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Thread: Moving from smaller cities to bigger

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
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    Moving from smaller cities to bigger

    Any tips on moving from smaller to bigger cities as a planner?

    My interests include redevelopment, bike/ped/active living planning, infill housing, smart growth, greenways ... a lot of things that don't happen in smaller cities; plus at this point I prefer a bit of an urban environment to live. I'm not thinking New York, LA, or Chicago, but rather along the lines of Portland, Seattle, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh ... don't get me wrong, I do like college towns too as long as they are not too on the political fringe.

    I have worked in a small city (50,000 people) on some of these issues, and also in a growth-controlled college town, but I feel out of touch with urban issues and skills sets to a certain extent. In fact, I don't even see openings very often - is this because once someone lands a job in what is considered a"good" city, they stick around? Do most people who are mid-level or senior planners there tend to start in that city or get their foot in the door with an internship? Is it better to look in consulting given my interests?

    Also, once you get to mid-level jobs, do individual planners get to work on more interesting projects? (My background is long-range planning and housing.) I've been told one advantage of being in a smaller locale is the variety of work and responsibility you get. In my case, this was true but it was also a double-edged sword - too many projects piled on too few planners, and often there wasn't political support inside the organization to actually implement or really plan.

    I'd be happy to work in a 'burb of these cities as well, particularly if it were progressive around these ideas, had transit or its own historic core, etc.

    Thanks in advance - I've posted a few threads here over the past week just to get some informed opinions.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian
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    Those are all reachable goals, but unfortunately EVERYONE wants to do those areas as well. I am putting on my rural planner hat, bud: 50,000 is a smallER town compared to the Chicagos, Portlands, etc. It is NOT a small town. I have worked in several branches of planning for rural clients as small as 900 people.

    The planning market is already oversaturated with job seekers, and this started way before the recession. National media (Time, Newsweek, Fortune) promote planning as a growing profession, which leads to more and more people switching careers and earning planning degrees. Students fresh out of school have always competed against more experienced planners, which is why many, but not all, may have to work in a less-glamorous municipality to get their foot in the door. From your OP, you still have a pretty sweet deal compared to many (including those who aren't even working or can't get ANY planning job). The recession has laid off many planners over the past 3-4 years, depending on the geographic area of the country. I think this trend will continue for the next 3-4 years on average. I worked in planning in Chicagoland and relocated 750 miles to a smaller metro area past December to continue as a mid-level planner.

    In addition to a highly-competitive job market, cities have significantly scaled back on CIPs, comprehensive plans, downtown development, etc. I lived in Chicagoland for 28 years and witnessed its resurgence in the late 80s-90s, and continued growth and expansion this past decade. I think Chicago, and even smaller metropolitan areas, are entering a new phase of reduced expansion. Yes, there will be new projects but I think they will be few and far between. Working in consulting for the past 5 years, it is still an employer's market. Municipalities, campuses, park districts, etc. can choose from the best, brightest, and cheapest in terms of workers, firms, etc. In some areas this has turned into a race to the bottom (i.e. squeezing out the most up-front work out of the potential employee or firm at the cost of upward advancement or profit margins).

    So what can you do? I think you may need to search more posts on here and find out what others are doing. Again, it sounds like you have a pretty decent job, and this in economy that is much better than what alot of planners have. Do mid-level planners work on interesting projects? Define interesting. It sounds like you have a variety of job skills in a few different areas of planning. I am more partial to the private sector since it often, but not always, gives you an opportunity to work in many different areas of planning simultaneously. You will need to have a portfolio, or at the very least, a collection of writing samples, that demonstrate your skills in different areas of planning. As I mentioned before, consulting firms are hurting across the board, and you might be required to spend more non-billable time doing marketing to bring in more work to the firm. See previous posts.

    Hope this helps-
    "This is great, honey. What's the crunchy stuff?"
    "M&Ms. I ran out of paprika."

    Family Guy

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Veloise's avatar
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    Grand Rapids, Michigan (Detroit ex-pat since 2004)
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    Quote Originally posted by docwatson View post
    Any tips on moving from smaller to bigger cities as a planner?

    My interests include redevelopment, bike/ped/active living planning, infill housing, smart growth, greenways ... a lot of things that don't happen in smaller cities; plus at this point I prefer a bit of an urban environment to live. ...
    I have worked in a small city (50,000 people) on some of these issues, and also in a growth-controlled college town, but I feel out of touch with urban issues and skills sets to a certain extent....

    I'd be happy to work in a 'burb of these cities as well, particularly if it were progressive around these ideas, had transit or its own historic core, etc.
    ...
    Nice thing about a small city is: there are more jobs throughout the area. If you are located on the biggest planet in a relatively small solar system, you can work for that small city/large town. Period.

    Also, if there are more possible openings, there tends to be more churn among folks who hold those jobs. Someone can move from the regional planning commission to the biggest city, then a smaller one, and not have to change area codes.

    HTH

  4. #4
    Cyburbian
    Registered
    Jul 2010
    Location
    BC, Canada
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    218

    Thanks!

    Thanks, all. Putting together a portfolio definitely should be on my list. I wil be learning Adobe Creative Suite this fall. I agree, Veloise, that part of the advantage of living in a metro area is having more entities to choose from ... even adding in consulting firms, non-profit groups and other affiliated professions, its a small profession. The challenge then is to find a metro I would actually want to live in ...

    I think despite the gloomy short term prognosis for the planning field, there are a few trends that are pushing planning to grow: the "next 100 million" is the big one as far as population growth; however, there is now funding in areas such as the HUD-USDOT-EPA sustaimnability partnerships ($200 million this year for planning, although it seems the appropriation for next year is uncertain); walkability and active living funding through foundations (urban planners are now working at health districts), food systems planning ... and I think when the economy rebounds TOD and transit will continue the trajectory they were on. Maybe I'm an optimist ...

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