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Poll results: Planners on the Dark Side - what does it include?

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  • Local, county, state and federal government

    7 18.92%
  • Regional planning agencies, metropolitan planning organizations

    5 13.51%
  • Local non-profit development groups (CDCs, Main Street organizations, etc)

    4 10.81%
  • International NGOs, Peace Corps, VISTA, and related organizations

    3 8.11%
  • Military, as a civilian employee

    3 8.11%
  • Professional organizations (APA, ULI, CNU, RITP, etc)

    7 18.92%
  • Universities and colleges

    4 10.81%
  • Think-tanks and foundations (Brookings, Orton, etc)

    7 18.92%
  • Advocacy groups (Scenic America, 1000 Friends of Wherever, etc)

    8 21.62%
  • Private planning, architecture and/or engineering firms/consultants

    24 64.86%
  • Builders and developers

    28 75.68%
  • Cell phone companies and tower builders/owners

    29 78.38%
  • Sign and billboard companies

    30 81.08%
  • Retailers (✼Walmart, Target, U-Haul, etc)

    29 78.38%
  • Lobbyists (Brick Institute, International Sign Association, etc)

    32 86.49%
  • Banks and other financial institutions

    18 48.65%
  • Hey Dan, you forgot ...

    2 5.41%
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Thread: Planners working on the Dark Side - what does it include?

  1. #1
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Planners working on the Dark Side - what does it include?

    We talk quite a bit about planners working on "the dark side". Does it just mean working for developers, homebuilders, cell phone companies, and others at the other side of the counter? Does it include planners working for private planning, architecture and engineering firms? Does it include everybody that is not a planner for a government agency, regional planning organization, CDC, or non-profit organization?

    Think of all the places planners work, and check out the poll. Dark side or not?
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  2. #2
    Cyburbian TexanOkie's avatar
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    I guess I always assumed that the "dark side" was anyone who worked in the for-profit private sector. I'm surprised that only half who've voted so far view private consultants/firms as the dark side.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Bubba's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by TexanOkie View post
    I guess I always assumed that the "dark side" was anyone who worked in the for-profit private sector.
    What he said. ^^^^^
    I found you a new motto from a sign hanging on their wall…"Drink coffee: do stupid things faster and with more energy"

  4. #4
    Cyburbian SGB's avatar
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    I really expected to see cookies on the poll list.
    All these years the people said he’s actin’ like a kid.
    He did not know he could not fly, so he did.
    - - Guy Clark, "The Cape"

  5. #5
    Super Moderator kjel's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by TexanOkie View post
    I guess I always assumed that the "dark side" was anyone who worked in the for-profit private sector. I'm surprised that only half who've voted so far view private consultants/firms as the dark side.
    I think that it depends on where you practice planning. In New Jersey a lot of the municipal planning is actually contracted out to for-profit planning firms. There are nearly 600 municipalities in the state and many of them are quite small and don't have the capacity for planning departments. The city where I worked on the Dragon Lady's project had a full time "planner" but all he really did was accept applications and review them for completeness to submit to the planning board. The master plan, zoning ordinance, zoning map, and redevelopment plans were handled by a private firm.
    "He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?" Jeremiah 22:16

  6. #6
    Cyburbian ofos's avatar
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    I voted for all of them, even the ones that you forgot to add. Everyone not on my team is on the dark side and I'm the only one on my team.
    “Death comes when memories of the past exceed the vision for the future.”

  7. #7
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by kjelsadek View post
    I think that it depends on where you practice planning. In New Jersey a lot of the municipal planning is actually contracted out to for-profit planning firms. There are nearly 600 municipalities in the state and many of them are quite small and don't have the capacity for planning departments. The city where I worked on the Dragon Lady's project had a full time "planner" but all he really did was accept applications and review them for completeness to submit to the planning board. The master plan, zoning ordinance, zoning map, and redevelopment plans were handled by a private firm.
    I often call this the "grey side" -- private sector consultants whose work is primarily with public sector clients, particularly if they handle day-to-day planning activities like zoning change requests, plat review, etc. They work to support efforts traditionally done by "light" side 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)

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Masswich's avatar
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    Not that there's anything wrong with the dark side....

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Dave F's avatar
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    How about Sandy Springs, GA?

    Another version of the "grey side" phenomenon that could potentially have major long-term implications if it is successful, came when the newly-incorporated city of Sandy Springs, GA contracted with C2HM Hill to pretty much staff the entire bureaucracy of the new city:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sandy_S...orgia#Services

    http://www.ch2m.net/Portals/chms/Ski...springs_R4.pdf

    So, if you're a developer in this city, what is the identity of the person you interact with at the counter or in the planning department? City representative, but with a different boss? Fellow private sector person? Some hybrid?
    Last edited by Dave F; 03 May 2010 at 10:35 AM. Reason: Not done yet

  10. #10
    Cyburbian
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    Working on the dark side for the past 5 years I have completed projects for over half the groups you listed. I would also add:

    Attorneys: expert witness exhibit preparations and depositons.
    Pro-bono: especially economic distressed groups, leading lectures/seminars for students (although this isn't limited to private sector) churches, etc.).
    Private individuals: (land surveying, site design).
    Other planning firms: I have teamed with larger planning firms. Either my company provides a specialized niche or we have stronger ties at the local level. I would also add architecture, engineering, real estate development, ecology, and landscape architecture firms as clients.
    I am leaving several other groups out.

