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Thread: Concentration Dilemma

  1. #1
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    Concentration Dilemma

    Hello. I wonder if I can ask some advice concerning career direction. My school’s MRP Program offers five specializations within Planning:

    1.Land-Use Planning and Urban Design;
    2.Housing, Local Economic Development, and Community Planning;
    3.Transportation Planning;
    4.Environmental Planning; and
    5.Urban Regional Information Systems.

    I’m having trouble deciding which way to go, particularly among options 1, 2, and 3. I’m also interested in environmental planning but am not seriously considering it as a career. Option 5, GIS, isn't something I would want to concentrate in.

    My background is in architecture (5-year Bachelors degree, 5 years of experience), so it makes some sense career-wise to go into a field such as perhaps public housing or land use planning. However, while I do find housing particularly interesting (even much more intensely of late), a dream has always been to go into transportation planning. But, in a sense, the transportation field would be like starting over. I am not concerned so much with lower salary and such things but more with the disheartening idea of starting all over at perhaps age 35 (when I will likely graduate since I am in school only part-time). I feel like I ought to be hitting my stride soon rather than starting over from zero, professionally speaking. I am not happy in architecture but feel I probably shouldn’t abandon it entirely after all this effort.

    One other point is that living in Albany, New York I feel I would have many opportunities in housing and community development, probably some in land use planning, but relatively few opportunities in urban design or especially in transportation – for that I would benefit greatly from moving downstate to the metropolitan area (which may not be practical).

    Do you see my dilemma? Any thoughts? (I don’t have to decide any time soon.) I don't expect anyone to decide for me but would enjoy hearing any advice.

    Thanks,
    Rob

  2. #2
    Cyburbian
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    Started my career in Transportation. Put about 15 years into the field. Used to advise students who came in to talk to me that, financially it was one of the more secure areas. I worked for a Metropolitan Planning Organization. Paid out of the gasoline tax, so as long as people drove, I got paid. My area covered many different issues, we did road surface management (i.e. maintenance) studies, we did long range transportation forecasts, zoning and land use issues.

    I am currently a town planner and have been for the past seven years. The transportation background did not hurt me in the transition because I had significant hands on with local boards from my past work at the regional level. Granted I was not in the modeling end of the transportation field, more the land use side that fed into it and the budgeting for projects.

    My background is a Political Science undergraduate degree and graduate course work at the University of Mass in Regional Planning. I actually focused more on economic development. I wound up in Transportation due to an internship and a transportation job being the first solid job to come along when I left graduate school.
    Planning is much like acting, as my old theater professor used to say, "If you sin, sin boldly, only you know if you are ad libbing." I follow this adage almost daily.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian The One's avatar
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    Hmmmm.....

    I chose environmental planning, not so much for a career in that area of planning, but because it was what I was most interested in at the time. Since then, I've not held a specific environmental planner position, rather, I've been kind of a "jack of all trades" in the planning field. In fact, one of my weakest areas now is environmental planning, mainly because I do the least work in that field and haven't kept up with all the specific law/agency changes and specific requirements of federal rules.

    Having an architecture background and five years experience can only help your case. Do you have your AIA? If so, it won't really matter what you pick, because employers will be ready and willing to pay you to be a planner (my opinion). One other thing, don't accept that you will be payed less, you shouldn't be, once you've obtained the grad degree and maintain your AIA, the sky's the limit......
    Skilled Adoxographer

  4. #4
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    Thanks for the responses on this and other questions I’ve asked – this board has been quite helpful.

    Seems like many folks in Planning switch at some point from one aspect of Planning to another, or between government work, private consulting, and non-profit. This is encouraging to hear.

    Can anyone comment on whether it would be a good idea to have more than one concentration – is this something that is even done? Is this overkill?

    Incidentally, no, I am not yet a registered architect but plan to be (and plan to be an AIA member) by the time I am graduated from my MRP program. I can imagine this can only be helpful – but probably far more helpful in something like housing than in transportation corridor management (where it probably wouldn’t help, right?).

