Urban planning community

+ Reply to thread
Results 1 to 19 of 19

Thread: Questions about a career in environmental planning

  1. #1
    Member
    Registered
    Nov 2010
    Location
    Southern California
    Posts
    7

    Questions about a career in environmental planning

    Hi everyone,

    I'm new here - late 20s and working in a different field, but considering a switch to planning as it really interests me. I'm trying to learn as much as I can, and am considering applying to grad schools for 2012!

    A lot about planning interests me but what gets me the most excited is planning for sustainable communities. I have a couple questions about environmental planning as a career.

    - Do you need a science undergrad or background for environmental planning jobs? My background is in the fine arts but I am very interested in environmental planning (especially in California, where I live).

    - How's the job market for environmentally focused planners in CA (Bay Area, specifically) compared to other specialties, and do you think it might get better in the next 5 years?

    - Where do most environmental/sustainable city planners work - private or public? It seems like a lot of the city/county jobs are for generalists, but I don't know about the federal agencies. Do any private agencies consult specifically on sustainable development and planning?

    Sorry if some of these questions are naive but I'm just trying to learn! Thanks everyone in advance!

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
    Registered
    Aug 2001
    Location
    The Cheese State
    Posts
    9,978
    Environmental planners often work to prepare environmental impact statements and to deal with issues such as brownfields. They may deal with issues such as stormwater (although that usually falls to engineering) or environmental quality (which is more typically dealt with by parks and recreation, except when a community is large enough to have an environmental department). More truly environmentally-focused jobs are available in the private sector and federal government. It does help quite a bit to have an environmental background as it allows tou to be more flexible in the work you do. For example, working for an engineering firm you might spend most of your time preparing environmental impact statements, but you might be able to diversify and do plant inventories, management plans, hazard mitigation plans, or air/water quality monitoring. Like any field, limiting yourself to a small geographic area is going to impact the availability of jobs.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  3. #3
    Member
    Registered
    Nov 2010
    Location
    Southern California
    Posts
    7
    thanks for your insight!

    I unfortunately don't have that much flexibility as to where I can move or go to school due to my partner's job and family ties. I'd love to be able to go wherever the work is, but unfortunately it's not all about me!

    I am not really into landscape architecture as I'm not a great designer, and I'm definitely not an engineer (though I am halfway decent at math!) Where I do succeed is in leading teams, writing well, being the negotiator/mediator between various groups, and convincingly arguing a standpoint. Hopefully those things will help me in the planning world (?!)

    I'll be totally honest when I say that I don't totally know what an environmental planner does, but it seems that every planner has such a different career from the next one. What interests me the most is helping cities become more sustainable via green buildings, sustainable land use planning, preserving biodiversity, responsible waste management, green energy, etc.

    I feel like I'm throwing out a bunch of buzz words here but I'm not afraid to be the idealistic newb for the time being. What kind of planners do the above kind of work? And in the private sector, where are they found?

    Thanks again!

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
    Registered
    Aug 2001
    Location
    The Cheese State
    Posts
    9,978
    Quote Originally posted by chixor View post
    ...Where I do succeed is in leading teams, writing well, being the negotiator/mediator between various groups, and convincingly arguing a standpoint. Hopefully those things will help me in the planning world...
    They will! Very few people have the ability to write well and convincingly, and planners need to write a lot.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  5. #5
    Cyburbian
    Registered
    Dec 2006
    Location
    midwest
    Posts
    2,802
    There is a whole subforum devoted to EP. See previous posts by chocolatechip and CPSURaf (sorry I'm leaving out more people but it's 5am and I'm headed to the gym).
    "This is great, honey. What's the crunchy stuff?"
    "M&Ms. I ran out of paprika."

    Family Guy

  6. #6
    Member
    Registered
    Nov 2010
    Location
    Southern California
    Posts
    7
    thanks! I did ask in the "introduce yourself" forum where I should post these questions and I was told career forum... but I have been browsing the environmental forum, thanks!

  7. #7
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
    Registered
    Feb 2007
    Location
    As far south of SoCal as I Will Go
    Posts
    5,088
    Quote Originally posted by chixor View post
    Hi everyone,

    I'm new here - late 20s and working in a different field, but considering a switch to planning as it really interests me. I'm trying to learn as much as I can, and am considering applying to grad schools for 2012!