    I agree with kjelsadek. In rural communities, I WAS the planner and handled everything from meetings with developers to reviewing plans. All questions regarding devevelopment were forwarded to me. Most village engineers for small towns work entirely in the private sector (include village attorneys). Their jobs might consist solely of juggling engineer or legal work for a handful of different municipalities.

    Bottom line, I don't think there are very few limits as to what private sector planners do. I knew a private sector planner who even manned the zoning desk. I think it's just a cheaper alternative than hiring someone full time in the public sector, regardless of the economy. The client doesn't have to sink additional dollars for overhead (health insurance, 401k, etc.).
    "This is great, honey. What's the crunchy stuff?"
    "M&Ms. I ran out of paprika."

    Family Guy

  11. #11
    Quote Originally posted by nrschmid View post

    Bottom line, I don't think there are very few limits as to what private sector planners do. I knew a private sector planner who even manned the zoning desk. I think it's just a cheaper alternative than hiring someone full time in the public sector, regardless of the economy. The client doesn't have to sink additional dollars for overhead (health insurance, 401k, etc.).


    With that being said, do you see private sector planning growing as an industry given that local governments nationwide are probably going to be extremely strapped for cash in the foreseeable future?

  12. #12
    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    Dan - You have much to offer the world of private planning consulting and firms would benefit greatly from the skills, knowledge, and experience you have. Do not shy away from those opportunities. The two main drawbacks are the number of night meetings (which haven't been too much of an issue for me for the past year, considering the downturn) and maintaining a chargeable goal (Bill baby, bill!).

  13. #13
    Cyburbian
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    The dark side?

    What about people (like me) who left planning completely for higher paying jobs in more secure industries?

  14. #14
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Jazzman View post
    With that being said, do you see private sector planning growing as an industry given that local governments nationwide are probably going to be extremely strapped for cash in the foreseeable future?
    The only thing "growing" in the private sector is increased competition. I think this trend is going to continue. Few, if any, consulting firms are earning money from developers (money does not automatically equate to profit margins). I think the majority of planning consultants are earning contracts from public sector agencies.

    Many of these agencies are propped up by state and federal dollars, which are likely to run out this year and in the next few years. Municipalities, COGs, RPCs are likely to see less cash coming in, due to lower revenue. The stimulus money will only last so long, and the next wave to hit planners (apart from the layoffs) is the simple lack of business coming from the public sector. As others have mentioned, environmental and transportation planning are two areas, among others, that have kept SOME private sector planners employed. However, that is not going to be around forever. Without revenue coming in, state governments are not going to have money for these services in the next year or two either.

    Yes, there are firms that are faring better than others. It's simply survival of the fittest. I think smaller to mid-size firms will succeed, although I am leaning more towards mid-size (+50, not all necessarily planners). Keep in mind, more and more municipalities are doing more work in-house to cut down on costs. This means fewer RFPs/RFQs for more consultants. Having worked in different sized metropolitan areas, I would say there is a exponentially HIGHER amount of competiion in a big bustling area.

    Fortunately, there are "some" signs of rising home prices. This is only ONE of many inidcators that things are improving. There is not necessarily a correlation between home prices and new construction right now, partly becasue people are still hesitant to build. I think we are still 2-4 years away before we see modest growth in new construction, which will EVENTUALLY lead to SOME new jobs in current planning, code enforcement, etc. As I mentioned earlier, work in environmental and transportation planning MIGHT, I stress MIGHT, dry up within the 1-2 years, so there still might be a "black hole" where there MIGHT be more layoffs, but that might be at the time when more jobs in other areas of planning are popping up elsewhere.

    If you work in private sector planning, I would earn experience in as many different, even unrelated areas, of planning, even if you are not comfortable with them. I almost never say no to any project, so when planning work is light, I can switch over and help the engineers with AutoCAD (and one day Microstation). Today I am designing some planning marketing material in InDesign since I finally have some free time in between some big planning projects.

    Hope this helps-

    Quote Originally posted by PennPlanner View post
    What about people (like me) who left planning completely for higher paying jobs in more secure industries?
    What about you? Are you expecting us to chase you down and lure you back?
    Last edited by NHPlanner; 03 May 2010 at 1:24 PM. Reason: double reply
    "This is great, honey. What's the crunchy stuff?"
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  15. #15
    Cyburbian biscuit's avatar
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    It seems that over 80% if Cyburbia voters think I'm on the darkside. I try to only use my planner powers for good, but for some reason I get the same reaction whenever I walk into the local planning department office...
















