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Thread: So we can't be negative, err honest, about the planning profession?

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
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    So we can't be negative, err honest, about the planning profession?

    Over the past few months several cyburbians complain that some of us are just too pessimistic about the planning profession and that we are spooking current students or prospective students. I usually try to stay on the optimistic side, more so than others (who shall remain nameless). But I am not going to deny what these planners are saying. It is very very bleak out there, and it has been very bleak for quite sometime.

    On one hand we complain that there are way too many planners looking for too few jobs, and that has been a trend long before this current mess set in. On the other hand, we encourage more and more students and entry-level planners to just wait around hope for the best. We tell them that any experience is better than nothing at all, even if it means working a 40 hour unpaid internship, traversing over 2-3 counties for a dead end municipal job, and living cheaply.

    It is one thing to pay one's dues,but to me that means HAVING a PAYING job, even if it doesn't pay great, to get my foot in the door. Well, students and entry-level planners don't even have much of that anymore. Mid-level planners like me are competing for managerial positions against more senior planners, all the way up the food chain. I am grateful I was able to land so many internships, which today would be near impossible. But if I came out of school even in 2007, 2008 I don't think I would have the patience to brave it out.

    Planning is dead. It has been dead for years, and will continue to shrivel up for some years to come. We are heavily, if not entirely dependent, on some form of government assistance. The exception might be for developers, but no one is building at a scale or rate large enough to keep some of us gainfully employed. Congress can't even agree to make which cuts in the federal budget. Has planning EVER been at the top of our priorities? Never.

    Bottom line, if some of us offer a bleak picture of the planning profession, even if it means directing people to other professions, I think we need to respect that (and possibly encourage it). We are trying to increase awareness and respect for our profession, although it is seriously damaged, in ways paralleling our uncontrolled growth over this past decade. We don't HAVE to be bigger and better. I think it is our responsibility to offer a realistic picture of our current profession, even if it grows bleaker by the day.
    Last edited by nrschmid; 26 Jul 2011 at 10:34 AM.
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  2. #2
    OH....IO Hink's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by nrschmid View post
    Planning is dead. It has been dead for years, and will continue to shrivel up for some years to come. We are heavily, if not entirely dependent, on some form of government assistance. The exception might be for developers, but no one is building at a scale or rate large enough to keep some of us gainfully employed. Congress can't even agree to make which cuts in the federal budget. Has planning EVER been at the top of our priorities? Never.

    Bottom line, if some of us offer a bleak picture of the planning profession, even if it means directing people to other professions, I think we need to respect that (and possibly encourage it). We are trying to increase awareness and respect for our profession, although it is seriously damaged, in ways paralleling our uncontrolled growth over this past decade. We don't HAVE to be bigger and better. I think it is our responsibility to offer a realistic picture of our current profession, even if it grows bleaker by the day.
    I agree with you to a point. I am usually the optimist one of the group. I try to put everything into context. But right now the planning profession is in tough times. Trying to pretend like things are going to get better in a year is probably unrealistic. The 2012 election will tell a lot about where our country stands on the size and usefulness of government. I think that will be more telling of where planning is going in the future.

    I am not sure I completely buy the planning is dead argument. I think that it will have to be rebranded. Planning and zoning and economic development will all have to be modified to meet the current needs and wants of their communities. You could always make the argument that it will require cities to be more frugal in their following of plans and codes. They will have less staff and must use their resources better.

    Better planning will allow for a more streamlined, smaller government. Who knows.
    A common mistake people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools. -Douglas Adams

  3. #3
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    I think private sector consultants in planning are probably going to be much less prevalent, and the number of public sector long range planners are going to be less.

