planning, I had to complete at least two years of professional planning experience in order to be eligible to apply to take the AICP exam. Those planners with a bachelor degree in planning, a degree in another discipline, or no university degree have to complete between four – eight years of professional planning experience to be eligible to take the exam.

Within my professional planning work, I had to demonstrate in my application to take the AICP exam that I had worked on projects in the following areas (verification by my employers was also required):

(1)  Apply a planning process appropriate to the situation (e.g. in plan making and implementation, functional areas of practice such as infrastructure and transportation or food systems planning, natural resources, etc. and/or research, analysis, and teaching).

(2)  Employ an appropriately comprehensive view.

(3)  Involve a professional level of responsibility and resourcefulness.

(4)  Influence public decision making in the public interest.

Once my application to the AICP was accepted, I was eligible to take a comprehensive exam regarding:

  • Planning history
  • Planning theory
  • Ethics and the AICP professional code of conduct
  • Planning law
  • Plan making and implementation (quantitative analysis, demographics, fiscal impact analysis, environmental impact analysis, etc.)
  • Functional areas of practice (natural resource and environmental quality, energy, transportation, housing, land use regulations, etc.)
  • Spatial areas of planning (regional planning, corridor planning, neighborhood planning, etc.)
  • Public participation and social justice
  • Emerging issues and trends (e.g. food systems planning).

I studied for and took the exam during the spring of 2010 while I was in Austin, Texas waiting for my visa to Spain to be processed. It worked out well to do this in Austin because I was able to use the resources at the University of Texas at Austin Architecture and Planning Library to prepare for the exam—a place I was very familiar with from doing my Masters studies there. After passing the exam, I was invited to become an American Institute of Certified Planner, with accompanying annual membership dues and professional development responsibilities (completion of 32 hours of approved AICP continuing education credits every two years).

Why bother with it anyway?

In the United States, an AICP planner is recognized as a professional with a solid educational background, a high degree of experience, and a commitment to ethical conduct as well as continuing professional development. Many advertisements for senior level planner positions contain “AICP preferred” in the list of qualifications.

I am currently living in Europe where the AICP is not very well known, if it all. I have been taking a little career break since the birth of my son and I was not sure if it was worth it to keep up my AICP membership due to the expense of annual dues to the American Planning Association (APA) and the AICP as well as the required professional development hours.

In the end, I decided to keep up my membership for the following reasons:

  • Preparing for the AICP exam was a considerable investment of time and money. I do not want my membership to lapse and have to pay for and do the whole thing over again later on.
  • I enjoy doing the continuing education credits because it keeps me up-to-date on current planning issues and trends.
  • If and when my husband and I decide to return to the United States, I want a shot at those “AICP preferred” positions as well!

There’s the AICP explanation I promised…hope it wasn’t too boring! In the next posts I will share some of my favorite things I learned doing my professional development credits. This includes highlights from the Walk21 and Velo-City conferences and more…

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