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Thread: What was the most important thing you learned in planning school?

  1. #1
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    What was the most important thing you learned in planning school?

    What do you wish you learned in planning school?

    I will be teaching this fall in a Masters program in urban planning. For those of you with professional planning experience, which aspects of your education have been most important during your professional career? What do you wish you learned during planning (or other) school?

    Thanks!

  2. #2
    NIMBY asshatterer Plus Richmond Jake's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by mon-el View post
    What do you wish you learned in planning school? ...... What do you wish you learned during planning (or other) school?

    Thanks!
    Politics......

  3. #3
    OH....IO Hink's avatar
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    How actual planning, and not dream world planning works. How most decisions are not up to you, and those that are, have a good chance of being reviewed to death or changed.

    Planning is not for the faint at heart, or those who have thin skin. I think understanding of history of planning, planning law, and the like were great, but not applicable. The best class I took taught how to run public meetings, and how to deal with public participation correctly. Wonderful course. Good luck!
    A common mistake people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools. -Douglas Adams

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Planit's avatar
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    What rj and hink already said definitly.

    I will add the best course I had at masters level and undergrad was where we were given a map and a survey of a piece of land and we had to do "something" with it. One course we created plans to develop a regional park and the other was a (true) mixed-use development. At the masters level course, we had to research the land, economy, demographics, adjacent uses...well you get the point, everything and see what the best REALISTIC developemnt scheme might be. The presentation didn't end with a map, you had to submit a full report and present in front of a "board" which consisted of the professor playing mayor and 4 other students playing councilmen. What we didn't know before we began is the professor had given the "councilmen" a card telling then waht their pet peeve should be (i.e. the city doesn't have any money, or the landowners next door don't want this, etc.) and a few questions to ask.

    Have fun with it.
    "Whatever beer I'm drinking, is better than the one I'm not." DMLW
    "Budweiser sells a product they reflectively insist on calling beer." John Oliver

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Tide's avatar
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    I learned urban design in planning school, also some case law. But the real world of planning, how it affects daily life, the process of getting something approved, the politics behind some decisions, etc etc was all learned in my internships and my first year on the job. I always tell grad students that the masters education is only half the education you need, the real world education is the other half.
    @GigCityPlanner

  6. #6
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    the class I use the most in my professional career is "creative problem solving"

  7. #7
    Cyburbian
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    Case law, economic development, and long-range planning. The last two were taught by adjunct faculty who worked full time for the college town. I would also say site design and architectural pattern books, although I taught myself most of this through trial and error.
    "This is great, honey. What's the crunchy stuff?"
    "M&Ms. I ran out of paprika."

    Family Guy

  8. #8
    Cyburbian MacheteJames's avatar
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    The most important things that I did not learn in my program (though admittedly it was an economic development MA rather than an MCP) was "It does not matter what you think" and "Everyone else is smarter than you". Anyone else working in the public sector trenches will know exactly what I mean. For those who aren't: IOW, your professional opinion is just considered advice in the end and those that you work with, whether they be elected officials, developers, architects, or board members, all think they know your job better than you do.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Cloverhill's avatar
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    How to read a plat.
    How to use a scale.
    How to research chain of title.
    No one stood up and yelled, "Socialist Government takeover of science and engineering!" when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian SGB's avatar
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    The "tummy test" in land use law class: if something doesn't "feel" proper or legal, it may not be. Do the research and/or consult legal counsel!
    All these years the people said he’s actin’ like a kid.
    He did not know he could not fly, so he did.
    - - Guy Clark, "The Cape"

  11. #11
    Cyburbian LTKS's avatar
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    For the most part, I really wish we could have learned how to deal more effectively with the public, both from the private and public sector perspectives. I wrote my masters thesis on public participation, but it didn't discuss the typical, "normal" interaction planners have with the public on a day-to-day basis.

    Although, I'm not sure anyone could really prepare you for what you may experience. I guess like Cal Poly SLO's motto, its all about "learn by doing".

    Best part about my program was being able to work actively with real planning departments and real private or non-profit planning groups for a bunch of class projects. Got to sort of see how things are done.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian H's avatar
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    while it is not always met with embrace by students, the most important thing I learned in planning school was how to work as part of a team.
    "Those who plan do better than those who do not plan, even though they rarely stick to their plan." - Winston Churchill

  13. #13
    Cyburbian WSU MUP Student's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Planit View post
    What rj and hink already said definitly.