    But I don't see the development review public sector planners and their responsibilities going away. It's not like land use regulation is going to end, so there will always be jobs for planners, since most "planners" do development review anyways.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

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  4. #4
    Cyburbian dw914er's avatar
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    We're at an interesting crossroad for this profession. I agree, the situation is very tough for new, younger planners, and even the mid/high level planners who want to take on more responsibility. I'm one of the "fresh out of college" planners who is now working two different internships (over 50 hours a week) as a free "volunteer." It's good experience, but in the end I need a positive cash flow to survive, and the market is tough if you want to get paid. The city governments I am working at has what they affectionately call "Fire Drills," which is them essentially proving to the higher officials that they shouldn't be laid off. It's hard for them to throw me an opportunity if they are trying to keep their own jobs.

    One of the problems I think just stems from a lack of understanding of what our profession does. I've seen someone here mention the "marketability" of planning, and it's something we, collectively, need to work on. City managers, council members, and the public may have an idea of what a planner does, but they do not see the entire picture and think, therefore, we're less valuable than we really are. That why we see some very low paying opportunities spring up around the country. People don't understand how important our work is. We have to be the filter for the city's regulations, as well as state and federal regulations. Someone off the street could not tell you the first thing about NEPA, or CEQA (for the California Folks), etc. Sure, every company/corporation/city will have waste, but there are bureaucratic things we have to do regardless of how the economy is.

    The second problem is government. The general public, especially in these times, are upset at "government." I told someone about my (hopeful) career choice and they started ranting about how me and my people were messing up, and couldn't even figure out the national budget. They instantly grouped me into just the "government," regardless of the fact that I have no role in the federal government or any of the issues they complained about. It just reminds me that there is pressure against us.

    The third problem is, of course, the economy. We are the sacrificial lambs for the budget. It's why cities are short staffed. It's why different programs (such as California's redevelopment agencies) are on the chopping blocks. It's why development has slowed down. Almost every sector is praying for growth, and so things look bleak right now.

    I do have to say though, I can see some light at the end of the tunnel. Things are slowly picking up. The situation is bleak, but the planners in the cities I am working for are feeling the pressure. They recognize that they are short staffed. Developers are starting to get clients who are asking the questions "what can I do with this land?" They just need the help. And we just need to budget to provide the help that they need. I hope things get better. I invested alot of my time and energy to make a difference, and I would like to be given opportunity to do so. I would also like to live outside of a cardboard house while I do that.

  5. #5
    1. If planning itself is not "dead", the university programs which produce new planners are surely dead in their ability to prepare planners for the as-yet unknowable new world under which planners will work. These programs are all still producing too many planners with skills to match past paradigms. It is a brutal reality that they face, but face it they must, regardless of how much time and money they've invested so far. These forums are basically the "last stop" before they enter the workforce.

    2. I don't trust anything that senior, or top-level planners have to say about A) the job market, or B) the future of the profession. Nothing personal. I just think that their perspective is unalterably molded for Old Planning in pre-Great Recession times. That goes for most of the planning professors, who often have a comical amount of experience doing what they teach.

    3. Given the adequately justified "doom and gloom" for this profession that every event and pattern of growth supports since the beginning of this century, I am not going to apologize for warning students and new planners of the situation. I do not apologize for being, at times, overwhelmingly negative about their prospects. The reason has to do with the opportunity costs in spending your life trying to get an internship, trying to get an entry level position in a profession that probably won't reward you in any of the ways you've been led to believe, or led yourself to believe. If you're having a lot of trouble getting a planning job, be willing to cut your losses and move on and invest your time in productive pursuits. Investigate professions where you add value to something.

    4. If any irresponsibility exists among these forums, it lies at the feet of the many senior and top-level planners who continue to feed hope to those new planners; oblivious (or uncaring) of the different set of realities those new planners face now and will continue to face in the future. The older planners need to accept that their perspective is decaying and is of no use to the new century of the profession.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian otterpop's avatar
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    Did anyone promise these budding planners a job when they got out? I do not recall anyone promising me one. I had to scour the country for a job and ended up someplace I did not necessarily want to be, but it got me on the road to a better place and postion.

    Things are tough all over. Everyone is hurting. Not just planners. Things aren't going to get much better for a while. Pessimism is a natural way to feel.

    Quit whining, lower your expectations, hit the streets, and consider growing a pair.
    "I am very good at reading women, but I get into trouble for using the Braille method."

