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.