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Thread: Role for planners in design/creative end of the spectrum?

  1. #1

    Jun 2010
    Minneapolis, MN

    Role for planners in design/creative end of the spectrum?

    Hi - I have a genuine lifelong interest in arch., landscape design, meaningful and functional public spaces, building-street interfaces, accessibility (skeptical of superlatives like 'universal design'), breaking up city grids, issues of densities, mixed-used in zoning and know quite a bit from undergrad about urban geograhy - Jane Jacobs / William Wyte stuff, complete street concepts, pedestrian plans, urban renewal, vernacular arch. and so forth.

    Trouble is I don't have any experience and am not in an architecture or planning program. As a mid-career shift I did complete a (very unique) Masters of Fine Arts in Minneapolis, MN which incorporated architectural design approaches to sculptural and small landscape and building interventions. AutoCAD and drafting were part of the program as was an interdisciplinary approach to design thinking.

    I don't see myself as a candidate for a Masters in Architecture b/c of my age (late 30s) and am not a sculptor per se.... because I am interested in the big picture and the social aspects of design I was drawn to planning / urban design. These forums though make it sound like planning degrees lead only to municipal jobs dealing with the nuts and bolts of city ordinance and zoning. There is much talk of the small job pool and increased qualifications needed. Are there other opportunities for planning graduates as consultants or more on the design end? My undergrad was Anthropology and Geopgraphy which is a good marriage but it was also 15 years ago. I don't have any knowledge of GIS. Pursue technical GIS training? The program closest to me obviously is the U of MN @ the Humphrey Institute for Public Affairs. I don't know much about other planning programs but do have family and familiarity with the Boston, MA area.

    thanks for any input,

    Andrew S.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
    Feb 1998
    Greensburg, Kansas
    If I had a budget in Greensburg, KS I would seriously consider your current qualifications without an additional degree. There should be neighborhood organizations and non-profits that could use (and seriously need) your background and outlook. I wonder if the foundations that dole out community improvement grants have staff such as you to review applications?

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
    Feb 2007
    As far south of SoCal as I Will Go
    I used to work for an Multi-Disciplinary Design Firm working along side architects, landscape architects and egineers. As a planner there, i did a lot of design work from land use plans, conceptual lotting, streetscape design and preliminary park design. On top of that i wrote a lot of comprehensive plans based on the design schemes our firm came up with. The economy tanked and I took a new job on the municipal side of things. Right now consultanting is on the ropes and the talent pool is endless in terms of candiates with the "creditionals" necessary to hire and hit the ground running when the economy picks up. Unfortunately, for larger firms your background probably isn't what most mid-size to large firms look for.

    However small time outfits (thinking maybe a few employees) or non-profits may be willing to take you on with what you got. Have you put any thought into a master's degree in urban design? Some arguments for and against, but if you are willing to do it, it may be a ticket to "starting" all over, if you even want to do that considering you are in your late 30's and may have other things going on with life.
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  4. #4

    Jun 2010
    Minneapolis, MN

    distinction planning vs urban design

    However small time outfits (thinking maybe a few employees) or non-profits may be willing to take you on with what you got. Have you put any thought into a master's degree in urban design?.[/QUOTE]

    Thanks for both responses....

    Yes, I have considered urban design but I find I may be attracted to what I think it means .... do you know of websites to get an idea of the distinction between planning programs and urban design? (I find Masters Program websites talk too much in generalities) - maybe I will search these forums for those term definitions.

    The founder of my (tiny) school has design-build firms in mind for his graduates but I feel a little unprepared for the Architecture part of it and more drawn to my bread and butter of social science....


  5. #5
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
    Aug 2001
    The Cheese State
    I have generally been able to find planners with CAD and GIS skills. It is very difficult to find ones with artistic talent, which is really becoming an important element in planning. Clients are drawn to pretty pictures, ind including them in plans, and then in proposals to get planning work, creates a significant competitive advantage. As your artistic skills lean toward architecture, that is especially useful.

    Unfortunately, as others have suggested, there are very few planners getting hired. Your best bet is in consulting, and I do not see that picking up for two more years (and I am a consultant). When they do hire, firms will probably be looking for people who have a planning background and basic planning skills like zoning and comprehensive planning. There are a few firms like mine that serve niches where that might be less important.

    Two suggestions:

    1) Downtown revitalization programs like to have drawings of buildings to show "what it might look like". You might approach some of them about doing volunteer work to build up a portfolio. I could probably point you to some contacts in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa if you want to send me a private message with your email.

    2) You might also contact some of the smaller planning firms in the region to let them know that you are available to supplement their staff on projects that might come up. I do work on subcontract to larger firms, and I also team up with others to bid on work. If I was working on a downtown plan, or neighborhood plan, or redevelopment area plan, etc., I might look to have someone like you produce a few drawings. (I am the only one on my staff who draws, mostly on the computer, and I know the limitations of my "artistic" skills.)
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Masswich's avatar
    Nov 2002
    Ocean to the east, land to the west
    I think HHH has a mid-career program (MPA) that might give you some road into the work you want to do. As for the Boston area, there's a similar program at the Kennedy School but that's probably not the best fit for someone interested in design.

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