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Thread: What can be done to turn this profession around?

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    What can be done to turn this profession around?

    Let me start by introducing myself as an undergraduate geography major with intentions of pursuing a MUP. Although I lack significant experience in the planning field, I have an internship with a local municipality and have been doing extensive amounts of reading and research on planning-related topics and the profession itself. Much of this lately has come in the form of lurking these forums.

    As many of you are aware, there has been some disheartening talk about the bleak future of planning as a profession. Many are scrambling for jobs and warning students to head in other directions. Some even say urban planning is dead. Apparently, planning does not recieve the amount of respect as other, more technical and "essential" proffesions do. It is evident that in times of economic turmoil like these, the planner's role is minimized and ignored.

    After reading an intriguing article by Thomas Campanella about planning's history, where it stands now, and it's future, I agree that planning education and the profession itself need to see some reform. But how can the planner's role become more crucial in today's society, when engineers and architects' technical skills prevail?

    I believe that it needs to begin with educating the general public about what planners do. It seems as though many people are either unaware of a planner's role or just overlook it. We need to educate others about how important and critical planning can be in modern society. Once the general public and employers see planning through a new lense, maybe the profession can embark on an uphill journey.

    What do you think needs to be done to improve the outlook of the urban planning profession? What can we do ourselves to try to improve this situation? As a future planner (just maybe, now), I want to ensure a positive career for myself and earn the respect I deserve.
    Last edited by FullCollapse747; 09 Aug 2011 at 9:26 AM.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian dw914er's avatar
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    The economy improving would be a good start.

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    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Landscape architecture seems to be another profession that is struggling to define itself, and it seems like in recent yeas they've been making deliberate inroads into the equally multidisciplinary planning field. Is the repositioning of landscape architecture into a broader-based macro design-oriented field, moving beyond the design of landscaping and hardscaping and into general urban design, having any impact on that field?
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

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    Cyburbian Tarf's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by dw914er View post
    The economy improving would be a good start.

    Just echoing this. In a way, planners are like teachers - not often given the respect they deserve, and one of the first to get kicked around in bad economic times. However, the poor economy does not mean that teaching as a profession is on the decline, just as planning is not on the decline. It's just the economy - a lot of what this profession does is based on government funding (either directly or indirectly), and right now there's not a heck of a lot of funding going on.

    That's not to say that aspects of the profession aren't changing - they are. But they always do. Only time will tell if those changes are for better or worse, but the profession isn't going anywhere (except perhaps in Tea Party states ).

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    Yes, the economy certainly seems to be the culprit at the moment. I just wonder where the profession will be after it picks up again. As Dan said, fields like landscape architecture are snaking their way into the profession. I actually work with a fellow who has a landscape architecture bachelor's and a master's in planning. Needless to say he has the technical skills for any design needs and is a good fit for the job. If only planners could get more of this type of education to couple with their holistic understanding of the development process.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian beach_bum's avatar
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    I know LAs are doing something similar, I am on their email list and they are actively pursuing inroads through urban design, sustainability, etc. The 'planning' turf is getting harder and harder to protect as development-related jobs dry up.

    I agree that planners often get a bad rap, the scape goats during tough development decisions for politicians and the bad guys when enforcing rules and regulations to the general public. We are our best advocates by continuing to seek credentials, experience and knowledge. We are the only ones who can heighten the visibility of our profession. I know folks like to rag on AICP and the CM process, but it really is the best for our profession in lieu of an actual license like other development-related professionals. I also like to point out that planning does not typically attract your type-a personalities. Most planners I know like to work behind the view of the public and do not like attention for their work. Maybe we are too modest?
    "Never invest in any idea you can't illustrate with a crayon." ~Peter Lynch

  7. #7
    Cyburbian
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    Personally, I think it boils down to simple economics. We are simply over saturated with too many workers compared to positions. Because our industry is so cyclical, demand for services will never equate to supply of planners. We have never had a level playing field so to speak, if anything our playing field is shaped like a curved potato chip. Although extreme by comparison, the Black Death eventually help stabilize the chronic shortage of labor in Europe, although it took over 100 years to balance out. This is perceived demand: no one is building anything, so the only way we can "appear" in-demand is if there are far fewer of us to the jobs that are CURRENTLY out there. This is purely hypothetical.

