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Thread: What is the planning profession really like?

  1. #1
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    What is the planning profession really like?

    I am very interested in the field of urban planning and would like to hear from you all about what the profession is really like. What is a typical day like? What are the working conditions? What do you spend most of your time doing? Is it a high stress occupation? Basically, I just want to get a feel for the profession and what it is that planners really do.

    Sorry for such a vague question and thank you very much.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Plus JNA's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by seamus_garcia View post
    What is a typical day like?
    We had a thread about this started back in 2003 -
    http://www.cyburbia.org/forums/showt...ht=typical+day
    Oddball
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    Why don't you dig how beautiful it is out here?
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    Broke parts take a little longer, though.
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  3. #3
    Cyburbian Plan-it's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by seamus_garcia View post
    I am very interested in the field of urban planning and would like to hear from you all about what the profession is really like. What is a typical day like? What are the working conditions? What do you spend most of your time doing? Is it a high stress occupation? Basically, I just want to get a feel for the profession and what it is that planners really do.

    Sorry for such a vague question and thank you very much.
    This question is too vague. It really depends on what aspect of planning you work in. A land use planner, transportation planner, economic development progrssional, and water systems planner all have very different jobs and responsibilities. My suggestion for you is to explore the area(s) that interest you the most and start asking questions from there.
    Satellite City Enabler

  4. #4
    Cyburbian
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    I'll answer for what I do.

    I am the only Planner for a town of just under 30,000 people. I don't really have "specialty" like some people have mentioned earlier. I have a B.S. in Planning (B.S....ha!) and not a Master's like everyone thinks you need in this profession.

    While no day is exactly typical, most of what I do might be considered "low-level" stuff but I am the only Planner so I don't mind. I review and approve building and other permits, attend development meetings (where someone is thinking about building something and they want some guidance), answer the phones about zoning questions, and run several Planning-related boards & Commissions. I also help with rezoning, Planned Unit Developments, as well as help companies find suitable land to build, purchase, etc. Sometimes I go to Council meetings if I have an agenda item like a rezoning or subdivision.

    Most of the day I sit at my desk and I usually have two after work meetings per week. I will usually get 20-25 calls per day and have half a dozen people come into my office to ask about minor zoning questions or a developer's representative asking about specifics.

    What I do when there is "nothing to do" is look at our Code and try to rewrite anything that can and should be updated. Right now we are going through the process to change three chapters in the Zoning Ordinance.

    My salary is just over $45,000 year with about 5% annual increase. I live 2 miles from work and the average house price in my area is about $90,000. So I don't make a whole lot but I am doing well.

    Hope this helps!

    One last thing... you'll will honestly find people in the planning profession that think they are the smartest people in the world (just like any other profession). You don't need a Master's to get somewhere in Planning. Not all planning is PowerPoint presentations and meetings like the APA makes you think it is. There are normal planners out there just do typical day-to-day work.

  5. #5
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    Hehe...Thanks for that reply Paiste13! It is true that you don't need a masters degree for this job for the most part. It's certainly not so difficult that you need state level certifications either. The only reason I have a master's is because I didn't know what the heck to do with a degree in geography!

  6. #6
    Cyburbian rcgplanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by paiste13 View post

    One last thing... you'll will honestly find people in the planning profession that think they are the smartest people in the world (just like any other profession). You don't need a Master's to get somewhere in Planning. Not all planning is PowerPoint presentations and meetings like the APA makes you think it is. There are normal planners out there just do typical day-to-day work.
    While it is true that you may not NEED a Master's to do this job, I have mine and I still wonder why I needed it, many employers are going to want to see a Master's. A Master's will help you get more interviews than someone with a B.A.. This is not to say you can't do well for yourself without a Master's. My Planning Director has a B.A. in Environmental Studies and has done just fine for herself. My experience is that my MA has helped me on the job and how I think about things. I have a BA in political science and sociology, so an MA in planning was a fairly easy transition. My Master's program was very hands on and let me get into the daily nuts and bolts of planning.

    I am an Assistant Planner for a fast-growing suburb of about 12,000, and I spend most of my time on current planning, Board of Zoning Appeals cases and code enforcement. During slower months, I work on zoning ordinance amendments and long-term projects, like a walkability plan. I field about 20 calls a day regarding zoning questions, developer questions and code enforcement complaints. The salary starting out is a bit low for a position that prefers a Master's. I make about $35,000 a year, but have decent benefits and 12 holidays a year, which is a great benefit of being a public employee. Overall I like my job, but not sure what the futre will bring. I get burned out and frustrated at times, but it is the little victories that make it all worth while!

  7. #7
    Cyburbian drjb's avatar
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    I might disagree with some of the others who have posted on this thread. I work for a real estate and economic development consulting firm in Los Angeles and I recently acquired my master's degree. I would say that I probably would not have gotten this job without my master's degree. The graduate degree was considered a prerequisite to some extent. Someone would likely need to have at least 5 years of work experience without a master's to get this job. That is not to say someone could not accomplish the tasks at hand with less than 5 years work experience, it simply means they would not be given the opportunity to show that they could.

    But to answer the original question this thread posed: I come in each day and read the news for an hour or so, then begin working on our primary business which is fiscal impact reports. I might have 2 reports to work on each month so those consume a lot of my time. However, I also work on various economic analyses for local jurisdictions and may do some basic market studies or proforma analyses every now and again. But unfortunately, there is also a lot of downtime waiting for people to get back to me on things. During those hours I must "look busy" and that is kind of annoying as I am the type of person that enjoys being extremely efficient.