  16. #16
    Quote Originally posted by nrschmid View post
    The only thing "growing" in the private sector is increased competition. I think this trend is going to continue. Few, if any, consulting firms are earning money from developers (money does not automatically equate to profit margins). I think the majority of planning consultants are earning contracts from public sector agencies.

    Many of these agencies are propped up by state and federal dollars, which are likely to run out this year and in the next few years. Municipalities, COGs, RPCs are likely to see less cash coming in, due to lower revenue. The stimulus money will only last so long, and the next wave to hit planners (apart from the layoffs) is the simple lack of business coming from the public sector. As others have mentioned, environmental and transportation planning are two areas, among others, that have kept SOME private sector planners employed. However, that is not going to be around forever. Without revenue coming in, state governments are not going to have money for these services in the next year or two either.

    Yes, there are firms that are faring better than others. It's simply survival of the fittest. I think smaller to mid-size firms will succeed, although I am leaning more towards mid-size (+50, not all necessarily planners). Keep in mind, more and more municipalities are doing more work in-house to cut down on costs. This means fewer RFPs/RFQs for more consultants. Having worked in different sized metropolitan areas, I would say there is a exponentially HIGHER amount of competiion in a big bustling area.

    Fortunately, there are "some" signs of rising home prices. This is only ONE of many inidcators that things are improving. There is not necessarily a correlation between home prices and new construction right now, partly becasue people are still hesitant to build. I think we are still 2-4 years away before we see modest growth in new construction, which will EVENTUALLY lead to SOME new jobs in current planning, code enforcement, etc. As I mentioned earlier, work in environmental and transportation planning MIGHT, I stress MIGHT, dry up within the 1-2 years, so there still might be a "black hole" where there MIGHT be more layoffs, but that might be at the time when more jobs in other areas of planning are popping up elsewhere.

    If you work in private sector planning, I would earn experience in as many different, even unrelated areas, of planning, even if you are not comfortable with them. I almost never say no to any project, so when planning work is light, I can switch over and help the engineers with AutoCAD (and one day Microstation). Today I am designing some planning marketing material in InDesign since I finally have some free time in between some big planning projects.

    Hope this helps-


    What makes you think that environmental and transportation planning will (or might) dry up in the next 1-2 years?

    BTW, biscuit that Youtube video that you took that image from is HILARIOUS.

  17. #17
    Cyburbian
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    A lot, but certainly not all, environmental planning and transportation planning right now, is either funded directly from the federal stimulus OR it is funded by money that comes from general operating funds, some of which is propped up by federal dollars, especially those environmental and transportation projects that are managed through state agencies.

    Environmental and transportation planning is in greater demand relative to current planning, long-range planning, design, etc. ***Don't think this will be the case for years to come!*** Again, state funds eventually dry up in the absence of tax bases. There are exceptions, especially those states who are much more self-reliable without the need for federal dollars (North Dakota and Texas come to mind, although Texas actually receives a disproportionate chunk of federal tax dollars in emergency relief despite it's anti-Washington view towards the stimulus).
    "This is great, honey. What's the crunchy stuff?"
    "M&Ms. I ran out of paprika."

    Family Guy

  18. #18
    Cyburbian TerraSapient's avatar
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    nrschmid and kjelsadek raise a few good points. I think where you are planning is important. Example: the US military used several areas in Hawaii for military training. Now private sector planners are profiting from federal clean up efforts under DERP-FUDS program funding. A decade ago it was the removal of USTs and ASTs and cleaning up contaminated soils around them where petroleum leaks occurred.

    I voted for the public sector, the private sector, and lobbyist groups (though I could have easily voted for every group). I think it is important to recognize that we all (regardless of our employer) are on the darkside some of the time.

  19. #19
    Cyburbian Seabishop's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by PennPlanner View post
    The dark side?

    What about people (like me) who left planning completely for higher paying jobs in more secure industries?
    That just makes you smart.

  20. #20
    Cyburbian MacheteJames's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by PennPlanner View post
    The dark side?

    What about people (like me) who left planning completely for higher paying jobs in more secure industries?
    What do you do for work now, and how did you make the transition?

  21. #21
    Cyburbian
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    How did I make the transition?

    Basically it went from like this: project management in planning --> project management in a corporation.

    Perhaps I was lucky, perhaps it was a question of being in the right place at the right time but I was able to leverage my experiences in project management into a rather good management role in a mid-sized corporation that's experiencing a lot of growth at the mo. The industry is irrelevant as the job is about management and getting results.

    For anyone thinking of making a career switch, if you can present yourself as someone who managed a product/team and can show that you produced solid results as a consequence of your actions, you are in a much better position than someone who only does the token daily tasks and waits patiently for pay raises or promotions based on tenure. My company took me over other candidates from inside the industry because at my previous job I had seen a need to change a certain project strategy, took the initiative to have it happen, and it directly led to an improved end product.

  22. #22
    Cyburbian tsc's avatar
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    the highest scoring = exhibit hall at national conferences
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