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Thread: What non-planning majors should know

  1. #1
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    What non-planning majors should know

    Hi, I'm an undergrad student majoring in economics. I'm deliberately avoiding urban planning major because I'm almost certain that I'll get a masters in urban planning and bachelors in planning-masters in planning can be pretty redundant. I had an internship with a local economic development agency and I realized that communication skill, both written and verbal, is single most important skill that any would-be planners should have. But other than that, people are telling me that basic knowledge of GIS and any modeling skills (econometric/statistical, geospatial, demographics) as well as understanding of public bureaucracy and policy-making process are important.

    Besides above "generic" advice, what other particular advices do you have to give to an arpiring planner? And how important is public finance or general accounting knowledge when it comes to getting a full-time job in public or private planning agency? I know that a coursework or an academic major alone won't determine my career but I'm hoping to get some useful advice.

    Thank you and have a wonderful day.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Dashboard's avatar
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    Public Budgeting, Management courses, and Public Speaking (especially public speaking!) will be very beneficial. Many public administration courses can prove to be helpful, especially for the public sector. Finance/budgeting is important for down the road if you want to pursue a director/management position. My undergrad was in Public Admin, so I suppose I am a little biased!

  3. #3
    Cyburbian
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    Island-State Republic of Singapore
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    In my first year at university, I emailed a planner working in a consultancy about advice and this is what I got from her:

    "As I do not know what you know and have studied thus far about social policy making, urban geography and planning, please bear with me as I ramble on.

    1. Availability and demand for urban planners in the private and public sectors

    Planners come in all shapes and sizes. A person with a geography, sociology, engineering or economics degree (to name a few typical degrees) can be a planner. Planning is not so much a degree, but a job description and an area of study. Although some people may dispute my description, but that is my opinion!

    Planning is typically a public sector job. Especially policy planning. Careers as a planner in the private sector in Singapore are very limited and most planners in the private sector are architecture based. Planners in the private sector that do not have a architecture base typically work in very large companies where they work as a member of a team that would consist of engineers, architects, economists.

    (Please note that this differs from city and country, due to different systems available. What most consultants would do in Australia/NZ/USA are actually led, planned and provided for by the public service in most Asian cities - ie transport and infrastructure provision, land development opportunities, community facilities like schools, hospitals, etc, which explains the difference.)

    2. Qualifications for Urban Planning

    Typically, a degree in urban planning/urban and regional planning/town planning etc; geography, sociology, engineering or economics.

    Topics covered in studies should include statistics, geography, economics, history, mathematics, the sciences. It is not a complete list but these are the fundamentals.

    Why? Knowledge is one of the planner’s most important tools.

    Statistics - There is need to search for and understand the numbers that are critical to understand the issues on hand. There is a need to comprehend what is true and false. Statistics can be very overwhelming, may be very easily misinterpreted and can be used to deceive. So you need to know how read the numbers and figure out what to use to tell your story and whether someone is conning you.

    Geography - Part and parcel of planning is space. You need to know where you are. Is it China, India, Singapore, Thailand? Is it near an urban area or rural? What is the population? What is the economic base? What is gender mix? What are the cohorts? Is the ground flood prone? Is it agricultural land? Is it sloping? What are the gradients? These factors will influence the planning of the site.

    Economics - Money. Supply and demand. Understanding the economics helps in the provisions of facilities, the housing types, the commercial types etc. It helps to optimize the use of the land. Please note I used the word "optimize" and not "maximize". This is based on philosophy. Each of us have different philosophies in life and it influences us. I personally believe that maximization depletes and does not bring out the best or the most in the long run.

    History - Tells us what has happened before. What where the implications of certain actions? Should it be repeated? How can we prevent or minimize the effects of a certain policy or action knowing what has happened in the past?

    Mathematics - Sometimes the work is simply mathematical. Sit and count. What is the magic number? Is there one?

    Sciences - You need to have a basic understanding of biology, chemistry and physics as information is part and parcel of the trade. What are the implications of placing a wafer fabrication plant in Beijing? Answer: Not feasible as the water consumption is very high. Beijing is suffering from severe water limitations. Placing a use that will consume such huge amounts of water places a dangerous burden on the city. Why not recycle? Then you will need to know what is in the effluent. Will it affect the environment down stream?

