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Thread: Weaknesses and strengths of Columbia

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
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    Weaknesses and strengths of Columbia

    As someone finishing up the first year of the MSUP at Columbia, I thought I would share some thoughts on the program that I haven't seen echoed on here, at least not recently. I know many of you have already made your final admission decisions but hopefully this will be helpful to someone.

    First, the weaknesses: Columbia does not have very much to offer in terms of Land Use, Transportation, and Urban Design. In other words, if you are interested in the physical form of the built environment (what I naively thought planning was all about until I came here), go somewhere else.

    There is only one adjunct professor with any expertise in Urban Design, Michael Fishman. He has a lot of private sector experience and can offer good insights into design, but unfortunately he is very unavailable. He does consulting work and tends to have to fly here and there for meetings, projects, and so on. In a class he co-taught this semester he only made it to about 2/3 of the classes.

    As far as transportation goes, there are just two courses offered per year, taught by an adjunct who is dedicated and knowledgeable.

    There is only one course in Land Use, taught irregularly, covered this year by a visiting professor.

    Also, I have to say that the career guidance offered by the department is very weak. Other than occasional e-mails pointing out some internships, there is basically nothing. There are no alumni events, no career fairs, and no permanent source for internship or job information.

    Now for strengths, Columbia is strong in two areas: international planning and social justice theory. This is where the interests of the full-time faculty lie. There are also several faculty who are highly knowledgeable about New York City (for obvious reasons). So if you know you want to plan in NYC, plan internationally, and/or think deeply about social justice, come to Columbia. If you want to learn the nuts and bolts of planning practice and/or focus on issues that are relevant in the U.S. outside NYC (such as curbing suburban sprawl, developing mass transit for low-density environments, new urbanism, etc), look elsewhere.

  2. #2

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    How will Susan Fainstein's departure for Harvard GSD affect Columbia?

  3. #3
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    For what it's worth, I said no to Columbia. In fact, I said no to all the UP programs and decided to go CE in transportation. I haven't heard anyone come out saying wonderful things about the program either — seems most of the students have a lukewarm feel for the school. And that may just be trying to justify the tuition.

    Columbia seems it'd only be helpful if you're planning on working overseas, where the name will carry far. Not so much here - especially for those intending to work in nyc afterward, where employers do not view columbia with the same respect as nyu.

  4. #4
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    I think we have a thread somewhere that several of us gave reviews and letter grades for each of our respective programs--perhaps this could be combined with that thread.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  5. #5
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Suburb Repairman
    I think we have a thread somewhere that several of us gave reviews and letter grades for each of our respective programs--perhaps this could be combined with that thread.
    See this thread: http://www.cyburbia.org/forums/showt...ight=strengths
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    The ends can justify the means.

  6. #6
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    Based on Columbia's weaknesses, what do the folks who practice international planning end up actually doing. I'm very interested in international planning, but curious what type of planning I'd be left to do if at Columbia.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian
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    I am going to assume (feel free to prove me wrong) that many students who come to Columbia to study international planning are actually international students themselves-who take the degree and return to their home country to practice what is more or less conventional planning, except that it happens to be in a non-US country.

    Other students may be people who already have experience working with some sort of int'l aid group, or the UN, and return to graduate school to get their requisite master's degree needed for career advancement.

    What kind of international planning are you interested in? Many architecture and landscape architecture firms have opened up branch offices in Asia and are recruiting staff to work on urban design and large scale site planning projects, but you'd be better off with an architecture/LA degree and courses in Mandarin Chinese.

    A vague interest in international planning isn't going to help you in graduate school. You need to know specifically what you want to do overseas. Site design or redevelopment projects? Better off with an architecture degree. Economic development? Get a MPP or some type of economics-related degree.



    Quote Originally posted by akk423 View post
    Based on Columbia's weaknesses, what do the folks who practice international planning end up actually doing. I'm very interested in international planning, but curious what type of planning I'd be left to do if at Columbia.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally posted by PennPlanner View post
    I am going to assume (feel free to prove me wrong) that many students who come to Columbia to study international planning are actually international students themselves-who take the degree and return to their home country to practice what is more or less conventional planning, except that it happens to be in a non-US country.

    Other students may be people who already have experience working with some sort of int'l aid group, or the UN, and return to graduate school to get their requisite master's degree needed for career advancement.

    What kind of international planning are you interested in? Many architecture and landscape architecture firms have opened up branch offices in Asia and are recruiting staff to work on urban design and large scale site planning projects, but you'd be better off with an architecture/LA degree and courses in Mandarin Chinese.

    A vague interest in international planning isn't going to help you in graduate school. You need to know specifically what you want to do overseas. Site design or redevelopment projects? Better off with an architecture degree. Economic development? Get a MPP or some type of economics-related degree.
    I think this brings up a good point. PennPlanner is right. A lot of programs that tout "international" planning basically just have huge international study bodies, many of whom return to their native countries to practice as he said, conventional planning.

    A lot of people just want to travel and work somewhere exotic when they say "international planning." That's fine (I'm one of them), but it's true that you really don't build your planning degree out of that. However, it should be mentioned that certain programs have a reputation for:

    1.) Exposing students to comparative planning and methods that are being used in other countries more than other programs. Also offering coursework that deals with management of NGOs and development agency infrastructure, etc.
    2.) Just by virtue of the the university and/or its location, give students great networking and alumni connections in foreign countries, governments, companies (MIT, Harvard, Columbia, etc.)

    When I say international planning, I'm talking about a program having a very broad focus in its curriculum. That is to say, not overwhelmingly focused on the city or region where it is located. A program known to have lots of networking globally.

