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Thread: Planning versus real estate development

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
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    Planning versus real estate development

    This may sound quite controversial but having graduated with my planning masters nearly three years ago and working since then, I am completely disillusioned with urban planning. Reading policies, writing vague sentences, dealing with incompetent designers and getting low pay is really just not my thing...

    Is it me or is it just boring as hell? I worked with a large American masterplanning firm and now I'm in the doing property consulting and getting much higher pay....

    To me, real estate development is really a lot more interesting....I've just gotten into Harvard for the real estate program and I think I want to do a slight career change towards that.

    Hate to say this but I kind of regret spending all that money on my planning masters even though the course was very interesting....but I wish I had known what EXACTLY planners do on a day-to-day basis before getting into it. I was just too idealistic I guess thinking I can change the world. Maybe this is a word of caution to others applying....What do other people think???

  2. #2
    congrats on getting into harvard. is this for the MDesS in real estate? i'm considering going to the GSD for my MUP this fall and concentrating in real estate and urban development.

    your post actually hits on some of my own worries about pursuing planning. i don't want to work as a planner for a state or local agency and i don't want to work for a CDC--i've already done that. so, i'm also interested in pursuing a real estate career through harvard. have you spoken to any alums about the career prospects? i've spoken to one current MUP student and it sounds like the GSD does pretty well. my only worry is that some of the bigger developers really want MBA's and i just wonder if the name--graduate school of design--is offputting. i've checked the curriculum for the real estate programs and they look like fantastic preparation for a real estate career. i just worry if it employers will realize this.

    thanks for your input.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian drjb's avatar
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    I would have to concur with your statements about urban planning.

    I am actually graduating from UCLA with a planning degree this summer, but have already given thought to going back and getting an MRED from USC.

    I think the planning program is good first step in understanding the overall development process, but I have a feeling my first job is not going to pay me that well and may not be entirely related to real estate.

    Thus, I am considering going back in a year or two.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian
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    I'm going to just chime in with a "mee too!"

    I'm in school for a masters in landscape architecture. When I was checking out schools, I wouldn't have given Clemson a second look if they hadn't offered to foot the bill for a visit. Their MRED is managed by the same administrative unit as their MLA program. I ended up spending more time with the MRED students than MLA.

    Right now, I'm looking at getting a dual MLA & MUP from UIUC. The MUP only because it's a manageable amount of work extra and because I'm truly interested in planning and the built environment. I too have no interest in working for a municipality or writing or interpreting codes. While I know I'm going to school for a design degree, I'd love to work my way into development down the road...

  5. #5
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by hl248 View post
    ... now I'm in the doing property consulting and getting much higher pay....

    To me, real estate development is really a lot more interesting....I've just gotten into Harvard for the real estate program and I think I want to do a slight career change towards that.

    Hate to say this but I kind of regret spending all that money on my planning masters even though the course was very interesting....but I wish I had known what EXACTLY planners do on a day-to-day basis before getting into it. I was just too idealistic I guess thinking I can change the world. Maybe this is a word of caution to others applying....What do other people think???
    Just out of curiosity, what exactly do you do now as a property consultant and how different is it from your previous planning experience? What are the bits that make it interesting and others that make it boring?

    Cheers!

  6. #6
    Cyburbian
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    Well, I'm an American currently working in London. I used to work at the London office for a really prestigious American masterplanning firm. My job description is to provide planning advice in producing illustrative masterplans, area action plans, local policies, etc etc. Looks great on the resume but in reality, it was so boring. Me and the other planners laugh about it all the time. Planners and urban designers have a very distinct role in the UK. I have heard that it's a bit different back home in the States. But anyway, all we did all day long was read policies and summarise them in reports. Also, telling designers where to put the bloody arrows on the masterplans. We wrote a few development briefs but it was all so boring and vague. Because policies have to be flexible, language has to be written in a vague way, e.g. "Houses must be built of the highest design quality....." or like "Techniques to ensure sustainability must be undertaken..." Anyhow, most of our masterplans never got built. Strategies were hardly implemented...and the company I worked for is a pretty prestigious firm. I attended meetings with clients but I guess working with mostly public sector clients, it moved slowly and briefs got trimmed down all the time. It just seemed so unreal. Everything was CUT and PASTE. Some public consultation events were interesting but honestly, we never went in to events thinking that we actually gave a crap about what the general public thought. I was sick and tired of sitting in shopping malls getting b*tched out by senile senior citizens telling me that I didn't care about what they thought. Also, it seems that 'good' planners are those who are constantly talking all the time and stating the obvious. There is no reward for being creative and innovative in this job. It's like whether you know the policies or not off the top of your head....

    So I guess that was the boring bit....

    I'm not saying that my new job as a property consultant is so much more interesting but for instance, I'm actually directly providing advice to property developers on major mixed use schemes in London. Like what kind of planning strategy to use to get consent. And also a big part of it is to undertake financial viability apprasials to help them assess whether a development is justifiable. Normally, planners wouldn't be able to get involved in something like that but I have a Finance degree as an undergrad....I don't know, it just seems more real to be dealing directly with private developers and investment funds. Working with local governemnt takes forever and to see the fruits of your labour on the built environment in 15 years time is not my cup of tea. Also, I think we should give private developers more credit as well. Not all of them are about big box developments keen on maximising the floorspace as much as possible. At least in London, all the major players have designers, planners on board in-house and the developers themselevs know the value of good design adn sustainable solutions.