    You can argue all you want about increasing planning awareness, but honestly every single time I have to repeat my elevator speech to a layperson the more I'm convinced that those efforts are pointless OR we have done all we can. There is only so much you can do to convince people that planning is important, and that's neither good nor bad.
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    Cyburbian Plus Whose Yur Planner's avatar
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    Planners need to do a better job of selling the profession, proving it's worth.
    When did I go from Luke Skywalker to Obi-Wan Kenobi?

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    Cyburbian stroskey's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Whose Yur Planner View post
    Planners need to do a better job of selling the profession, proving it's worth.
    Maybe some of you agree, and I'm sure a few disagree, but as a professional planner I see far too many communities that require too much paperwork to get something approved. A nearby community requires every lot retracement to be approved by the Board and every minor development to numerous planning approvals which equal stacks of paper. For example, if you're building a typical gas station on a corner just let them build it - don't require 37 pages (real example from neighboring community) of various information for just the planning side of thing (not to mention the engineering/storm water docs, etc). What purpose does it really serve? Are we just justifying our own existence? Whatever the reason, it makes us look bad to developers and to the average citizen.

    If our job is to guide the future then let's not worry so much about the every minor thing. We work ourselves into a frenzy all the while life continues to push forward.
    I burned down the church to atone for my transgressions.

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    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by nrschmid View post
    You can argue all you want about increasing planning awareness, but honestly every single time I have to repeat my elevator speech to a layperson the more I'm convinced that those efforts are pointless OR we have done all we can. There is only so much you can do to convince people that planning is important, and that's neither good nor bad.
    A-men bruddah.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian MacheteJames's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Whose Yur Planner View post
    Planners need to do a better job of selling the profession, proving it's worth.
    I've tried this among laypersons and am typically met with either a blank or negative response. I had someone once say to me in response 'hah, yeah, I'm from the government and I'm here to help'.

    We live in very cynical times. This is a field that was borne out of a sort of positivist belief that government can be a force for good in shaping our built environment. For many, many people, that line doesn't sell anymore. The alternative to this is to sell the profession as a sort of development police.... i.e. 'my job is to help protect YOU from what your neighbor would otherwise do if we weren't there to stop it.' Yes, this is glorified code enforcement, but it hits home to the anti-government types in a way that a grand, Great Society-style conception of planning never can.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian
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    After reading an intriguing article by Thomas Campanella about planning's history, where it stands now, and it's future, I agree that planning education and the profession itself need to see some reform. But how can the planner's role become more crucial in today's society, when engineers and architects' technical skills prevail?
    I think of two things (among others):

    1. Having the right state legislation in place? I practice in a state where the government has almost no planning requirements. I was impressed with the smart way planners in Oregon talk about their profession - and I'm not talking about a leftist orientation, but about communities having to meet state goals for disaster mitigation and recovery planning, for instance. Or about common sense requirements like that transportation planning a.) be realistically tied to budget projections and b.) consider all modes. (On the other hand, I recall Public Works folks in a small city I practiced in claim we needed a half-billion in transportation spending over the next 30 years, much of it widening perfectly functional roads!)

    This points to a lobbying role, perhaps not for state APA's, but for "1000 friends" type organizations. I think the more stable the legal environment and terms are, the easier it is for the citizen to understand. I'm always surprised by how many elected officials don't even understand the basics of land use planning or even consider it a very important issue.

    Thoughts? - I know states like Florida and Maryland have had statewide regulations with mixed results, not to mention the current political shenanigans. And California's CEQA has proven bad for the environment on several counts. Maybe we just need a big prayer rally?

    2. I do believe we need consistent coverage of planning issues. We don't need to call them "planning" but just keep the issues covered in an intelligent fashion and show that a) communities do plan for their future, and b) there is value in doing so. We need to educate our city desk reporters (who turn over frequently), encourage them to publish articles about comp planning that contain land use and future transportation maps, etc. I recall a friend being surprised when she realized that citizens can decide where urban-level development happens and where it doesn't! (Of course, once people realize this then they become NIMBY's ...)