    ~ Otterpop ~

  7. #7
    Quote Originally posted by otterpop View post
    Did anyone promise these budding planners a job when they got out? I do not recall anyone promising me one. I had to scour the country for a job and ended up someplace I did not necessarily want to be, but it got me on the road to a better place and postion.

    Things are tough all over. Everyone is hurting. Not just planners. Things aren't going to get much better for a while. Pessimism is a natural way to feel.

    Quit whining, lower your expectations, hit the streets, and consider growing a pair.
    Sure, "things are bad all over," but planning was becoming less and less relevant in the new century, even BEFORE the housing crash. In other words, the demise of planning as a recognized profession has been in the works at least since the mechanisms of bad development were put in place. The housing crash was merely the inevitable culmination of those mechanisms. The crash was predictable but inescapable. Planners were just one casualty of the whole mess, and not a casualty anyone but us cares about. So of course we would be saying things like "things are bad all over, it's not just us," with the mistaken hope that the future will resemble ANYTHING like before.

  8. #8
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    If you think it's dead, please explain how it is dead and/or why.

    As a profession, it is certainly is hurting right now, but so are the architects, landscape planners, retail estate developers, etc. If planning as a profession is dead in general, then architecture is equally, if not more, dead.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

    Six seasons and a movie!

  9. #9
    Cyburbian
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    I agree with Chocolate. I have always questioned the relevance of the planning profession compared to other heavier, more technical professions. How did our modern/current planning profession emerge? A heavy amount of federal infrastructure spending after WW2. Before that, architects and engineers did a far bigger share of what we call planning today (physical site planning, transportation planning, etc.). Community planning/public involvement had origins in the Progressive Era but didn't grow until the 1950s. Environmental planning and historic preservation didn't gain traction until the mid to late 1960s. International planning, maybe in the 1970s and 1980s.

    Having worked in almost every area of planning, except international, I sometimes feel that many of our specializations are either castoffs from other professions, or the general public is so used to TIFFs, CIPs, historic sites, that they often lump us together under civic/municipal issues (which is in the same lot as public works, flooding, police, fire, etc.). We DON'T have a separate identity that is distinguishable from other services. Planning is not some obscure, inaccessible specialized profession that demands qualified experts. Our profession is not rocket science. Why do you need a graduate degree to write a zoning ordinance or a fiscal impact analysis? We aggrandize our usefulness as a profession, when in reality we planners are far more expendable and replaceable than engineers, scientists, doctors, etc.
    "This is great, honey. What's the crunchy stuff?"
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  10. #10
    Cyburbian Tarf's avatar
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    One of the benefits to living in a "liberal communist" state like California is that the laws seem designed to keep us planners (especially environmental planners) gainfully employed.

    No question the industry is hurting right now. But from my perspective, it's certainly not as bleak as some would say. It is probably VERY difficult right now, even in CA, to get your proverbial foot in the door, but for experienced planners there are jobs out there. I've had two job offers in the last month - and I'm not even looking.

    Also, since the typical entitlement process in CA can run anywhere from 3 to 20 years (depending on the project - most are 5-8 years for master planned developments), we're starting to see a pick up in entitlements, as most developers want to have their property entitled before the market recovers again so they can hit the ground running... er, building. Since even the bleakest assessments place the housing market recovery at about 5-8 years from now, it makes sense that at least in the private sector, things are starting to pick up.

    So I guess I'm on the side of optimism. Even for recent graduates, the market should slowly (SLOWLY) start to pick up over the next couple years. Anyone considering pursuing a degree in planning probably will graduate right around when things fully pick up speed for entry level positions.