    (I'd add to this, having worked a few years, design - a capacity to appreciate space and design; law - especially in interpretation of legislation; and whatever sort of technicalities you'd need for whatever specialism you're in)

    Good plannning takes into consideration local context. That is called sensitive planning. No two conditions are identical. No two grounds are the same.


    Are you expected to know all this before you leave school? Of course not! It would be most helpful if you did but learn things in your stride.



    3. Qualities of a planner.
    Immense curiosity. Once a planner friend described planners as "professional kay pohs". I bristled at first but having thought about it a little more, I agree. Planners acquire immense amount of information as the work is very diverse. The amount of information one acquires and need to make decisions with can be tremendous. And there is a need sometimes to be very creative to produce solutions. It is hard to be creative when you do not know much!! You never know when you need the information either. Learning is a life long process, and one of the satisfactions is using what you learn imaginatively.

    Learning comes in all forms – from talking with people from all walks of life and ages; reading books (fiction and non-fiction), magazines, journals and newspapers; watching TV; Listening to the radio; to participating in activities, any kind – recreational, leisure, voluntary etc.

    Patience. Planning is political. There is a need to be patient to see something being realized.

    Ability to observe and listen. Lots of things are communicated non-verbally nor in writing, and sometimes speak volumes



    4. Other skills
    Computer skills - word processing, spreadsheets, Autocad (a drawing software that would be good to learn but not essential), (add to this GIS and any statistical package)

    Presentation skills - You need to sell your idea. Learn to speak well in front of a strange and mayb e large audience. Learn to utilize the computer to present your schemes/ideas, in text and graphics. Learn to do reports that are clear to read and comprehend. It is of no use to anyone if you cannot convey your message effectively, even if it is the best idea in the world.

    Remember the K.I.S. principle – Keep It Simple. Keep the message simple and concise. Do not beat around the bush. Tell only the relevant details.

    Writing skills – A badly written report can be very off-putting. Again, it serves no one if no one wants to read nor comprehend your report.

    Another point to note, typically, most planners have a master's degree too, either before starting work or acquired after a few years of work.


    I hope I have not overwhelmed you!!!! Having said and done, planning is in many ways a noble career, in that you are essentially doing it for a greater good. That is, of course, an idealitics view of planning."

    I think it bears much truth - hope it helps you in finding your way around this messy arena called planning!

  4. #4
    Member
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    San Diego, CA
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    Monster Planner Great Post!

    Quote Originally posted by Monster Planner View post
    Hi, I'm an undergrad student majoring in economics. I'm deliberately avoiding urban planning major because I'm almost certain that I'll get a masters in urban planning and bachelors in planning-masters in planning can be pretty redundant. I had an internship with a local economic development agency and I realized that communication skill, both written and verbal, is single most important skill that any would-be planners should have. But other than that, people are telling me that basic knowledge of GIS and any modeling skills (econometric/statistical, geospatial, demographics) as well as understanding of public bureaucracy and policy-making process are important.

    Besides above "generic" advice, what other particular advices do you have to give to an arpiring planner? And how important is public finance or general accounting knowledge when it comes to getting a full-time job in public or private planning agency? I know that a coursework or an academic major alone won't determine my career but I'm hoping to get some useful advice.

    Thank you and have a wonderful day.
    Advice I have learned from working with planners is to know how the private sector works. Think like a developer instead of a bureaucrat. Avoid falling into a groove where you no longer feel like you have to come up with creative planning solutions to benefit both the community and commerce interests.

    A client I do public relations work for wrote what I feel is a great book. Yes, I am a spin doctor, but this is true. He has over 28 years experience in both the public and private sectors. As a planning director he was surprised that no one had written a book on the Initial Study Checklist.

    Moderator note:
    (Dan) Unrelated promotion of Web site with link removed


    This was a long post, but I hope it helps Monster Planner.

    Moderator note:
    (Dan) ceqaguide, you bumped a three year old thread to post a link to your unrelated site. I already deleted four promotional posts you made when you first joined. If you want to advertise a commercial site on Cyburbia, please pay for it. Suspended.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian kw5280's avatar
    Registered
    May 2009
    Location
    Denver, Colorado
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    64
    I agree with Dashboard and would strongly suggest Public Administration. It's good information for both private and public sector jobs. Plus it's a nice way to look at government beyond the trappings of partisan politics. Definitely one of the topics I wish I had discovered earlier.

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