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Thread: Breaking into planning with an M.P.A.

  1. #1

    Breaking into planning with an M.P.A.

    Hi Folks,

    I have a Masters in Public Administration (plus some additional grad courses in Urban Sociology) and have worked for the past 6 years as an analyst planning and evaluating waste reduction policies and programs in New York City government. I have not done permitting, land use reviews, site plan reviews, EIS's or other tasks in what my colleagues call "hard planning" but am generally aware of what these activities entail. Instead, have a background in statistics, policy research, program development, economic analysis, etc. (i.e. policy wonkish type things).

    But now I want to move to New England and become a regional planner. Without boring everyone with the details about why, I would just like to ask: do you think it is feasible for me to break into this field without an M.U.P.? I have a bit of GIS experience but not much. I have been reading the posts on this forum and it seems that planning is a very competitive field to break into...

    Many thanks,
    Sanitation Sam

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    It is competitive, but many of us have managed it without a degree in planning. The trick is to find a job that matches your abilities and background. They are there. You may not get into physical planning right away, but once you are in the organization you can gradually become more involved and build those skills.
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  3. #3
    Cyburbian Masswich's avatar
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    Yes if you want

    It is possible to do almost anything if you network ahead of time and have a good skill set- which it appears that you do. However, I would warn you that the regional planning gig, at least in Massachusetts, is not very large set of jobs overall, and doesn't pay that well.

    Quote Originally posted by Sanitation Sam
    Hi Folks,

    I have a Masters in Public Administration (plus some additional grad courses in Urban Sociology) and have worked for the past 6 years as an analyst planning and evaluating waste reduction policies and programs in New York City government. I have not done permitting, land use reviews, site plan reviews, EIS's or other tasks in what my colleagues call "hard planning" but am generally aware of what these activities entail. Instead, have a background in statistics, policy research, program development, economic analysis, etc. (i.e. policy wonkish type things).

    But now I want to move to New England and become a regional planner. Without boring everyone with the details about why, I would just like to ask: do you think it is feasible for me to break into this field without an M.U.P.? I have a bit of GIS experience but not much. I have been reading the posts on this forum and it seems that planning is a very competitive field to break into...

    Many thanks,
    Sanitation Sam

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    I have an MPA and no MUP and I dare say I have been successful as a planner. However, as an undergrad with a BS in Public Affairs / Urban Studies I was fortunate to get in on the ground floor with internships and entry level planning jobs. You may need to make a lateral career move, or worse, a lessor paying position to get into "hard planning" but yes, your degree is certainly applicable! Do not be discouraged!

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Plus Whose Yur Planner's avatar
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    I agree with Chet and Cardinal. Most of land use planning is on the job training and the only way to get it is to work you way up in a planning department. Personally, I have a BSPA from IU and have been a planning director/zoning administrator for 7 years. However, before this I worked my way up in a planning department for 9 years. Another suggestion, when you get in a planning department, don't turn any assignment down you'll be suprised what you learn even in the most mundane assignments. Further, look for every opportunity to increase your knowledge base and skills.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Glasshouse's avatar
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    I gageated fom Ranco Elementy at da tops of my cass. ( i was da only kid dat could count my toes) an im still a learnin.

    Bob

  7. #7
    Cyburbian Mud Princess's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Sanitation Sam
    I have a Masters in Public Administration (plus some additional grad courses in Urban Sociology) and have worked for the past 6 years as an analyst planning and evaluating waste reduction policies and programs in New York City government. I have not done permitting, land use reviews, site plan reviews, EIS's or other tasks in what my colleagues call "hard planning" but am generally aware of what these activities entail. Instead, have a background in statistics, policy research, program development, economic analysis, etc. (i.e. policy wonkish type things).
    If you're interested in economic development, we can use you!

    Seriously, an MPA & the background you describe would lend themselves well to this field. I can't speak about the land use stuff, though - I'll leave that to my Cyburbia colleagues...

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Seabishop's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Masswich
    ... However, I would warn you that the regional planning gig, at least in Massachusetts, is not very large set of jobs overall, and doesn't pay that well.
    Heed Masswich's advice about salaries - they seem to be the lowest paying positions in the field (which makes them the easiest to break into). Maybe a private sector position for a firm that often deals with regional issues could be a compromise goal if money will be an issue?

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Seabishop
    Heed Masswich's advice about salaries - they seem to be the lowest paying positions in the field (which makes them the easiest to break into). Maybe a private sector position for a firm that often deals with regional issues could be a compromise goal if money will be an issue?
    Then again, the economic development salaries tend to be some of the best.
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  10. #10
    Cyburbian
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    HMMMM, I have to disagree a little with MASSWICH and Seabishop. I worked in regional planning for most of my career. I left the regional gig about 7 years ago now and took a pay cut to work closer to home. I do not think I have caught up yet with where I would have been had I stayed put. I will admit that a started low, $12k in 1983 in a NH RPA, but three years later I was at $27k when I took a job in Boston. By the time I left 7 years ago in 98 I was up to a little over $60k. Looking at several Massachusetts websites, there are still many people working for these agencies that were there when I arrived on the scene as an intern in 1977 at a Western MA RPA. Through longevity you can make a decent wage. Possibly better than at the local level with longevity. In addition, had I stayed at MAPC today I would be getting 25 vacation days per year, on top of the payed comp time for night meetings, 3 personal days and all the holidays that come with state employment in MA.

    As a planner with a Political Science degree and graduate course work in Planning, I was clearly a policy wonk dealing with spending plans and government legislation within the Transportation Planning field.
    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.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by DennisMaPlanner
    HMMMM, I have to disagree a little with MASSWICH and Seabishop. I worked in regional planning for most of my career.
    Perhaps this is a regional phenom. Around here, working for a RPC will get you 0.80 on the dollar compared to local gov'ts, and 0.65 on the dollar compared to consulting.

  12. #12
    Corn Burning Fool giff57's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Chet
    Perhaps this is a regional phenom. Around here, working for a RPC will get you 0.80 on the dollar compared to local gov'ts, and 0.65 on the dollar compared to consulting.

    Here is an example.
    “As soon as public service ceases to be the chief business of the citizens, and they would rather serve with their money than with their persons, the State is not far from its fall”
    Jean-Jacques Rousseau

  13. #13
    Cyburbian GeogPlanner's avatar
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    Regional jobs do pay little to start...although with turnover, advancement is quick it seems. I know someone who came in at an Asst. Planner level in mid-2000 and is now a Project Manager. I don't know about the person's pay, but I would venture that he could get a job easily with the experience. Regional agencies have tough budgets and rely on grants to an extent, making salaries lower... which is too bad, b/c regional planning is important IMHO.
    Information necessitating a change of design will be conveyed to the designer after and only after the design is complete. (Often called the 'Now They Tell Us' Law) - Fyfe's First Law of Revision

    We don't believe in planners and deciders making the decisions on behalf of Americans. -- George W. Bush , Scranton, PA -- 09/06/2000

  14. #14

    Thank you all for the input

    To all who responded,

    I appreciate the realism and the encouragement, it helps a lot.

    S. Sam

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