    Of course, that's the CA perspective... mileage varies from state to state

  11. #11
    Cyburbian LTKS's avatar
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    Call me crazy or an extreme optimist, but I don't believe it is dead as a profession. Certain sectors of it are hurting right now, the same as most other professions. But, there are some areas within planning that aren't. Transportation planning is a good example. Take a look at job boards, and you'll see how many transit and transportation planning jobs there are in comparison to land use, economic development, etc. I really think that planning is evolving with the times, and as a result, new sectors are emerging. Within the transportation world there are new opportunities that are becoming more and more prevalent. I received a job offer for a transportation operations manager for a large public land trust that operates its own shuttles, develops its own TDM program, etc. Similar jobs are available at large firms, such as Google, that run their own employee systems, and are required to implement extensive TDM measures. Other things I've seen - Safe Routes to Schools planners, transportation jobs dedicated to greenhouse gas reductions, and so on. Yes, these may be location specific, but it is a sign that as needs change, more opportunities open up.

    Outside of transportation planning, there are new things coming up related to public health planning, something that is increasingly important in many locations. More frequently I'm seeing jobs related to non-profit efforts for land trusts, wildlife preservation organizations, and natural resources.

    I think that yes, if you are a development review planner for a local municipality, things are going to be tough now and for a while. But we all evolve with the ever changing world, and frankly, planning will do that. We screwed up with sprawl, McMansions, etc, and now planning has an opportunity to turn itself around and work to mitigate some of the issues that were created - not fix them, but help minimize the damage and move forward with new ways of thinking.

    My two cents.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by mendelman View post
    If you think it's dead, please explain how it is dead and/or why.
    I wouldn't say dead, but I would say on life support.

  13. #13
    OH....IO Hink's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by chocolatechip View post
    Sure, "things are bad all over," but planning was becoming less and less relevant in the new century, even BEFORE the housing crash. In other words, the demise of planning as a recognized profession has been in the works at least since the mechanisms of bad development were put in place. The housing crash was merely the inevitable culmination of those mechanisms. The crash was predictable but inescapable. Planners were just one casualty of the whole mess, and not a casualty anyone but us cares about. So of course we would be saying things like "things are bad all over, it's not just us," with the mistaken hope that the future will resemble ANYTHING like before.
    I respect your thoughts and perspectives, but I have not seen much of the things you think are happening. Planning was booming until the housing mess. You are correct that it was too big, and the size of government was put in check by the recession. It wasn't just planners. It was engineers, park workers, and everyone else in government. All of us saw a decline in jobs. I don't think that relevance is important in this discussion. Planning is relevant. It isn't noticed, but it is always relevant.

    It is bad all over. If you really want to pretend like planning is the only profession that is doing poorly, or that was over sized prior to the bust, then that is fine. No one "cares" about lots of professions that are now being hit hard. Electricians, plumbers, and home builders are doing VERY poorly. They produce a good, and are still doing poorly. If anything the development industry as a whole has been corrected.

    I think it is a good idea to be honest to new planners about our profession. But do you really think that it would be better for someone interested in the built environment to be an architect or engineer? I guess that is an argument.
    A common mistake people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools. -Douglas Adams

  14. #14
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by smccutchan1 View post
    I wouldn't say dead, but I would say on life support.
    But it will pull through. For it to be dead, there would have to be no professionals left to practice it and no one wanting it practiced - like phrenology.

    And I don't buy that you have to have a BUP or MUP to be a "planner". Yes, a licensed architect or engineer could also write and administer zoning codes, but if they do that on a daily basis as their job, then I call them planners.

    As an "industry" or "profession" (depending on your semantic preference), planning is not going anywhere. People want to know what their neighbor can/cannot do with their land and population will always grow, thereby needing private and public planners and developers to initiate and regulate the development of land.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

    Six seasons and a movie!

  15. #15
    Cyburbian kalimotxo's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by otterpop View post
    Did anyone promise these budding planners a job when they got out? I do not recall anyone promising me one. I had to scour the country for a job and ended up someplace I did not necessarily want to be, but it got me on the road to a better place and postion.

    Things are tough all over. Everyone is hurting. Not just planners. Things aren't going to get much better for a while. Pessimism is a natural way to feel.

