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Thread: Urban planning vs urban design? UK vs US? grad school?

  1. #1

    Urban planning vs urban design? UK vs US? grad school?

    Hi all,

    I currently have a background in design and architecture, and I'm interested in pursuing my graduate studies in urban planning. I have been accepted to UPenn and USC's urban planning programs and University College London's urban design program. If anyone knows anything about the programs, I'd like some feedback please.

    I'm looking to transition my design skills in a larger arena. Some have told me that it's better to pursue an urban planning degree and then work as an urban designer (is that possible?), but I'm not sure the programs I've been accepted to will offer me both. Another option is to pursue either the MArch Urban Design or the Master in Planning degree first, and then go back to pursue the other afterwards. But that can get really expensive.

    The MArch UD program is 1 year long, 12 month intensive program. I was thinking perhaps I can study that, and then do another 12 month program of urban planning at the same school... but would I be losing the full education of urban planning that i might gain in the US? Is there a huge difference between schools in the US vs. UK? would I still be able to get a job coming back to the US?

    Sorry for the many questions. It's just this is really important to me, and I don't have much time to decide. Any thoughts would be very much appreciated! Thank you!

  2. #2
    Cyburbian b3nr's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by surreality View post
    I'm looking to transition my design skills in a larger arena. Some have told me that it's better to pursue an urban planning degree and then work as an urban designer (is that possible?)
    It is possible, because you can do a planning degree and specialise in urban design and you will still have Urban Planning (Town and Country) to fall back on. Urban Design is harder to get a job in than planning, becuase there are fewer of them and ... erm well its more fun :P

    BUT as you already have a design / architecture degree (?) I personally would do the Ma as its only 12 months and a degree + Ma is about as qualified as you ever need to be.

    UCL has a good rep as a university. If you can afford to live in London then great!

    I don't know how U.S employers see UK qualifications.

    Sounds like some big decisions to make!

  3. #3
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by surreality View post
    Hi all,

    I currently have a background in design and architecture, and I'm interested in pursuing my graduate studies in urban planning. I have been accepted to UPenn and USC's urban planning programs and University College London's urban design program. If anyone knows anything about the programs, I'd like some feedback please.
    you!

    If I can ask, in what ballpark were your GRE scores? I realize this is a nosey question, but I'm a rising college senior currently preparing for the GRE and I don't have much of an idea what to aim for in order for my scores to be competitive. Any advice you could give about the admission process to UPenn's program would be greatly appreciated.
    Thanks

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    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Moderator note:
    Moved from the former Planning in the UK forum.
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  5. #5
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    Get a design degree!!!

    I got a masters in planning, worked for several years, and then eventually went back for an M Arch. If you want to design work, don't kid yourself, even if you area able to get enough skills to draw master plans and diagrams, your career options will be very limited if you don't just get a design degree. The fact is, an MUP, like many masters degrees, is a piece of paper and an opportunity to build some valuable relationships. It is similar to an MBA, you learn a few applicable skills, but the degree really is not about the skills, it is about a rite of passage to enter the profession. By contrast, a studio-based design degree, an M Arch or an MLA, is a REAL degree - you leave the program a COMPLETELY different person than the one you were when you entered. The degree is not a replacement for your own creativity (as others have noted), you must have that as well, but you will discover that in the studio - you learn about yourself and you develop your design ability. To be quite honest, in contrast to what others have said, the standards/dimensions are not the most important thing you learn in design school, nor is it the software and graphics skills (although both of these are certainly essential); design is a set of "soft skills" that you must develop through a long-term commitment to the art.

    Most planners who claim to be design-minded, have really just memorized a few principles and best practices, such as street-building relationship, scale issues, and maybe some street width dimensions. There is a reason that the New Urbanism is so popular among planners - it is a set of easily understandable rules that non-designers can memorize. However, knowing best practices is NOT the same thing as design. Design is about taking a set of conditions and MAKING something out of them. In real design, there is no textbook, there is no template, there is only your ability as the designer to solve the problem at hand. And if you are good, you can solve the problem AND enhance the experience of the user. You can make place. You can make poetry.

    I wish I could go back and save the two years I spent in planning school. After years of school and working in the field, I am confident that the absolute truth is this: if you want to be a DESIGNER-designer, get an M Arch; if you want to be a PLANNER-designer, get an MLA. City planning, and certainly urban design, IS a design discipline; however, city planners are not typically designers, and this is a major problem. This means that most of the professionals who are in the field are not actually equipped to do the job. It is not the architects (or really even the developers) who are to blame for the lousy built environment in our country, it is the PLANNERS themselves, and the wide-spread professional malpractice on the part of the city planning profession who are not trained to do the job they are paid to do. Planners, in general, are spatially incompetent and design illiterate. This comes as a result of the fact that city planners are not trained in city design and city building. Landscape architecture absolutely can (and quite frankly should) replace the profession of city planning within the next 15 or so years. LAs are far more equipped, due to their design training, to deal with the planning problems facing cities and regions in America than the so-called planners.

    A note on MUDs: Something that often gets overlooked on this site and in other forums when talking about MUD degrees is the fact that the very existence of a special "masters in urban design" is largely the result of design schools (architecture and landscape architecture programs) moving into the realm of urban planning to fill the void left by the actual urban planning discipline within academia. City planning programs have largely refused to address the physical conditions of cities (a latent result of advocacy planning and other well-intentioned but misguided movements within the discipline over the past few decades) and MUD degrees are an attempt to train the more traditional design practitioners to scale up to the urban, metropolitan, and regional scales. MUDs are very useful as a mode of training those already versed in design to become planners. They are, by contrast, probably not so useful to planners without a design background.

    The short of it is this: JUST GET A DESIGN DEGREE!! It will be well worth the time and energy you invest in it. If you just put in the time to get a real design degree (not MUD, not MUP - unless it is a dual with MARCH or MLA), you will never need to be self-conscious about your skills or about the value you bring to a project. You will have wide career opportunities (in consulting firms, in public sector, on your own, as a planner, as a designer, etc.) Plus, studio design education is so much more enjoyable than planning education! I loved architecture school! It was tough, but so incredibly rewarding. By contrast, planning school was a money and time sink without the payback. JUST GET A DESIGN DEGREE!!!! (I wish I had listened to the people who told me that when I was starting planning school....)

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