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Thread: Investigation of careers in planning

  1. #1
    Member
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    Investigation of careers in planning

    As part of my quest to find my ideal career, I've been investigating planning for the past couple of months. Planning is one of four fields that I'm digging into. I've performed online research (including a bit in these forums), read some books, and I've interviewed planners in land use, transportation, economic development, and GIS in both public and private settings. Here are some of the themes I pulled together from all this work:
    • Planning itself is a hugely broad field.
    • Planners need a wide range of skills including creativity, problem solving, communication, project management and negotiation.
    • The planner's integral task, creation of a plan, is detail-oriented work that includes a balance of self-driven research and collaboration with other planners, landscape architects, economists, developers, clients, public and private organizations, and the public.
    • Planning is important work that goes largely unnoticed in the "outside" world. The rewards are mostly internal, such as kudos from fellow planners, getting solutions implemented, and sometimes public acceptance.
    • Planning is mostly an office job, with occasional ventures out to sites.
    • Planners "get paid like teachers," in the words of one planner I talked to. This seems to vary a lot, and seems to me that the median $60K as defined on the APA website isn't too shabby. Maybe the folks I talked to were on the lower end of the scale.
    • Planners in larger cities (and larger organizations) tend to specialize more than those in smaller communities.
    • Planners in smaller communities have more autonomy than those in larger ones.
    • Challenges and frustrations include bureaucracy, unrealistic expectations on the side of the client and/or public, developers pushing plans that stretch the code, and not being able to implement good plans because the code won't allow some piece of it.
    • The more experience you have, the more likely you'll be able to work on bigger, longer term planning projects.
    • New planners tend to do the "grunt work," often driven by a mentor or project manager who defines the tasks that need to be done.
    • Planning requires a lot of patience. Not many plans actually get implemented, and you're often not involved in its implementation.
    • Planning can be fairly political, which adds some baggage to those who want to achieve ideals. This is probably a good thing for the longevity of a community, but it can be a frustration to deal with.
    • The MURP is clearly the way to go to get into the planning field.
    • There are lots of ways to get involved in planning prior to the MURP, including joining public meetings, taking master's classes, and volunteering.

    What do you all think, am I off the mark at all here? Are there important points that should be added?

    For the most part, I'm feeling like planning is a great field, and I'm glad there are great people out there who are doing it. Particularly here in Portland, planners do a lot of good work that shapes the city in a positive way, probably more so than any other force. In my gut, I'm not sure it's for me. I've got a few more questions I need to answer, and once I finish researching the other 3 fields, I'll still do a full comparison.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Planderella's avatar
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    It sounds like you've hit the nail on the head, although it seems as if you missed a theme - community participation/involvement. A large portion of a planner's work involves interfacing with the community, whether it's performing front desk duty in the office or facilitating public meetings in the communities.
    "A witty woman is a treasure, a witty beauty is a power!"

  3. #3
    Cyburbian
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    Where to begin...

    Most of it I agree with, however I disagree on the following:

    The planner's integral task, creation of a plan, is detail-oriented work that includes a balance of self-driven research and collaboration with other planners, landscape architects, economists, developers, clients, public and private organizations, and the public

    You left out architects, engineers, ecologists, elected/appointed officials, to name a few, but you generally have a good idea of all the different groups planners may work with.


    [I]Planners in larger cities (and larger organizations) tend to specialize more than those in smaller communities.[/I

    I partly agree. There are plenty of smaller planing firms (including independent consultants) that are highly specialized.


    Planners "get paid like teachers".

    I wish I had three months of paid summer time off However, the salary you described seems accurate.


    Planners in smaller communities have more autonomy than those in larger ones

    Don't know about that. I have clients in smaller communities who have a very powerful and vocal municipal board and planning commission and the administrative staff does what they are told.


    The more experience you have, the more likely you'll be able to work on bigger, longer term planning projects.

    ...or focus on a specific type of planning.


    Not many plans actually get implemented, and you're often not involved in its implementation.

    Disagree with that. Have plenty of plans that are implemented.


    The MURP is clearly the way to go to get into the planning field

    Highly disagree with that. I have a bachelors in planning, and I personally think that undergraduate planning programs are very undervalued. Some, not all, graduate planning students, who don't have a planning background, have many short-term and long-term goals about what they want to do as planners, but they often pick the wrong planning school to go to.

    A planning education needs to be stressed more in high schools. I think there is more of an emphasis on architecture and civil engineering. As a result, professionals often discover planning years after they have been working in a different field, go back to get a masters in planning, only to find out that they wanted to do one type of planning but have been typecast in a different type of planning (design vs. economic development, historic preservation vs. transportation planning).



    There are lots of ways to get involved in planning prior to the MURP, including joining public meetings, taking master's classes, and volunteering

    Networking, networking, networking!!!!


    Well, that's it for my two cents.

  4. #4
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    Great feedback

    Quote Originally posted by nrschmid View post
    As a result, professionals often discover planning years after they have been working in a different field, go back to get a masters in planning, only to find out that they wanted to do one type of planning but have been typecast in a different type of planning (design vs. economic development, historic preservation vs. transportation planning).
    That's exactly what I want to avoid! Thanks very much for your candidness, and your additions to my list.

    I think you are correct about getting the word out about planning to younger folks. In general, we as a society could do a lot more to help youngsters in their education and career choices, by exposing them to more possibilities (such as planning) and by working with them to figure what they really have a passion for. Not what mom and dad would ideally be proud of, ie the old engineer/doctor/lawyer/get-a-good-paying-secure-boring-job expectation. I'm doing this now, and better late than never.

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