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Thread: Physical Planning, Policy Planning... other Planning... what do I want to do?

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    Cyburbian jread's avatar
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    Physical Planning, Policy Planning... other Planning... what do I want to do?

    I'm now trying to decide on which area of planning I want to go into. I'd like to stay in local government but I'd be willing to go to a private firm if it was worth it. I've realized, though, that I don't really know exactly what "Physical Planning" is compared to other types. What are the different sections of planning that most people generally fall into?

    Personally, I don't have much use for politics and am more interested in how the city actually takes shape on the ground. I'm guessing this is what physical planning is. I do know that the idea of site plan review and fielding phone calls all day doesn't sound very fun (though we all have to start somewhere). Anything that involves the "big picture" and research into demographics, etc. is what I'm all about.

    Based on this, I would like to have some opinions on what may be the best route for me to take in the planning world. Thanks
    "I don't suffer from insanity... I enjoy every single minute of it!"

  2. #2
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    I personally prefer physical planning over policy. Physical planning is dealing with zoning, infrastructure, urban design. That is where the true impact of planning occurs, because your work would most directly affect/influence the physical environment. Policy planning would be more dealing with processes, master plans, legislation, etc, which means your efforts are less likely to be implemented in the physical realm.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

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  3. #3
    Cyburbian jread's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by mendelman
    I personally prefer physical planning over policy. Physical planning is dealing with zoning, infrastructure, urban design. That is where the true impact of planning occurs, because your work would most directly affect/influence the physical environment. Policy planning would be more dealing with processes, master plans, legislation, etc, which means your efforts are less likely to be implemented in the physical realm.
    Ahh, that's what I needed to know. Thanks
    "I don't suffer from insanity... I enjoy every single minute of it!"

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    Forums Administrator & Gallery Moderator NHPlanner's avatar
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    I do both, and like the mix it adds to the job. I'm not sure I would enjoy only working on one.
    "Growth is inevitable and desirable, but destruction of community character is not. The question is not whether your part of the world is going to change. The question is how." -- Edward T. McMahon, The Conservation Fund

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    Cyburbian jread's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by NHPlanner
    I do both, and like the mix it adds to the job. I'm not sure I would enjoy only working on one.
    Would you say that you get to do something different every day? I hoping that planning will provide a lot more variety than what GIS has.
    "I don't suffer from insanity... I enjoy every single minute of it!"

  6. #6
    Forums Administrator & Gallery Moderator NHPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by jread
    Would you say that you get to do something different every day? I hoping that planning will provide a lot more variety than what GIS has.
    I rarely do the same thing on a daily basis. Because we have only 2 planners in the office, we both wear a lot of hats. It's that variety that makes coming to work that much more enjoyable.

    But, then again, you (from reading your posts) don't seem to be keen on the political aspects of jobs, which I must admit I enjoy (both the good and the bad....but the good typically wins out where I work).
    "Growth is inevitable and desirable, but destruction of community character is not. The question is not whether your part of the world is going to change. The question is how." -- Edward T. McMahon, The Conservation Fund

  7. #7
    Cyburbian jread's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by NHPlanner
    I rarely do the same thing on a daily basis. Because we have only 2 planners in the office, we both wear a lot of hats. It's that variety that makes coming to work that much more enjoyable.
    That sounds great

    But, then again, you (from reading your posts) don't seem to be keen on the political aspects of jobs, which I must admit I enjoy (both the good and the bad....but the good typically wins out where I work).
    No, I'm not all that political but I know I will have to learn to be to some extent. My classes in public policy and legislative process this semester should help me gain a better understanding (and maybe appreciation) for this aspect of planning.
    "I don't suffer from insanity... I enjoy every single minute of it!"

  8. #8
    Cyburbian
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    Jread-

    I've been scanning your various posts over the past few days with a lot of interest but haven't been able to reply (the life of a gov't planner is BUSY!) ... as someone who got a masters degree (non-accredited and fairly worthless) and who's been in the field for about two years now, here's some thoughts:

    most of the planning education that you'll get out there will be more policy-oriented than physical planning oriented. That's been the case for maybe 40 years. If you are interested in physical planning, you'll need to take architecture and possibly engineering classes. Judging from your past posts, I'd say that you will be more interested in the architectural route. Another route that you should seriously consider is urban geography. Its obviously more of an academic route, but you will study everything from demographics to how cities change over time to architecture to movement of people... its the less applied version of planning (you're not writing a zoning code or an impact fee), but its a field that I think is fascinating- and its one which the average, everyday planning job (especially at the entry level) doesn't always get to really think about because your nose is so stuck to the grindstone with small, individualized projects. So, if I were you, I'd take a look at either some urban geography programs out there, or at least some urban geography classes. Of course, I don't know your educational situation and you might be ready to get out.