    A lot about planning interests me but what gets me the most excited is planning for sustainable communities. I have a couple questions about environmental planning as a career.

    - Do you need a science undergrad or background for environmental planning jobs? My background is in the fine arts but I am very interested in environmental planning (especially in California, where I live).

    - How's the job market for environmentally focused planners in CA (Bay Area, specifically) compared to other specialties, and do you think it might get better in the next 5 years?

    - Where do most environmental/sustainable city planners work - private or public? It seems like a lot of the city/county jobs are for generalists, but I don't know about the federal agencies. Do any private agencies consult specifically on sustainable development and planning?

    Sorry if some of these questions are naive but I'm just trying to learn! Thanks everyone in advance!
    Short and dirty answers for ya.

    1) no, but it helps to have some sort of "background" in environmental work. As cardinal, diversification is key as a part of EP. You definitely need a firm grasp of CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) to qualify for any EP job here in this state. School will teach you the basics, but on the job training will get you where you need to go.

    2) The job market isn't that bad, however isn't that bad is an understatement. Private firms just aren't hiring. There is work, but they battle for it and right now and for the next few years until construction picks up the need for planners will remain flat. For firms that specialize in this field look up AMEC, PBS&J, Michael Brandemen & Associates, EDAW. Because of every changing laws in this state, this is probably the one planning field that will continue to grow, but you probably need to specialize in something like GHG, energy conservation or even better, wild life management.

    3) As cardinal said, private sector and federal mainly. Some cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles have specific environmental planners on staff, but mainly senior level stuff.

    good luck.
    follow me on the twitter @rcplans

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Signature's avatar
    Registered
    Aug 2007
    Location
    California
    Posts
    52

    love hurts

    Chixor, you and I are cut from the same cloth...makes sense, because I originally from the Bay Area, too (and so happy to be back!). I actually do have the science background, and made the switch from Wildlife Biology/Conservation (undergrad degree) to Urban Planning (masters, environmental emphasis). I am also excited about formulating and implementing policy/programs that green our cities: residential and commercial, buildings, stormwater management, transportation...the whole nine yards. My master's thesis was on greening affordable/modest homes, and how to do so on a really tight budget.

    I would tell you that right now, in the Great Recession Era, its hard to find entry-level planning work. I just finished one unpaid internship, I'm applying away for anything suitable, and I'm about to start another internship next week (might pay). Ouch. But love hurts, and I really love this profession. It's the One. lol.I just finished my master's thesis in October (*cheers, applause* thank you ) and dove right in to my first volunteer position without being ultra picky.

    So the question is: how badly do you need to make money? And how soon? Because I am childless and can live at home, and I had built up savings before taking the plunge for a 2nd degree. I can weather out this storm for a while before I succumb.

    Sorry this post isn't all sunshine and roses, but I'm just telling it like it is.
    Last edited by Signature; 01 Dec 2010 at 7:42 PM.
    "Believe. No pessimist ever discovered the secrets of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land, or opened a new heaven to the human spirit."

    ~ Helen Keller

  9. #9
    Corn Burning Fool giff57's avatar
    Registered
    Jul 1998
    Location
    On the Mother River
    Posts
    4,580
    My undergrad is also in Fish and Wildlife with a master in URP. Nice to know that someone else took the weird path.
    “As soon as public service ceases to be the chief business of the citizens, and they would rather serve with their money than with their persons, the State is not far from its fall”
    Jean-Jacques Rousseau

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Signature's avatar
    Registered
    Aug 2007
    Location
    California
    Posts
    52
    Giff, there we three of us former field biologists in my Master's program. We had two environmental policy people to boot. Class was 25 total. I immediately saw the connection between the two seemingly unrelated fields: land use, resource competition, and pollution.
    "Believe. No pessimist ever discovered the secrets of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land, or opened a new heaven to the human spirit."