    We can't counter those who don't like the guv'ment on principle, but I think we can I think up the quality of understanding amongst the majority ... over years. I think this would be a great role for APA chapters.

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    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by MacheteJames View post
    IThe alternative to this is to sell the profession as a sort of development police.... i.e. 'my job is to help protect YOU from what your neighbor would otherwise do if we weren't there to stop it.' Yes, this is glorified code enforcement, but it hits home to the anti-government types in a way that a grand, Great Society-style conception of planning never can.
    Spoken like a true Texan...from NEW YORK CITY?!!
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    Cyburbian MacheteJames's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by nrschmid View post
    Spoken like a true Texan...from NEW YORK CITY?!!
    LOL. Believe it, though. This may be the most proprietorial place on the face of the Earth.

  15. #15
    Quote Originally posted by MacheteJames View post
    LOL. Believe it, though. This may be the most proprietorial place on the face of the Earth.
    And some of the biggest NIMBYs, surprisingly.

  16. #16
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Two ideas:

    1. Make a stronger connection between the work of planners and the local government budget. A well planned city is also one that has the ability to operate efficiently. Planning helps to make decisions about development, infrastructure, municipal services, etc., that both respond to constituent desires and are fiscally prodent.

    2. Require licensing for planners.
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  17. #17
    Cyburbian Tarf's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal View post
    2. Require licensing for planners.

    If said license comes from the APA, then not even over my cold dead body.

  18. #18
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by tarf12345678 View post
    If said license comes from the APA, then not even over my cold dead body.
    Nah. They're not competent enough to manage it.

    But I'm not sure how you'd make it so there's a stamp that means something. Its not like engineering where you know how much it will take for a wall to move. That's quantitative. Much planning work is qualitative. How do you make a stamp for that?

  19. #19
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    I am sick and tired of planners complaining about licensure, which, to many professions, implies rigorous standards, tougher exams, more expensive upkeep, and professional liability. Case in point, my mom has an Masters in Social Work (MSW) and has been in private practice for 24 years. However, it wasn't until 1989 when they introduced licensure board exams. Since she graduated with the first class as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) she was taken ALOT more seriously among her counterparts in behavioral/mental health (psychologists, neurologists, psychiatrists, etc.).

    It is not enough to demand respect among our allied professions. Our lack of licensure suggests planning is an easier profession to work (which, in many cases, is still the truth, compared to math and science-heavy professions). Just like you need an engineering stamp (which comes with the license) in most states, licensed professionals report to a state licensing board, whatever it is CLARB, state medical boards, dental boards, etc. It's also easier to "kick out" the "others" (engineers, architects, etc.) from practicing planning through stricter title and practice acts.

    Like NAAB (Architecture) and LAAB (Landscape Architecture), I assume planning licensure (through PAB and ACSP) would also streamline the coursework/quality of accredited planning programs. YES, it would mean harder admissions, stricter requirements, and less variety. Right now, I could visit any of +100 ACSP-accredited planning programs but not have a clue as to what they teach. However, I know if I enrolled in an NAAB-accredited architecture program at the University of Illinois at Chicago or Yale University or the University of Hawaii I know would receive much of the same type of coursework. The standardized curriculum in these schools helps to prepare students ultimately pass the various sections of the licensing exams.
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    Cyburbian HomerJ's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by nrschmid View post
    Like NAAB (Architecture) and LAAB (Landscape Architecture), I assume planning licensure (through PAB and ACSP) would also streamline the coursework/quality of accredited planning programs. YES, it would mean harder admissions, stricter requirements, and less variety. Right now, I could visit any of +100 ACSP-accredited planning programs but not have a clue as to what they teach. However, I know if I enrolled in an NAAB-accredited architecture program at the University of Illinois at Chicago or Yale University or the University of Hawaii I know would receive much of the same type of coursework. The standardized curriculum in these schools helps to prepare students ultimately pass the various sections of the licensing exams.
    Well said. It sounds like THIS is the conversation that should be taking place at a University level.
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  21. #21
    Cyburbian transguy's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by nrschmid View post
    I am sick and tired of planners complaining about licensure, which, to many professions, implies rigorous standards, tougher exams, more expensive upkeep, and professional liability. Case in point, my mom has an Masters in Social Work (MSW) and has been in private practice for 24 years. However, it wasn't until 1989 when they introduced licensure board exams. Since she graduated with the first class as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) she was taken ALOT more seriously among her counterparts in behavioral/mental health (psychologists, neurologists, psychiatrists, etc.).

