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Thread: What do planners do in jobs other than local government?

  1. #1
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    What do planners do in jobs other than local government?

    A lot of the career advice here comes from planners who work for local governments. While that is probably the most likely job one will have, everyone tells me that there are other opportunities for people with planning degrees.

    What is it like working for a private firm or a place that does international work? Do you get to do more design work, negotiation, empirical field research? Anyone worked in both sectors; what are the big differences in job tasks?

    PS I am about to choose grad schools for planning and I'm trying to think ahead to what kind of job I'd like to have. I've worked for a local planning agency and felt like private developers got to do all of the physical planning while the only thing for our office to do was negotiate neighborhood business taxes. Is this just how it goes??

  2. #2
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    Don't forget about non-profits! There are many CDCs and other groups that do great planning work and are neither a municipal government or a private firm. I also consider Community Development, Natural Resource Planning and Physical Planning to all be within the "planning" realm. I think many times, people are thinking primarily of zone code enforcement and drafting city plans as the primary work of planners (and certainly it encompasses a lot). But still, its a wide and diverse field...

    I worked (interned) at a private firm and now work at a non-profit "center for community and the arts." The private setting work was developing sub-area plans for the City of Albuquerque (contracted). They adid similar work for other cities and towns throughout the state and occasionally a subdivision or two as well. It was ok. I learned a lot of technical info and honed some skills in Illustrator I did not have before. I found the office to not be that well organized, though - even a little confused in terms of project management. The way they ran public input sessions was also a bit lacking and I was a bit disappointed by that. I was offered to stay, but for me, I found the work not as creative as I desired and didn't see a lot of room for advancement. Plus the salary and benefits were less than the non-profit job I took. Of course, the nature of the work will change from firm to firm, depending on their specialty/focus. I have friends who worked for a firm dealing with rural water rights and developing plans for local water management and they loved it. Most of the work involved facilitating public processes with small communities throughout the state.

    My job now has a lot of freedom - in the last three years we have started a community garden in a blighted downtown neighborhood and an annual parade/fiesta that serves as a social networking/capacity building event, for example. Both of these are related to an area plan which we are involved in implementing within our neighborhood. I will admit that the pay is still not that great, but I have some other great benefits (the center is connected to a Montessori school where my two kids get free tuition) and so it works for now.

    Ultimately, I think no matter where one works, the nature of one's duties AND the nature of the office environment/culture is more critical than anything. Even if the the work is great and exciting, if the office culture is problematic, it can really make for a terribly unpleasant work experience. I'm sure the same goes for municipal jobs. I think perhaps a major advantage of the public sector is job security (though not a guarantee - see the laid off planner thread) and the opportunity for advancement and increased pay over time. If that sort of thing matters to you...
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  3. #3
    Cyburbian
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    Off-topic:
    Quote Originally posted by wahday View post
    the center is connected to a Montessori school where my two kids get free tuition
    Heh. I had friends growing up who went to that school.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian beach_bum's avatar
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    it depends

    Quote Originally posted by eleanor View post
    What is it like working for a private firm or a place that does international work? Do you get to do more design work, negotiation, empirical field research? Anyone worked in both sectors; what are the big differences in job tasks?

    PS I am about to choose grad schools for planning and I'm trying to think ahead to what kind of job I'd like to have. I've worked for a local planning agency and felt like private developers got to do all of the physical planning while the only thing for our office to do was negotiate neighborhood business taxes. Is this just how it goes??
    Just because you work for one local government, doesn't mean you know entirely what 'local government planning' consists of across the board. Planner's job descriptions vary a great deal. For example, some local governments do their own long range planning and some farm it out to the private sector. You will probably find more 'design' and physical planning in the private sector, but keep in mind much of that is done by LA's and Architects. When I worked for a private firm last summer as an intern all I did was write comprehenisve planning documents. They called us the '8 1/2 x 11' planners, as opposed to the LAs who were the land planners!

    Local government planning tends to have more variety on a day-to-day basis. I work for local gov and this week I am writing and drawing design standards, but last week I was doing site plan review on several projects. It really just depends on what kind of job you get and how large of an office you work at. I have found the smaller your office, the more varied your job is as a planner. In larger cities they may have several departments or specializations for planners. Best of luck!
    "Never invest in any idea you can't illustrate with a crayon." ~Peter Lynch

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Veloise's avatar
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    Also, there's a huge difference between cities, small towns, and townships. The former might have a huge (many people) planning department, and the latter might have one person (planning/ZA).

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    I work in the private sector so i don't really deal with lot line adjustments, conditional use permits, variances, staff reports...zzzz...yea that puts me to sleep too. I know i can write staff reports because we do contract planning, but i have the most fun writing design guidelines and physical planning, lotting concepts, urban concepts, public workshops, etc. Veloise hit it on the head when it comes to small and large department. In a big private firm, you might be pigeonholed to just gis or writing design guidelines or doing powerpoints. In a smaller firm you tend to do more and learn more.
    Men do dumb $hit... it is what they do to correct the problem that counts.

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