    ~ Helen Keller

  11. #11
    Cyburbian cng's avatar
    Registered
    Nov 2010
    Location
    Greater Los Angeles
    Posts
    207
    chixor, if your interest lies in sustainable communities, you don't necessarily have to limit yourself to the field (and sub-fields) of environmental planning. Cardinal and CPSUR provided good background info for environmental planning careers--although I personally find it a little bit confining, since the job responsibilities can get very specific. You can certainly be involved in the planning of sustainable communities from a land use or architectural/design standpoint. I consider myself a planning generalist, but my work on the city's General Plan and zoning ordinance provided opportunities to draft policies and regulations that support energy and resource conservation, and other sustainable practices. The designation of land uses, planning of circulation patterns, and growth management practices can all fit within the context of sustainability. In any matter---good luck and stay interested!

  12. #12
    Cyburbian
    Registered
    Dec 2006
    Location
    midwest
    Posts
    2,802
    A small percentage of EP is devoted solely to sustainability and green building. A lot of EP measures the impacts of proposed improvement on the environment through Environmental Impact Statements (EISs) or the less stringent Environmental Assessments (EAs). These reports are compiled by experts in various fields: land use, economics, social, cultural resources, wetlands, floodplains, threatened and endangered species, hazardous waste, etc. Public involvement plays a role in these reports, too. The majority of EISs and EAs are for transportation projects. However, EISs and EAs can be used for any project that may have a serious impact on the environment. This can include subdivisions, commercial development, strip mines, parks, etc. In California, CEQA is more stringent than NEPA and used for almost anything that is built in that state. Florida also has strict laws. I have worked in EP for 5 1/2 years but I just have a general BUP.

    There are some other types of EP that are not done by planners at all! This work is not necessarily tied with any human improvement, but employing a holistic view in protecting ecosystems. Ecological risk assessment quantifies the risk of a particular impact on the ecosystem, such as increased emissions or polluted water (again, not necessarily tied to a specific project). EP can also have ties with land use planning and site design to ensure that habitat corridors to allow wildlife to move freely within a site.

    Sustainability and green design are often, but not always, promoted by land use planners, landscape architects, and architects. You don't necessarily need an environmental planning degree to do this work. See other posts.

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

    Family Guy

  13. #13
    Member
    Registered
    Nov 2010
    Location
    Southern California
    Posts
    7
    thanks for all the great responses everyone! it's nice to see that there is an obvious love and passion for planning here.

    However, looking around the rest of the forum, it seems like the job market is dismal and doesn't look like it will be recovering anytime soon. if I started school in fall 2012, I would be in my 30s by the time I graduate, and would be thinking about starting or will have already started a family. Not working and not bringing money in would not be an option for me.

    I currently have a job I like where I make about $75K a year. It's just not a field I want to stay in forever - but the skills I have are easily transferable between many types of jobs, and I've never had a problem finding employment, even in the tough times. I fear that planning won't have that flexibility. In my current field, I'm very confident that I can move to a new city and be employed within a month or two. In planning, it seems like if the work's dried up you have to move or you're out of luck.

    Is it really as dismal as everyone on this board (not this thread, but the board in general) makes it sound? Sometimes I think I should just be an involved citizen who sits on the planning commission and leave it at that, sadly

  14. #14
    Cyburbian cng's avatar
    Registered
    Nov 2010
    Location
    Greater Los Angeles
    Posts
    207
    Quote Originally posted by chixor View post
    thanks for all the great responses everyone! it's nice to see that there is an obvious love and passion for planning here.

    However, looking around the rest of the forum, it seems like the job market is dismal and doesn't look like it will be recovering anytime soon. if I started school in fall 2012, I would be in my 30s by the time I graduate, and would be thinking about starting or will have already started a family. Not working and not bringing money in would not be an option for me.

    I currently have a job I like where I make about $75K a year. It's just not a field I want to stay in forever - but the skills I have are easily transferable between many types of jobs, and I've never had a problem finding employment, even in the tough times. I fear that planning won't have that flexibility. In my current field, I'm very confident that I can move to a new city and be employed within a month or two. In planning, it seems like if the work's dried up you have to move or you're out of luck.