    Quit whining, lower your expectations, hit the streets, and consider growing a pair.
    otterpop's assessment is spot on. When I first came here two and a half years ago to seek advice on grad school, not one person suggested that the field I was preparing to enter would be particularly easy to break into, much less lucrative if I managed to do so. In my first year of planning school, one of my favorite professors admonished my class to go out and seek marketable skills in GIS, finance, demographic analysis, etc to help insulate ourselves from the paltry job market. He warned us specifically not to trust any national "news" publications that claimed any development-dependent field would see growth immediately or soon. If someone chooses to enter the field (or drop umpteen grand on grad school) with an unrealistically peachy view of their prospects, it's not anyone's fault but their own. It doesn't take a brain surgeon to scrape the surface; a simple google search will confirm that short-term job prospects for planners are shite, with many anecdotes coming from this site alone.

    It is everyone's duty here to be honest about the planning profession. Much of what I see in the career development forum, on the other hand, is mere speculation based on the limited experience of some consistently jaded individuals who have one foot out the door of the profession anyway. Those of you claiming that planning is "dead" or any variation thereof are doing just as much a disservice to the profession (if not more) than anyone who is painting a much rosier view of things. That said, I don't see anyone here claiming that the planning profession is in great shape nor that the future looks particularly bright. In fact, those that might be considered optimists are those that suggest the profession will ever bounce back in any considerable way.

    As an inexperienced planner with only a few years in the field, I am trying to maintain a degree of cautious optimism about the future. I'm lucky enough to have landed a good job just a few weeks out of grad school and a number of my classmates have been similarly fortunate. When it comes down to it, I quite simply don't have enough information to truly speculate on the future of the profession - and neither do those of you who audaciously claim it's dead/dying. Apocalyptic visions do not amount to career development or advice.
    Process and dismissal. Shelter and location. Everybody wants somewhere.

  16. #16
    OH....IO Hink's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by kalimotxo View post
    otterpop's assessment is spot on. When I first came here two and a half years ago to seek advice on grad school, not one person suggested that the field I was preparing to enter would be particularly easy to break into, much less lucrative if I managed to do so. In my first year of planning school, one of my favorite professors admonished my class to go out and seek marketable skills in GIS, finance, demographic analysis, etc to help insulate ourselves from the paltry job market. He warned us specifically not to trust any national "news" publications that claimed any development-dependent field would see growth immediately or soon. If someone chooses to enter the field (or drop umpteen grand on grad school) with an unrealistically peachy view of their prospects, it's not anyone's fault but their own. It doesn't take a brain surgeon to scrape the surface; a simple google search will confirm that short-term job prospects for planners are shite, with many anecdotes coming from this site alone.

    It is everyone's duty here to be honest about the planning profession. Much of what I see in the career development forum, on the other hand, is mere speculation based on the limited experience of some consistently jaded individuals who have one foot out the door of the profession anyway. Those of you claiming that planning is "dead" or any variation thereof are doing just as much a disservice to the profession (if not more) than anyone who is painting a much rosier view of things. That said, I don't see anyone here claiming that the planning profession is in great shape nor that the future looks particularly bright. In fact, those that might be considered optimists are those that suggest the profession will ever bounce back in any considerable way.

    As an inexperienced planner with only a few years in the field, I am trying to maintain a degree of cautious optimism about the future. I'm lucky enough to have landed a good job just a few weeks out of grad school and a number of my classmates have been similarly fortunate. When it comes down to it, I quite simply don't have enough information to truly speculate on the future of the profession - and neither do those of you who audaciously claim it's dead/dying. Apocalyptic visions do not amount to career development or advice.
    Well said. If I could have said it that originally, I would have saved a couple minutes of my life.
    A common mistake people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools. -Douglas Adams

  17. #17
    Proclaiming that planning is a dead profession is not saying that there are no planning jobs to be had, or that planners don't have a place in the system. It's saying that there is nothing (not now, and perhaps not ever) about planning that is unique unto itself. The strongest sectors of planning jobs (environment, transportation) are essentially bureaucrat positions. These planner-bureaucrats help manage the many redundant systems of government. And these planner-bureaucrats really have nothing to do with the historical, now idealized version of planners. In ten to twenty years, most of these positions will probably no longer include the word "planner."