    As far as the work goes- if you get an entry level job at a local government, no matter where, much of what you will do for the first couple of years will likely be working on site plans for compliance with zoning regs (and stormwater regs and building codes and anything else that might apply); working with developers on subdividing their land; you will spend a lot of time talking with people on the phone or at the counter (and don't knock this- people will come to you and be very intimidated by the process, whether they are the ones initiating it or whether they are concerned neighbors. You will be their guide, and it can be very rewarding); you will serve as the hub of information for large projects (you aren't the engineering expert, or the trails expert, or the DEQ expert, or the roads expert, or the wildlife expert, or the housing expert, or the water rights expert; or the fire department, or the sheriff's department, or the school rep- but you will know how to contact all those people and you will be the facilitator that puts everybody in contact with everybody else. Planners are the hub.)

    In short, if you are a local government planner, to use an old phrase, you'll be the jack of all trades and the master of none. You'll have to know a little bit about everything but you won't be the expert on any of it. If you pay attention, of course, you'll start knowing quite a bit about a lot of things. People will come to you and say "the world is changing" and it will be your job to help them understand it, participate in it, and guide it. Not to sound grandiose, of course...

    If you're lucky, you'll get to work for a place that is very involved with neighborhood or area planning or some other type of long-range planning. At the ground level, of course, you probably won't be the one facilitating the meeting or writing policy, but you can be around it and learn, and its what most of us went to school for.

    So, i haven't been able to really stay on target with the question, but hopefully its interesting- working as a local government planner will, if you go about it right, be about setting the stage (through codes and regulations and incentives, etc..) for good development to happen. If you are on the other side of the fence and working for a private firm, you will be the one that could make that development happen. It all depends on your preference. Personally, i enjoy working for the community to try and set the stage... that's the more rewarding place for me, and one which I'm better at- design is not my specific talent, but I've got good people skills and can facilitate and communities and developers need this if good development is going to happen. You may be more interested in actually designing projects that help the community work and look better... then again, maybe you'd like to take the academic or think-tank route and focus more on larger issues of design and urban geography, without being directly involved- also could be a rewarding route.

    Sounds like you've got a lot to think about, my friend... but its good to know that there's passion out there. Just keep asking questions and reading as much as you can and talking to people. It always falls into place if you're mindful enough.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian jread's avatar
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    vaughan,

    Thank you so very much for your post! That was very helpful for me and very motivating. If you don't mind, I would like to ask you more questions when I get a chance (gonna be pretty busy today).
    "I don't suffer from insanity... I enjoy every single minute of it!"

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    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by jread
    vaughan,

    Thank you so very much for your post! That was very helpful for me and very motivating. If you don't mind, I would like to ask you more questions when I get a chance (gonna be pretty busy today).

    Fire away!

  11. #11
    Cyburbian Plus
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    I agree with mendelman.

    Quote Originally posted by NHPlanner
    I rarely do the same thing on a daily basis. Because we have only 2 planners in the office, we both wear a lot of hats. It's that variety that makes coming to work that much more enjoyable.
    That is my situation also.
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    Member CosmicMojo's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by vaughan
    most of the planning education that you'll get out there will be more policy-oriented than physical planning oriented. That's been the case for maybe 40 years. If you are interested in physical planning, you'll need to take architecture and possibly engineering classes.
    I agree, except she left out the best fit for physical planning: Landscape Architecture; that is who does most of the designing. And you'd need to work for a private company where the designing is done rather than a municipality where they check the designs for compliance.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by CosmicMojo
    I agree, except she left out the best fit for physical planning: Landscape Architecture; that is who does most of the designing. And you'd need to work for a private company where the designing is done rather than a municipality where they check the designs for compliance.
    I agree- landscape architecture is a good addition.

    One other thing- I ain't no she. I'm a dude. Let's make that clear.

    was that an overly femaile post? Good god, one more thing to worry about...

  14. #14
    Member CosmicMojo's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by vaughan
    I ain't no she. I'm a dude. Let's make that clear.
    was that an overly femaile post? Good god, one more thing to worry about...
    Sorry DUDE!


    I guess I thought it was a woman because it was so insightful, understanding and helpful.
    JUST KIDDING!
    cheers

  15. #15
    Cyburbian jread's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by vaughan
    Fire away!
    Sent you a PM
    "I don't suffer from insanity... I enjoy every single minute of it!"

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