    Is it really as dismal as everyone on this board (not this thread, but the board in general) makes it sound? Sometimes I think I should just be an involved citizen who sits on the planning commission and leave it at that, sadly
    Were you planning on attending grad school while you work full time? Yes, it is dismal out there, but there are few jobs available--but it may require you to relocate. You may also have difficulty finding an entry-level planning job that starts at 75K. In pricier coastal areas, like LA or SF, you might find a public agency position that starts off around 50-60K, and possibly get to 75K in about 4 to 5 years... but this comes with the big caveat that your workplace doesn't have furloughs or salary freezes, etc. I think there's a thread that talks about planning salaries somewhere... Ultimately, it's a personal and family decision with a variety of factors, depending on your goals, interests, and willingness and ability to make sacrifices. I'll say this though... 10 years ago, I was working as a high school science teacher... I burned out as a teacher, felt like I was mostly baby-sitting, so I started exploring other careers... my interests in city planning grew... soon after, I quit my teaching job, told my wife we were going to be poor for awhile, went back to grad school... and now, I can say that I am pleased with my decision and that I find fulfillment in my work.

  15. #15
    Member
    Registered
    Nov 2010
    Location
    Southern California
    Posts
    7
    no, I'd be going to school full-time without working, as I have a significant other with a salary - however, that wouldn't cut it for that long, and I would have to be able to feel confident that I'd be able to get a job without being unemployed for 6 months or having to move across the country.

    it just seems like with the job market seeming as dismal as it is (as portrayed on these boards), sacrificing 2 years of salary, plus taking on $60-100K of student debt for grad school (on top of $30K in lingering undergrad debt in my case), for having to take at least a $15K pay cut on the other side... it's a tough call!

  16. #16
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
    Registered
    Feb 2007
    Location
    As far south of SoCal as I Will Go
    Posts
    5,088
    Quote Originally posted by chixor View post
    no, I'd be going to school full-time without working, as I have a significant other with a salary - however, that wouldn't cut it for that long, and I would have to be able to feel confident that I'd be able to get a job without being unemployed for 6 months or having to move across the country.

    it just seems like with the job market seeming as dismal as it is (as portrayed on these boards), sacrificing 2 years of salary, plus taking on $60-100K of student debt for grad school (on top of $30K in lingering undergrad debt in my case), for having to take at least a $15K pay cut on the other side... it's a tough call!
    if money is an issue and will be after grad school i wouldn't do it. Think about it. Money is an issue now for you. It would be even more an issue when you have kids mouths to feed as well. You want a planning gig comparable to what you make today. That isn't going to happen in this field as an entry level and you certainly will have to pay your dues for easily 3 years maybe more to get about that much in salary. 75K is a lot, maybe not for California, but that is about a high to mid level pay for most planners in this state. The Planners who get paid either own a firm or are a Shareholder level in a private company or a Planning Director. EPs aren't typically Planning Directors and are you willing to point in the time and effort to either a) start your own firm or b) be a superstar in the private sector?

    Planning doesn't pay. That pretty much sums it up. People like myself do it out of professional passion for what i do. I am a one income family making less than 50K in the 3rd lease affordable housing market in the nation. I took a 15% pay cut for my latest job because i love what i do so much. Am i poor? Sure am. But do I love what i do? Yes indeed.
    follow me on the twitter @rcplans

  17. #17
    Cyburbian
    Registered
    Dec 2006
    Location
    midwest
    Posts
    2,802
    Out of curiosity, chixor, what type of work are you currently doing and what is your training/degrees?
    "This is great, honey. What's the crunchy stuff?"
    "M&Ms. I ran out of paprika."

    Family Guy

  18. #18
    Member
    Registered
    Nov 2010
    Location
    Southern California
    Posts
    7
    I have an art school undergrad degree, but I work in entertainment marketing. It's a very flexible gig - I have worked for ad agencies, studios and tech companies.

  19. #19
    Cyburbian Veloise's avatar
    Registered
    May 2004
    Location
    Grand Rapids, Michigan (Detroit ex-pat since 2004)
    Posts
    4,785

    Test the waters

    Find a nearby university with off-hours classes, and take one or more environment/planning classes as a non-degree student. (That's what I did.)

+ Reply to thread

More at Cyburbia

  1. Replies: 9
    Last post: 20 Apr 2011, 6:27 PM
  2. Replies: 43
    Last post: 12 Apr 2011, 4:00 PM
  3. Career in Environmental Studies and Planning
    Career Development and Advice
    Replies: 0
    Last post: 13 Jan 2009, 4:44 PM
  4. Planning career questions
    Career Development and Advice
    Replies: 2
    Last post: 02 Jan 2006, 5:38 PM
  5. Replies: 2
    Last post: 08 Oct 2004, 7:17 PM