    And lets not even begin talking about physical planners, who, over thirty years ago, weren't really necessary as part of the design-development-building process, and who are no longer necessary now. It was only at the one-time apex of the development boom that physical planners survived contentedly on the gluttonously ignored table scraps left from large contracts (private) or high influxes of development fee and sales tax revenue (public). Now that money is more hard-won, it's reserved for the professionals that can add value to the end product. Planners don't provide critical services.

    I'm all too aware that what I say is not, and cannot be, accepted en masse by the planners here, much less by planners who are desperately trying to make a go of their new careers. However, I think if you honestly look at where this profession began and where it is heading, based on patterns over decades, you will find that my words are not significantly influenced by my "jaded" perspective.

  18. #18
    Cyburbian
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    Is comatose a better word than dead?
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  19. #19
    Quote Originally posted by nrschmid View post
    Is comatose a better word than dead?
    I've been spending time in the yard, trimming trees and bushes around my in-law's property. Many trees have dead and dying limbs and branches. Dead doesn't always mean a catastrophic loss of the overall organism, but just something that needs to be cut back to help the rest of it thrive. Public planners will be absorbed into the inner workings of government and private planners will continue to be cut back and re-classified into specialized services that can be sold to clients (e.g. GIS, marketing).

    I think it is a good idea to be honest to new planners about our profession. But do you really think that it would be better for someone interested in the built environment to be an architect or engineer? I guess that is an argument.
    Yes. Not only will their profession offer them longer-term relevance, they will do more good to society being in a position of greater impact if they wish to dabble in social engineering. This is assuming, of course, that they would acquire some sort of exposure to social matters in their education. Which, if you look at a lot of the leading programs of that sort in this country, you'll find much more social and environmental awareness/responsibility, so it's already happening.
    Last edited by chocolatechip; 26 Jul 2011 at 4:03 PM.

  20. #20
    NIMBY asshatterer Plus Richmond Jake's avatar
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    I see ya'll are on the fence with this topic. No extremes in either direction.

    (The message brought to you by an eternal optimist.)
    RJ is the KING of . The One

  21. #21
    Quote Originally posted by RichmondJake View post
    I see ya'll are on the fence with this topic. No extremes in either direction.

    (The message brought to you by an eternal optimist.)
    LOL! It may be extreme, but I'm not without a sense of humor. Thanks for the laugh.

  22. #22
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by smccutchan1 View post
    I wouldn't say dead, but I would say on life support.
    I would say 'struggling against the pillow over its face'.

    IMHO planners are a luxury or at least a nice-to-have, but not a necessity in societies that are not rich. We are rapidly becoming not rich (for most of the U.S.). I think the prospects for newbs in the next 5 years are bleak & students should look elsewhere.

    .02

  23. #23
    Cyburbian Tarf's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by chocolatechip View post
    The strongest sectors of planning jobs (environment, transportation) are essentially bureaucrat positions. These planner-bureaucrats help manage the many redundant systems of government. And these planner-bureaucrats really have nothing to do with the historical, now idealized version of planners. In ten to twenty years, most of these positions will probably no longer include the word "planner."

    Sorry but I can't let this statement go. Did you seriously just call every environmental planner in the country nothing more than a bureaucrat?

    You must work for the APA.

  24. #24
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by tarf12345678 View post
    Sorry but I can't let this statement go. Did you seriously just call every environmental planner in the country nothing more than a bureaucrat?
    No, but 90% sure do act like them (well at least in this state, and when you read EIRs.. man zzzzzz)
    Men do dumb $hit... it is what they do to correct the problem that counts.

  25. #25
    Cyburbian Tarf's avatar
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    705
    Quote Originally posted by CPSURaf View post
    No, but 90% sure do act like them (well at least in this state, and when you read EIRs.. man zzzzzz)
    Boring documents mean fewer lawsuits At least to the extent that boring means thorough.

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