    I agree with DRJB that planning is a good start to understanding the development process and I don't know if I FULLY regret doing the masters in planning and then working in planning subsequently. In fact, it's given me an good overall feel for the industry. But I think now I just really need to get down to it and stitch everything I know and MAKE MONEY in development, as well as knowing that I'm actually helping to bring about REAL CHANGE in the built environment. That's what I'm looking forward to at Harvard that they can really help me gain a strong foundation in real estate. I can then underpin this with my planning expereince.

    Would love to hear from anyone's previous expereinces in planning......agree? disagree???

  7. #7
    Cyburbian RubberStamp Man's avatar
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    I generally agree with the posts too, especially the vagueness of policy wording. Depending on your jurisdiction much of "planning" has turned into a paralegal profession where you are arguing over interpretations, either informally at a meeting or formally before a judicial body.

    And then all of the new zoning codes/bylaws are written for the same crappy loopy designs b/c of higher lot yields and good luck on trying to say no based on vague principles that really don't back you up.

    And then there is more intense development. Property values just can't support this type of development everywhere, so its feasiblity is really constrained. In those areas where the financials are in place good luck trying to get that through a public meeting b/c you're lambasted for decreasing property values and how inhumane it is to provide this type of housing. A 6-storry development was going up in N. Americas 5th largest city literally next to a subway station (prime order of transit) and people in the neighbourhood were complaining its too much.

    You're right, not all developers are big boxes, but in a suburban environment, where all this sprawl is occuring, there are waaaaaay more corporations who don't care and want the sea of parking in front than there are property owners/developers who want to do something nice.

    IMO planning is suffering b/c we are not enabled to act on our ideals or what we learn in school. This is why you hear from so many people that what you learn in school is not what you do in planning. To me though, thats a negative comment on the profession and not the educational institution.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian
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    What you've said is quite interesting.

    I worked in Melbourne, Australia as a planner prior to this. Similarly, there was a stark distinction between planners, who dealt with policy and legal interpretation work, and designers, who essentially did design. Most of the urban designers were from an architecture or landscape architecture background, sans one planner. But they no longer hired any non-designers for the UD role. A colleague of mine was rejected from an UD role and offered the UP role instead, despite having a Masters in Urban Design. Her background was planning, not design and she did not have the adequate technical skills to draw, use cad, etc.

    My main role as a planner was to write planning reports that accompany plans to be submitted to council for planning approval. Much of the report were summaries of planning policies or other technical reports e.g. traffic impacts, wind assessments, etc. A part of it involved discussing how the project met certain strategic policies although most of this is done by simply restating the policy: e.g.

    Policy - "Encourage economic growth"
    Response - "This proposal supports economic growth"

    Rarely do we have the technical capabilities to explain how the proposal meets the social, economic or environmental goals.

    The most interesting part has to be assessing how the development meets certain development controls, e.g. setbacks, site coverage, building heights, etc. If these are not met, we'd have to conjure reasoning behind not meeting them. Even then, they can be quite mundane and repetitive at times.

    Anyway I grew tired of the system and came back to Singapore to work. Am thinking of switching my career somewhat, although keeping the planning fundamentals. Which explains the question.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian
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    I'm glad I'm not the only person that think this way. I think I was just really disillusioned by the idea of planning when I was first thinking about a career change from the financial services industry. I think it's so important for people to are looking to get into planning to have a long hard chat with people already doing it to get an insight in terms of everyday responsibilities. In fact, I read a statistic last year about planners in the UK. Apparently, up to 30% of planners change their careers eventually.

  10. #10
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    You guys sound kinda like me.

    I'm a month and a half away from getting my master's in urban and regional planning, but I'm also a month and a half away from hitting a brick wall.

    I want to go into transportation planning, where I can actually do stuff that is black and white. Hell, I'll do anything black and white at this point.

    Once I really got into my graduate program, I learned that this it is all theory. Maybe I should have gone into civil engineering which is black and white. I'm interested in transportation and city development.

    Maybe there is a real estate field I can look into with my master's in planning? Anyone?

  11. #11
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by lamsalfl View post
    You guys sound kinda like me.

    I'm a month and a half away from getting my master's in urban and regional planning, but I'm also a month and a half away from hitting a brick wall.

    I want to go into transportation planning, where I can actually do stuff that is black and white. Hell, I'll do anything black and white at this point.

    Once I really got into my graduate program, I learned that this it is all theory. Maybe I should have gone into civil engineering which is black and white. I'm interested in transportation and city development.

    Maybe there is a real estate field I can look into with my master's in planning? Anyone?
    Transportation planners definitely make more money but I'm not quite sure if you can get into that without some kind of formal education beforehand...

    Property consulting is another choice (very related to real estate) if you have a quantitative background as well....

    Urban design is okay, but it pays very little money and you work much longer hours than planners, at least that was how it was at my old firm.

    There's way too much theory in planning programs....it's the same in the UK...we all b*tch about it all the time...although I kind of thought the American programs would be more practical (the grass is always greener on the other side syndrome)....do you mind if I ask you which program you are graduating from in the states?

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