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Thread: Masters in environmental planning

  1. #1
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    Masters in environmental planning

    Hi all,

    I was wondering if you could give me a bit of advice regarding environmental planning. I am in my last year of my bsc in geography and i have applied for a number of masters courses. One of them is in environmental planning which i have received a placement offer providing i graduate with the suitable grades (which i am very likely to).

    However i am not sure if this stuff is the sort of stuff for me as i can't really find out exactly what environmental planners actually do.
    One of the reasons i chose geography for my undergraduate degree was that i have an interest in the environment. I have an interest in how environments change, how people interact with environments, i have an interest in environmental processes e.g. i undertook my dissertation on the effects of coastal erosion on till cliffs and the implications for land use change.

    Work like this is something i am really interested in and i was wondering does environmental planning involve anything like this? I enjoy both the practical and theoretical side of environmental science i.e. i enjoy going into the field and measuring erosion rates, monitoring air pollution etc. As environmental planners is there fieldwork involved like this?

    My understanding of the job is that a client would ask you to investigate the suitability of usage of a piece of land for x. The planner would then investigate underlying geology, hydrology, geomorphology and use GIS to determine the appropriateness of the site and various planning regulations.

    Basically what i am asking here is there a scientific/investigation side to environmental planning or is it based totally in environmental regulations, codes and stuff like that?

    Any replies to this would be greatly appreciated!

    Thank you.

  2. #2
    A major part of what environmental planners do is assess how development will impact the environment. And as there are many facets of the environment (geology, water, air, etc.), there are as many specialties inside environmental planning, although planners will generally not be so far down the science end of the scale. I like environmental planning. It gives me a closer connection to the real world, and all the projects you come into contact with are typically further down the path of conceptualization and realization, so you work with much more possible things, rather than mostly pie in the sky plans. I prepared environmental impact reports/statements, and I'd say it dealt roughly equally with science and regulation. There are env. planning firms that work more on the science end of the scale, for example, specializing in geology/civil engineering, or archaeology, or especially traffic engineering, or air quality/climate change stuff, and so on. Then there are firms which are more planners per se and put together all the other folks' stuff for various plans and reports. So it really depends on the type of firm you work for. Rarely will you have a firm that has equal strengths in all these areas of specialization, so typically there are the generalists and then the specialists. I worked for a generalist, although we did do a lot of our own analysis, depending on the project.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by chocolatechip View post
    ... It gives me a closer connection to the real world, and all the projects you come into contact with are typically further down the path of conceptualization and realization, so you work with much more possible things, rather than mostly pie in the sky plans. I prepared environmental impact reports/statements, and I'd say it dealt roughly equally with science and regulation. ... I worked for a generalist, although we did do a lot of our own analysis, depending on the project.
    IME the more science you have, the easier the work and the better the planner. But data collection and sciency stuff? Nah. Paper pushing and document reading and analyzing? Uh-huh. So your question:
    Basically what i am asking here is there a scientific/investigation side to environmental planning or is it based totally in environmental regulations, codes and stuff like that?

    the answer IMHO is that there is somewhat kinda a little investigation, but mostly paper pushing and writing. Which we need so development doesn't screw things up more than it does.

    Is that what you want? If you want more new investigation and question-answering, then you want to look some more.

    Here's another angle: Say you want to have a niche in the applied side, and bridge the two. Hopefully you can do it and people will understand you, you need to have some teacher in you to do that...but is it a living? Fortunately my wife is a rock star so I can be the starving artist and we're a good team at what we do and one day people will get what I'm saying, but it takes time. But is there a niche for you doing that? Can you make one through the force of your will?

  4. #4
    As I implied in my last post, there are a lot of opportunities for a niche in one of the many science-based specialties, such as air quality/climate change, for instance. There are plenty of planning firms who have carved out these niches throughout the field of environmental planning (e.g. PMC in California focusing on climate change), and plenty of larger corporations that do more of those niches in-house (ICF, CDM, URS, SAIC, etc.)