    Rob

  5. #5
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by RSW
    – but probably far more helpful in something like housing than in transportation corridor management (where it probably wouldn’t help, right?).

    Rob
    Don't let yourself get pigeon-holed no matter where you go or what you do. I spent 14 years as a Transportation Planner. In the last eleven I never once ran TranPlan or any of the other modelling software. That was left to the engineers. Transportation Planning, even pre-ISTEA (TEA 21 now) goes well beyond the modelling and delves into amazing areas of land use. Smart Growth, village centers, new urbanism are all buzz words in the transportation realm as much as the TIP, SIP or AQMP. The agency I worked for worked with the transit entity of site design issues, towns on urban design etc. It would have been great to have an architect on board to turn some of our thoughts into actual designs.
    Planning is much like acting, as my old theater professor used to say, "If you sin, sin boldly, only you know if you are ad libbing." I follow this adage almost daily.

  6. #6
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    Well, I am still considering the field of Housing & Community Development and the area of Transportation Planning. My heart is probably more in the latter though as I mentioned previously my architecture background may not be the best fit.

    Can anyone enlighten me as to the range of jobs in transportation planning? My passion is mass transit but I'd be keen to know the range of opportunities within that as well as the entire spectrum of transportation planning type jobs.

    Maybe this was discussed at another time and someone could provide a link?

    Thanks for any help!

    Rob

  7. #7
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    It sounds like you could combine several skills/concentrations effectively. As a transportation planner, you could have the opportunity work on some of the some of the transit projects - commuter rail, light rail, bus rapid transit, etc. - being implemented in metropolitan areas across the country. From an economic development point-of-view, you would be involved in planning and implementing the many transit-oriented developments being encouraged to develop along these routes. As a designer, you would be able to integrate buildings with transportation systems or design transportation infrastructure. The broad background can help you to integrate the different needs, uses, and specialties. You might be the "big picture" guy.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  8. #8
    Cyburbian
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    Been researching this myself..
    According to the traffic director in my city, transportation planning is a field where you can always find work. In many areas in the country, land-use planning is a four-letter word, but they still need good, friendly, safe, effective streets.
    My BA was in a focus of community and economic development. I like my job - but the politics can be draining for me. I can see how it has the potential to make one feel like the 'evil vizier' at times when one gets put in the middle of several competing interests with privacy and political concerns, or when one is told to say, solicit public input in an open and inclusive fashion 'so that they can feel good about coming to the same conclusion as we did' (flashbacks of the instructions from my practicum project, heh) or something else of the sort. Part of that for me is just my temperament - I like people, I like community, but it tires me out, as does conflict, faster than most people. The tools you get in it are great, though, imo.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian
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    Same Problem

    I am in a similar situation. I am currently constructing my program statement and find myself struggling between (1) two concentrations (Housing & Community Economic Development - the concentration I was accepted under - and City Design & Development and (2) whether or not to pursue an Urban Design certificate.

    My interest lies in the redevelopment of major American cities, specifically historic preservation, adaptive reuse, affordable housing, the development of main street retail, and mixed used infill development via public-private partnerships and special financing districts (TIFs and BIDs) for inner-city neighborhoods. After completing my studies, I hope to pursue a career in real estate development creating innovative mixed use developments in the urban core in the private sector.

    Though the concentration does not mean anything when it comes to what courses I have to take but it does have a lot to do with what kind of thesis I'll have to produce and perhaps how I'll be perceived by potential employers. If someone could impart some wisdom, I would appreciate it.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by schristmas
    Though the concentration does not mean anything when it comes to what courses I have to take but it does have a lot to do with what kind of thesis I'll have to produce and perhaps how I'll be perceived by potential employers. If someone could impart some wisdom, I would appreciate it.

    I don't mean to brag, but... my thesis has been cited in several published articles, and one of the chief findings has been included in an urban geography textbook. It was good. It was highly relevant to the work I wanted to do. None of my employers ever gave a d*mn about it. You will spend an incredible amount of time researching and writing your thesis. Pick a topic you are passionate about, and don't worry about future employers.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

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