    I'm looking to go to a private consulting company that works globally (something like this: http://www.steerdaviesgleave.com/index.asp). Sure, these are some lofty aspirations that I probably won't get the chance to achieve until I put in quite a bit of work, and maybe even another degree. But it's what I want to do. I am also considering getting my MUP from Europe or Australia to complement my BA from the States.

    The type of planning I'm interested in is transportation infrastructure. Multi/Inter-modal transport, TOD. Economic/Environmental viability of such projects, as well as social and health impacts. I have a BA in Human Geography as well as International Studies. I speak French, Spanish, and am working on my Russian (that's going to take quite a bit more time though)

    I have work experience (outside of planning) in France, and am about to hopefully have a bit of planning experience in the next 6 months in Argentina.

    I feel like getting there is going to be a lot of work, and I'm not expecting a single MUP to take me straight there, but I do feel like there are some wiser choices among the programs that have solid "conventional" planning.

    And I'm slightly pressed to get a full degree in either economics or architecture as I don't have the necessary prerequisites for either. I regret that, but I can't change it, and it would take me two additional years to get them.
    One plan I have considered is to go somewhere like Rutgers, which has a great transportation program, isn't terribly expensive, and is known to give aid. Work/Research for a year or two afterwards, and then go somewhere like LSE, or the Bartlett to do a 1 year MSc in International planning to move the focus more global.
    Last edited by akk423; 27 Sep 2007 at 1:31 PM.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by akk423 View post
    I think this brings up a good point. PennPlanner is right. A lot of programs that tout "international" planning basically just have huge international study bodies, many of whom return to their native countries to practice as he said, conventional planning.

    A lot of people just want to travel and work somewhere exotic when they say "international planning." That's fine (I'm one of them), but it's true that you really don't build your planning degree out of that. However, it should be mentioned that certain programs have a reputation for:

    1.) Exposing students to comparative planning and methods that are being used in other countries more than other programs. Also offering coursework that deals with management of NGOs and development agency infrastructure, etc.
    2.) Just by virtue of the the university and/or its location, give students great networking and alumni connections in foreign countries, governments, companies (MIT, Harvard, Columbia, etc.)

    When I say international planning, I'm talking about a program having a very broad focus in its curriculum. That is to say, not overwhelmingly focused on the city or region where it is located. A program known to have lots of networking globally.

    I'm looking to go to a private consulting company that works globally (something like this: http://www.steerdaviesgleave.com/index.asp). Sure, these are some lofty aspirations that I probably won't get the chance to achieve until I put in quite a bit of work, and maybe even another degree. But it's what I want to do. I am also considering getting my MUP from Europe or Australia to complement my BA from the States.

    The type of planning I'm interested in is transportation infrastructure. Multi/Inter-modal transport, TOD. Economic/Environmental viability of such projects, as well as social and health impacts. I have a BA in Human Geography as well as International Studies. I speak French, Spanish, and am working on my Russian (that's going to take quite a bit more time though)

    I have work experience (outside of planning) in France, and am about to hopefully have a bit of planning experience in the next 6 months in Argentina.

    I feel like getting there is going to be a lot of work, and I'm not expecting a single MUP to take me straight there, but I do feel like there are some wiser choices among the programs that have solid "conventional" planning.

    And I'm slightly pressed to get a full degree in either economics or architecture as I don't have the necessary prerequisites for either. I regret that, but I can't change it, and it would take me two additional years to get them.
    One plan I have considered is to go somewhere like Rutgers, which has a great transportation program, isn't terribly expensive, and is known to give aid. Work/Research for a year or two afterwards, and then go somewhere like LSE, or the Bartlett to do a 1 year MSc in International planning to move the focus more global.
    Coming from a non-US perspective, I agree that a so-called international planning specialisation will only provide a very generic overview of the major issues or trends that affect planning outside the US.

    Unfortunately it won't be enough to get you to pursue specific occupations.

    In fact, the trend seems to be moving towards specialisation where they require professionals with specific skills, say water engineering, traffic planning, microenterprise, agricultural science, urban design and so forth, to fit the situation that they're faced with. And in many cases, such expertise is necessary. Perhaps a specialised degree might be better if you have already have generalised first degree.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally posted by joshww81 View post
    Coming from a non-US perspective, I agree that a so-called international planning specialisation will only provide a very generic overview of the major issues or trends that affect planning outside the US.

    Unfortunately it won't be enough to get you to pursue specific occupations.

    In fact, the trend seems to be moving towards specialisation where they require professionals with specific skills, say water engineering, traffic planning, microenterprise, agricultural science, urban design and so forth, to fit the situation that they're faced with. And in many cases, such expertise is necessary. Perhaps a specialised degree might be better if you have already have generalised first degree.
    I completely agree. Although as I said, I'm not qualified to pick up an out and out engineering/economics degree. But I believe a place like Rutgers could give me an education that is pretty specialized to transport. That coupled with a few years work experience to hone-in on those skills is what I need.

    Later on, I hope that my generalist undergrad coupled with perhaps another 1 year degree from somewhere like LSE (and again, more work experience) might turn me into a project manager or something bigger involved in coordinating those skills. Because at the end of the day, you still have to have someone to see the big picture, someone with perspective who can integrate all those skills. Someone who is too specialized will never be able to do that (although someone who isn't specialized at all would have difficulty getting to that position as well).

    All that is complete conjecture. Perhaps it will never happen, but I find it's useful to have a small plan (gotta have dreams to spoil!). What is clear is that I want my next degree to be fairly specialized, but planning is honestly my best bet right now. With an undergrad in geography, it just fits.

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