    If you asked me two years ago if I thought env. planning was a paper pushing job I would have said yes. But now that I've seen what planners do outside of env. planning, I would say no, not anymore than typical for any office job.

  5. #5
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    Thanks for replying, it's been helpful. I've a few more questions though!

    I totally appreciate that there is going to be a paperwork side to this as a career and i don't have a problem with it.

    In terms of an environmental impact report what does that actually involve and when you go into the field what do you do?

    Realistically i don't expect a planner to be out collecting data for months!

    Also with regards to the scientific material is it taught on the job? The masters course i am interested in seems to be more policy. It does have fieldwork but it doesn't specify what it involves.

    This may seem like a silly question but is there any difference between a planner and a surveyor? The course i have applied for is certified by RICS so i hope i am not asking in the wrong place here, haha!

    If there isn't a whole lot of scientific work i'm not that bothered, a bit would be good though. Through my education in geography i have had to take decision-making based exams were you are given lots of data and you have to decide the suitability of a number of proposals (i think it was the usage of geothermal energy on an island). Also i have used arcgis a lot this year in selecting sites for the construction of an aquaculture lab based on its proximity to roads, sewerage and land use. I find that stuff interesting, is that what the work involves if it's not totally scientific?

    What i was saying previously was do you go and collect e.g. the point data used in the gis software, that sort of stuff. Like i said i don't think clients have a long time to wait while you measure erosion rates over the period of a year, haha!

    Again, any assistance appreciated.

    Thanks!

  6. #6
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Alowishus View post
    This may seem like a silly question but is there any difference between a planner and a surveyor?
    Its about the same as a secretary who sharpens pencils and the accountant who uses them. This is not to say surveyors are unimportant or that we don't need their work.

    Quote Originally posted by Alowishus View post
    If there isn't a whole lot of scientific work i'm not that bothered, a bit would be good though.

    There is exactly zero data collection and hypothesis testing. Zero. Nil. Zip. There is analysis and explanation and negotiation and teaching and writing. There are some firms who, as above, stretch the limits a bit, but in no way, shape or form is that scientific. You will take a scientific education, do some analysis, and write something, and include some maps you made in the body and appendices.

  7. #7
    Quote Originally posted by Alowishus View post
    In terms of an environmental impact report what does that actually involve and when you go into the field what do you do?

    Realistically i don't expect a planner to be out collecting data for months!
    No, planners putting together an environmental impact report/statement (EIR/EIS) do not stay out in the field for months. The time spent in the field will vary depending on what part of the environment you are studying, but in general, planners themselves will maybe do field work ranging from an hour or two to a multi-day overnight trip. It just depends on what you're studying. As far as how "scientific" it all is, that depends on, again, the part of environment you're concerned with. But in general, planners do not get involved with the hard science stuff like geology, air, hydro, etc., at least not at a very project-specific level. For larger programs (land use development) we might write a lot of those sections because the scope is wider and your review doesn't have to be as detailed (since the "project" is really a plan, and not a specific structure or whatever).

    This may seem like a silly question but is there any difference between a planner and a surveyor? The course i have applied for is certified by RICS so i hope i am not asking in the wrong place here, haha!
    Absolutely. A huge difference. If you're asking that question you havent done enough research into what planning is, or can be.

    Also i have used arcgis a lot this year in selecting sites for the construction of an aquaculture lab based on its proximity to roads, sewerage and land use. I find that stuff interesting, is that what the work involves if it's not totally scientific?
    That's GIS analysis, not planning per se. Planners might do some of that, but planners don't go out and collect the GIS data.

    I'd say that you're focusing on the tangential skills-based fields of GIS analysis and surveying, rather than planning. Planners are thinkers. We deal with big picture stuff. We're communicators, project managers, not technicians. It's vital that some of us have basic technical competency in a lot of things, like GIS, but not all of us. But we don't spend all day dealing with those technical things. In my experience the primary thing we do is communicate with stakeholders and decision makers. Everything else supports that amorphous function.

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