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Thread: Considering a career in urban planning or urban design

  1. #1
    Oct 2010
    Portland, OR

    Considering a career in urban planning or urban design

    Greetings, this is my first post on the Forum.

    I have been a GIS professional for 15 years, in a variety of roles in the non-profit, pubilc, and private sectors. I am currently working for a large consulting company, working on a variety of projects, many of those with transportation planners on large infrastructure projects. I recently came to the conclusion that I'd like to go back to school for a Masters, and am in the process of information gathering to see what my best path is.

    I have several important questions before I move forward, I would appreciate any thoughtful responses from experienced planners.
    1. I earned my Geography BA in 96', my current salary I have achieved with this degree and my experience is $57,800/year. One of the key reasons I am going back for a Masters is to increase my earning potential. What kind of salaries are possible with planning, and how do they compare with what I am making now?
    2. Without knowing first-hand what the process is, it appears that planners are primarily shepherding a process along, finding consensus between groups of people, rather than injecting any creativity. If I wanted to have more ability to use my creativity and imagination, would I better consider Landscape Architecture or Urban Design?
    3. Having said that, my interest is designing landscapes for pedestrian priority in urban revitalization areas, based on research of effective "pedestrian-priority zones" in Europe. I need to know if a planning degree is what it takes to get me there, or is Urban Design or Landscape Architecture what I am after?
    4. How is Urban Design different than Urban Planning? Would anyone on this list know what kind of firms or agencies hire Urban Designers?

    Thank you so much in advance!
    Chris Stebbins
    Senior GIS Analyst/Developer

  2. #2
    Oct 2010
    Portland, OR
    I see that this post may better fit in the Career planning folder, I may repost and remove this copy.

    Moderator note:
    Moved from Make No Small Plans to Career Development and Advice. Carry on.
    Last edited by Gedunker; 29 Oct 2010 at 4:17 PM.

  3. #3
    1. Mid-range salaries possible with planning, from 40k-60k common. Above 80k, you will most likely have some kind of senior, or supervisory position. Very few making six figures; these are pretty much limited to firm partners, planning directors, or upper-level federal bureaucrats.

    2. Yes. Hell yes. Don't ever think that planners get to do anything creative. Very few of us do so, and you are right about shepharding a project through the process... that's planning in a nutshell.

    3. You need to do architecture if you want to design. Very, very few planners do actual design. They might work in a design firm, but there you have the architects doing the actual design work, and the planner gets to do something like editing, graphic layout, presentation, or project management.

    4. Urban design is what architects do when they are designing urban spaces. Urban planning is what planners do when they are planning in urban places. The former deals primarily with the physical realm, the latter deals primarily with the social realm.

    Good luck with everything. I would generally discourage your interest in planning if you want to do anything really creative. Planning is more about communicating and processing information. You should veer toward more concrete work.

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