    Hope this helps.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian
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    If you want to work in a larger town or even a smaller, progressive town, you will need a master's degree. I worked in a large city that required a master's for anything beyond assistant planner. Now I work in a mid-size town (60,000) that will most likely never hire anyone without a master's again. (I'm the first master's level planner they've had; apparently, my work--not to brag--far surpasses that of the self-made planners they've had here in the past.)

    I work on special projects for my town. Typical day: Attend meetings, work on updates to comprehensive plan, work on neighborhood studies and plans, work with community groups, rewrite outdated ordinances, answer 10-15 calls regarding new developments. I never lack things to do.

    Best wishes.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    This so tough to answer regarding this whole issue between masters and just a BS. I received a BS in City and Regional Planning and hopefully soon my AICP to tack on to my 5 year plus work experience. I am currently in the private sector working on community/neighborhood/specific plans and hopefully contract planning this fall. This is more advanced planning in my communities that contract out to private firms because they either a) lack the knowledge to perform this work, or b) don't have the staff. I work with both private developers and public agencies. On a day to day basis i do a lot of urban design work such as graphics, street sections, writing of documents and design guidelines and communicate with clients and sub-consultants. At the beginning of projects i do research, due diligence, site visits and most of our projects have public outreach portions so i do workshop materials with the occasional speaking role if i am the PM. Lately i have been looking for work, but before i always had something rocking on my plate from neighborhood design in CAD to free hand graphics. It is never a dull day in my planning sector.
    follow me on the twitter @rcplans

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Plus JNA's avatar
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    Recently (past week)
    resolving addressing problems for GIS and 911 Dispatch (ongoing),
    researching and drafted language adding critical facilities protection to our Floodplain Management Ordinance (CRS Activity 431 e),
    Other CRS activities,
    participated in subdivision review,
    assisting the Police Dept with demographics for a grant application,
    gave suggestions on improving our greenway map to be used in a grant application,
    helped a business person locate their business on historic aerial photos,
    etc.
    Oddball
    Why don't you knock it off with them negative waves?
    Why don't you dig how beautiful it is out here?
    Why don't you say something righteous and hopeful for a change?
    From Kelly's Heroes (1970)


    Are you sure you're not hurt ?
    No. Just some parts wake up faster than others.
    Broke parts take a little longer, though.
    From Electric Horseman (1979)

  11. #11
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    Maybe there should be a differentiation between what type of educational background you "need" to be a planner, and what employers have a tendency to "expect". My personal experience is that you don't need a masters if you have a bachelors in planning. However, my undergrad was not in planning, so the masters degree filled the gap. It has just become the norm to for employers to desire a masters in the same way they prefer AICP certification. It is merely a benchmark. Personally, someone with a bachelors in planning is no less qualified than an individual with a masters in planning, but no relevant undergrad degree. Furthermore, it's not like they (typically) teach you leadership and management skills at the grad level.

  12. #12
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    This thread was kinda what I was wondering about as well. As far as rookies fresh out of grad school, I'm guessing it's not a high stress environment. Correct?

    I suppose planning doesn't seem like rocket science, but I'm also guessing (and hoping) they teach me stuff when I start and not just throw something in my lap.

    Is it natural to be concerned that "oh no, what if my college (yeah it's accredited) didn't teach me everything I need to know!?" I kind of get that feeling because some of the job listings desire knowledge in Autocad and all sorts of programs I've never even heard of! I know Word, Powerpoint, some Excel, and a little GIS (it's been 3 years so I'm probably rusty on that).

    AHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I hope I'm more stressed now before getting a job, than after I get a job.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian Veloise's avatar
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    My college experience (undergrad) consisted of lectures by fossils who either had never worked for a public agency, or had been in academia so long that any real-world experience no longer pertained.

    Higher education is not voc-ed where they "teach" you AutoCad and that's what you end up doing all day long. You will learn more on the job than you every did M-W-F, 9:30-11 am. (Any job is like that, not just planning.)

    When I worked for a large city, I handled special land use reports, public hearings with the applicant and any nearby residents, and an official who needed to learn something about turn-times and efficiency. (At any one time he was sitting on several months worth of cases.) Most of my reports contained the facts and a heavy dose of common sense.

    Example: large church, many additions and annexes over the years. They applied for approval to enclose a nook and install a wheelchair ramp. (This should have been approved without the hearing.)
    Neighbors were noticed, showed up in force to gripe about fast food wrappers in the parking lot and kids playing basketball.
    I put the lid on that with questioning about the extent of the project (several thousand square feet of building; the little nook was a couple hundred sf) and a horrifying description of the method that a wheelchair user would presently gain access. (They had a lift to cover the five steps at the main entrance; it would involve two transfers and require an attendant to move the chair.)

    Since my position could have been handled by a part-timer, I used my writing and editing skills, along with photography and graphic design (spent some time in publishing) to make my reports more complete. Mostly entertaining myself, but also to get past my supervisor's inability to spell or write a comprehensible sentence. (He'd assigned others to review my work.)

    I have found that the key to almost any job is getting along with people. You could be an incompetent bumbling fool, but if they "like" you, they'll make allowances and let you learn, and even train you.

    HTH

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