    I will add the best course I had at masters level and undergrad was where we were given a map and a survey of a piece of land and we had to do "something" with it. One course we created plans to develop a regional park and the other was a (true) mixed-use development. At the masters level course, we had to research the land, economy, demographics, adjacent uses...well you get the point, everything and see what the best REALISTIC developemnt scheme might be. The presentation didn't end with a map, you had to submit a full report and present in front of a "board" which consisted of the professor playing mayor and 4 other students playing councilmen. What we didn't know before we began is the professor had given the "councilmen" a card telling then waht their pet peeve should be (i.e. the city doesn't have any money, or the landowners next door don't want this, etc.) and a few questions to ask.

    Have fun with it.

    I had a course in grad school with a very similar lesson plan and agree that it was one of the best courses I had. It really made us draw upon stuff we had learned in everything from real estate development courses, policy courses, GIS, etc... One thing that made it interesting is that we had enough students in the class that worked in, or had intimate knowledge of, each of the communities that a team was assigned to so that when Team A was presenting their proposal for a plot of land in City X, one of the students who was assigned as a council member from City X was actually on the planning commission there or worked in the planning department.

    There was quite a range of types of properties that each team was asked to redevelop - everything from an abandoned gas station in a struggling small town right off of the expressway with horrible access points to a large parking lot in a booming suburban downtown directly across the street from a river and the border to Canada.

    As far as specific skills that I learned:

    The most useful has been how to create a complete pro forma for real estate development projects. It has been useful both at work and in my private life and even when I am not creating one, it makes understanding the monetary decisions that many of the developers come to on their projects much easier.
    "Where free unions and collective bargaining are forbidden, freedom is lost." - 1980 Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan

  14. #14
    Quote Originally posted by Cloverhill View post
    How to read a plat.
    How to use a scale.
    How to research chain of title.
    PLUS:

    Staff report writing

    Comprehensive Plan writing

    Report writing

    In other words, could have used a few years of how to write tecnical reports for presentation.

    Of course, Power Pointe did not exist in 1983...........

  15. #15
    One of the most important things I learned was gaining a realistic expectation of what planning is in the real world. Too much theory and "pretty posters" planning can lead us into not having an accurate idea of what planners actually do and how much we can control in the political landscape. Luckily, my community planning labs were always run by pragmatists and not dreamers.

    As far as the most important practical thing I learned: how to write. This is definitely the most important--and probably most overlooked--skill for planning students to develop.

  16. #16
    Cyburbian JimPlans's avatar
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    Most useful:

    Taking the two required studio courses - working in groups of students with different aptitudes, skill levels, and levels of commitment, creating a real product for real clients, and interacting with real people (skeptical community members, recalcitrant public servants, self-described experts, etc.). I learned what planning was really about and how much work it could be.

    What I missed:

    Classes on plan reviews, how to read a blueprint, how to interpret/perform a site survey, how to interpret and create zoning regulations, and other practical things that real planners do every day. These are the things you really need to learn in school, IMHO. If my education on planning history or theory turned out to be lacking, I could always read a book. It's hard to learn how to use a planimeter by reading a book.

    What planning is:

    To me, planning is a profession based on skills AND knowledge. Planners need to possess certain skills, most of which are learned on-the-job. Master's programs do a good job of filling our heads with knowledge (history, theory, some mathematics and economics) but seem to do a poor job of training us in the necessary skills (like reading a blueprint or running a public meeting).

  17. #17
    Cyburbian
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    Reading this thread has made me happier and happier about entering planning. Doing my under grad in arch, it's even MORE airy fairy, wishful thinking. I often felt out of place in class asking the practical/realistic questions.

    Definitely appreciate everyone for posting, some things for me to keep in the back of the head while going through master's. But also, I think we can give them some slack, it's school, it's supposed to be mostly theory. If you wanted all the practical stuff, that's what internships are for. I think it's good enough for the school to make you aware of issues like politics etc, but no need to waste time teaching you every nuance. Cheers

  18. #18
    Cyburbian
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    I'm a planning student now. I'm always so shocked when fellow class mates have little or no public speaking skills. I have a background in advocacy and community organizing. I think being able to speak to the public is an essential skill in planning or any profession really. I'm not sure if it relevant to every job but I think advocacy and organizing skills can really help a working planner.

  19. #19
    Cyburbian jswanek's avatar
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    .

    Believe it or not, Barclay Hudson was teaching "Regional Planning" and told us the first day no other text was needed than Mao's Red Book.

    I learned to never show up again, or respect that institution.

    .

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