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Thread: Public agency vs private firm

  1. #1

    Public agency vs private firm

    Hey all,

    I was wondering what was the difference between working in a Public Planning Department like a City or County, vs working for a Private consulting firm. Also, specifically I wanted to know if the Private firm planners actually go out and inspect the counties and cities that employ them. For instance, one private firm I know of has done GP updates for Humboldt, San Diego, Watsonville, places all around California. Did they actually have to go to those places and live there for a while? I think that would be more inteteresting than working in the Public realm because you are confined to the city or county you work in, which seems boring.

  2. #2
    Quote Originally posted by aspiringplanner View post
    Hey all,

    I was wondering what was the difference between working in a Public Planning Department like a City or County, vs working for a Private consulting firm. Also, specifically I wanted to know if the Private firm planners actually go out and inspect the counties and cities that employ them. For instance, one private firm I know of has done GP updates for Humboldt, San Diego, Watsonville, places all around California. Did they actually have to go to those places and live there for a while? I think that would be more inteteresting than working in the Public realm because you are confined to the city or county you work in, which seems boring.
    I think you should change to login name to 'ambivalentplanner.'

    Kidding. Private sector planners typically do work for multiple municipalities at a time, which does permit greater variety. But the planners themselves do their work via site visits. They don't actually live an itinerant lifestyle, traveling from town to town and doing plan updates. Although there are 'career temp' planners who do that (as I've learned from this forum).

  3. #3
    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    I agree with the OP's suggestion that private sector planners/consultants should get to know the community there are working for, and there is no substitute for actually living in a place. A pet peeve of mine is consultants who don't make the effort to get to know a place and its history/ planning challenges. These firms tend to advocate generic solutions that may not be practical given the setting.

  4. #4
    Quote Originally posted by hilldweller View post
    I agree with the OP's suggestion that private sector planners/consultants should get to know the community there are working for, and there is no substitute for actually living in a place. A pet peeve of mine is consultants who don't make the effort to get to know a place and its history/ planning challenges. These firms tend to advocate generic solutions that may not be practical given the setting.
    Yeah, but what's your solution? If a firm gets a contract to update a master plan over the course of 10 months, do you really expect them to send a planner to live in that place? Would you want to work for that firm? How would that even work?

    Just to play devil's advocate, I could say that many municipalities have exaggerated opinions of their own uniqueness, and that at the end of the day they all have the same pad site design for their Bennigan's.

    But it seems that what you're really arguing for is an increased hiring of full time 'town planners' by municipalities, rather than farming out planning functions to consultants.
    Last edited by SpringfieldMonorail; 31 Aug 2006 at 2:21 PM.

  5. #5

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    I think there are a handful of planners who have worked on both sides, including me. I'm on the private side of planning now and have been for the last 6+ years. Previous to that I spent 8 years in local government planning, and even 2 years with non-profits.

    Pros and cons of government -- I found a certain rhythm to the planning department in my town, largely due to process. It takes X months to move a project through approvals, with stops along the way; it take X months to establish a new TIF district; it takes X months to review, approve and monitor the contracts of CDBG recipients, and so on. This means you can read the ebbs and flows of work a little better. On the downside, yes, a focus on one town or even one part of one town can become boring and even bit limiting, if you want to get a broad range of knowledge of the profession. And there's the issue of dealing with local political officials

    Pros and cons of consulting -- Lots of variety, lots of chances to get to know new places as intimately as you can. My work has taken me as far west as Las Vegas and as far east as Newark, NJ. You have a little more freedom to express an opinion or make a recommendation because there usually aren't any political repercussions. People hire you for your expertise in a given area, and can be somewhat deferential because you've been hired to solve a problem they've struggled with. The downside is there is always a certain amount of tension because you've got to bring new jobs in, spending time outside of your normal billable time to respond to RFPs and the like, and the dollar is king -- if you're not billable you're not being profitable.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian RubberStamp Man's avatar
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    Thats a tough question b/c it all depends on the type of firm vs the type of public sector. Some firms pretty much specialize in development approvals and a subset of that just tweak designs they have used on other places. Some municipalities (larger ones) have for all intents and purposes what I call an R&D section where they develop plans and studies that smaller munis usually farm out to the private sector. Some firms also do both approvals and studies and some just studies. Some munis just concentrate on approvals and the smaller ones you can be a jack of all trades where ALL planning, long range, approvals, special studies are your responsibility including by-law enforcement and building code! So it all really depends.

    In terms of quality of life private sector tends to work longer hours and travel more (i.e. on the road more rather than the nostalgic sit and study a Place) and public arguably has better job security.

    I also find that in the public sector I am for more knowledgable and intimate with the muni I am responsible for and tend to get the "feel" of how things may or may not work. In the private I found myself more removed the munis I was studying and upon reflection not sure if I offered as much insight as I could now.

    I find the private has the chance to be more creative but often they are actually less so b/c of their clients. Public may have to deal with politicians but private has to deal with clients who may not care about the public interest and then you've got an dilemna of ethics vs. food on your family's table.

    For me it would be more important to differentiate the type of work you want to be doing and then looking for the appropriate place to provide that whether is public or private. Experience in both sectors though is always ideal. It also depends on your priorities in life such as time with family.

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