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Thread: Urban planning/design from an art and politics background

  1. #1
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    Urban planning/design from an art and politics background

    Hi,

    Hope this makes sense.... So I have a very schizophrenic work background and skills set and I'm trying to figure out where I fit on the urban design/urban planning spectrum! My plan is to apply for schools this coming fall.

    I have an academic background in international affairs (with a strong emphasis development studies and sociology/anthropology) and a strong professional background in the arts. I went from a political science oriented job immediately upon graduation to my current position drawing illustrations for books. I also am a practicing and exhibiting artist focusing loosely on installation works, figure drawing, and portraits.

    Generally, design is my primary interest but planning as it relates to environmental issues, politics, and land use is a strong secondary interest.

    Overall - a few Urban Design programs certainly seem to fit the bill but I have no architecture background. Is my current illustration/art professional experience enough? Does anyone know of an urban planning program that blends policy & design aesthetics?

    Any help would be great!

  2. #2
    Cyburbian
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    I would say it depends what you want to do with the degree and how much of a design emphasis you want. You could certainly go for a Masters in Planning with a focus on urban design and placemaking; or do an MA in Planning and a one-year Masters of Urban Design concurrently. I certainly know those with design-oriented planning backgrounds who do downtown and area plans, visioning, subdivision work, design guidelines, etc.

    If you are more interested in doing the technical design work, you may want to look at architecture or landscape architecture.

    I think your design background would serve you well. As for planning background - this seems to me as much a matter of interest and knowledge than skill sets - i.e. if you are interested in urban and urban design issues and have explored these thru your political science background or by keeping up with APA, CNU, etc., you should face no obstacles transitioning into a planning program. After all, it isn't rocket science! But it can be very thoughtful and interdisciplinary.

  3. #3
    Quote Originally posted by asc View post
    Does anyone know of an urban planning program that blends policy & design aesthetics?

    Any help would be great!
    Any planning program worth its salt will have a strong emphasis in both policy and design.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by chocolatechip View post
    Any planning program worth its salt will have a strong emphasis in both policy and design.
    Have to disagree on this one. I earned by BUP from UIUC which, along with its MUP and PhD programs, do not have a design emphasis. However I am equally adept in hard core design as well as research, analysis, policy, and technical writing. UIUC's architecture, planning, and landscape architecture programs are very separated. I started college in architecture before switching to planning but I taught myself a lot about site design, illustration, etc. OUTSIDE of class.
    "This is great, honey. What's the crunchy stuff?"
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  5. #5
    Cyburbian cng's avatar
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    Hand illustration is a dying technical skill, given the more frequent use of CAD/SketchUp. However, computer software will never replace the ability to observe, interpret, and formulate ideas, which separates artists from draftpersons. You will be an asset to the design community, and I hope you will find a program that will suit your needs and prepare you for a fulfilling design position.

  6. #6
    Quote Originally posted by nrschmid View post
    Have to disagree on this one. I earned by BUP from UIUC which, along with its MUP and PhD programs, do not have a design emphasis. However I am equally adept in hard core design as well as research, analysis, policy, and technical writing. UIUC's architecture, planning, and landscape architecture programs are very separated. I started college in architecture before switching to planning but I taught myself a lot about site design, illustration, etc. OUTSIDE of class.
    I wasn't talking about people, but referring to the programs themselves. If you developed design skills outside the program, that's great, but the best planning programs have a strong urban design component.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian HomerJ's avatar
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    I think nrschmid is alluding to the fact that UIUC is considered a very good planning program (top 10 I believe? I could be wrong about this) but it has little if any emphasis on design. I know because I went there as well, and like nrschmid any design skills I acquired was either through my time in Architecture or self taught. There are options for joint degrees between planning and arch or landscape arch but if you strictly studied planning you could easily avoid learning virtually any design skills.
    Insanity in individuals is something rare - but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.

  8. #8
    Quote Originally posted by HomerJ9139 View post
    I think nrschmid is alluding to the fact that UIUC is considered a very good planning program (top 10 I believe? I could be wrong about this) but it has little if any emphasis on design. I know because I went there as well, and like nrschmid any design skills I acquired was either through my time in Architecture or self taught. There are options for joint degrees between planning and arch or landscape arch but if you strictly studied planning you could easily avoid learning virtually any design skills.
    I think we may not be on the same page. When i say "design skills," I'm not just talking about hand or computer drafting/modelling, but the spatial and behavioral analysis of spaces and structures. In my opinion, this is the foundation of being able to adequately plan in the physical realm. Doesn't necessarily mean you know how to use SketchUp, AutoCAD, Revit, or whatever, but that you understand the basics of urban design. Essentially, we are talking about the difference between education and technical skills.

    In my opinion, if there is a trifecta of an ideal planning education (if such a thing really exists), it would be 1) Urban design, 2) Environment, and 3) Policy.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by chocolatechip View post
    I think we may not be on the same page. When i say "design skills," I'm not just talking about hand or computer drafting/modelling, but the spatial and behavioral analysis of spaces and structures. In my opinion, this is the foundation of being able to adequately plan in the physical realm. Doesn't necessarily mean you know how to use SketchUp, AutoCAD, Revit, or whatever, but that you understand the basics of urban design. Essentially, we are talking about the difference between education and technical skills.

    In my opinion, if there is a trifecta of an ideal planning education (if such a thing really exists), it would be 1) Urban design, 2) Environment, and 3) Policy.
    We had a course called "Urban Design" which was more of a lecture/discussion on spatial and behavioral analysis including books by Kevin Lynch and Alan Jacobs (among others). We had one group assignment where we visited a site in Champaign or Urbana, took digital photos, and sketched images on trash overlays. I often use the term dynamic experience to describe how people/see feel when they are moving through a site. It was a very interesting course but I would hardly call it a design course.

    I hate using the term "urban design" because I have also done "rural design" projects. I talked about this term at great length on cyburbia a few years back so I'm not going into depth. I wish that UIUC had more design components but I am not going to hold it against them. They don't market themselves as a design school.

    There are different levels of design, which for me, are based partly on the level of detail and accuracy. If I asked any of you to design a parking lot, some of you would draw a box in front of a building and call it a day. I don't call that design. Others might go one step further and identify access points and/or general circulation patterns, which has important elements of design but I wouldn't necessarily call it site design. I have gone so far as to design curb cuts, landscaped islands with respect to turn radii and dimensions, not to mention creating lighting and photometric plans. Most of this is in the landscape architecture realm so I wouldn't expect other designers to necessarily have these skills. Even as a designer I have limitations since I lack a formal design degree. I can sketch out a conceptual utility plan but don't ask me how to design an irrigation system. I never took a site grading class although I understand how erosion works so I still have a lot to learn about complex site design with slopes/grading. The engineers/landscape architects would go another step further (asphalt, rebars, drainage, etc.).

    I would consider a good design program that teaches skills somewhere in between the conceptual design (access points, general circulation patterns) to 75% construction documents. For those of you who do current planning, each community will have different requirements for each design phase. I consider 75% construction documents as including property lines, setback lines, locations of sidewalks, conceptual design of pavement within the right-of-way, a conceptual lighting plan, and possibly some level of a planting plan. Is this asking too much for a planning program? Yes, but then again I have always said if you REALLY want to learn the nuts and bolts of site design, go to landscape architecture or architecture school.
    "This is great, honey. What's the crunchy stuff?"
    "M&Ms. I ran out of paprika."

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  10. #10
    Cyburbian HomerJ's avatar
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    I suppose it's difficult to say how adequate UIUC's program is since I lack in-depth knowledge of other schools and their planning programs. However, one introductory urban design course and basically one GIS course that addresses topics such as spatial analysis doesn't seem like much. And this is on the graduate level. If you don't want to take these courses as an undergrad, there is basically no requirement, you don't even have to take a introductory GIS course if you don't want.

    Sorry about this, I think we kind of derailed the OP. To make this cogent, I would not suggest UIUC's MUP if urban design is your thing . One option you can always consider is the dual degree, and I think even at UIUC if you pursued the dual MUP L.Arch degree you would get a much more thorough knowledge of urban design principles. Another school I took a close look at when I was still considering grad school was Washington University in St. Louis, they have a program that appears to be much more focused on urban design as well.
    Insanity in individuals is something rare - but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.

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