    It is not enough to demand respect among our allied professions. Our lack of licensure suggests planning is an easier profession to work (which, in many cases, is still the truth, compared to math and science-heavy professions). Just like you need an engineering stamp (which comes with the license) in most states, licensed professionals report to a state licensing board, whatever it is CLARB, state medical boards, dental boards, etc. It's also easier to "kick out" the "others" (engineers, architects, etc.) from practicing planning through stricter title and practice acts.

    Like NAAB (Architecture) and LAAB (Landscape Architecture), I assume planning licensure (through PAB and ACSP) would also streamline the coursework/quality of accredited planning programs. YES, it would mean harder admissions, stricter requirements, and less variety. Right now, I could visit any of +100 ACSP-accredited planning programs but not have a clue as to what they teach. However, I know if I enrolled in an NAAB-accredited architecture program at the University of Illinois at Chicago or Yale University or the University of Hawaii I know would receive much of the same type of coursework. The standardized curriculum in these schools helps to prepare students ultimately pass the various sections of the licensing exams.
    Agree. One of the biggest issues the planning profession has is that there are an awful lot of people that are bad planners. I'm not claiming that I'm the perfect planner, but I've seen some planners doing things that blow my mind. Things from unknowingly breaking a law about process to not understanding the framework of development regulations are way too commonplace. I fully support anything that will chase these hacks out of the profession.
    Much work remains to be done before we can announce our total failure to make any progress.

  22. #22
    Cyburbian
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    I also forgot to mention that if licensure is introduced, it would be alot harder for employers to justify the need for an Masters in Urban Planning for many planning jobs (as the path to licensure does not vary in bachelors or graduate programs just the length). That makes me a college graduate VERY happy.

    Quote Originally posted by transguy View post
    I fully support anything that will chase these hacks out of the profession.
    I have a short list of planners myself
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  23. #23
    Cyburbian Tarf's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by transguy View post
    Agree. One of the biggest issues the planning profession has is that there are an awful lot of people that are bad planners. I'm not claiming that I'm the perfect planner, but I've seen some planners doing things that blow my mind. Things from unknowingly breaking a law about process to not understanding the framework of development regulations are way too commonplace. I fully support anything that will chase these hacks out of the profession.

    Just curious if any of these "hacks" also have their AICP designation.

    If so, then, well, um.... yeah.

  24. #24
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by tarf12345678 View post
    Just curious if any of these "hacks" also have their AICP designation.

    If so, then, well, um.... yeah.
    WTF? Seriously, just because you have a hard-on against the APA doesn't justify a hack at those of us whom have qualified, taken, passed, and hold an AICP certificate. Just because you couldn't hack in the design realm doesn't mean you get to bash the rest of us
    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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    Quote Originally posted by CPSURaf View post
    WTF? Seriously, just because you have a hard-on against the APA doesn't justify a hack at those of us whom have qualified, taken, passed, and hold an AICP certificate. Just because you couldn't hack in the design realm doesn't mean you get to bash the rest of us

    You missed my point - which wasn't to slam the AICP per se (or anyone with AICP), but merely to point out that just testing for licensing wouldn't get rid of the "hacks" that were mentioned in the post that I quoted. Sorry if you took that wrong and got offended.

    Rather, my point was that I don't think that licensing is a good idea - at least, not at the national level - be it by the APA or others. Having a single license exam would be like making a civil engineer take an exam that tests on civil, structural, mechanical, etc. engineering (the same way a planning "license" would inherently be testing community planning, site design, environmental, historical preservation, economic development, etc. etc. etc.).

    Your comment actually shows this - by noting one area of planning that is your focus (urban design), and implying that I couldn't cut it because my focus is in another area of planning. (Notwithstanding the fact that AICP exam tests a hell of a lot more than just urban design ).

    I'd be more amenable to a state licensing concept, though. But not a licensing that is anything like AICP (and again, that's not a knock on people with AICP or even AICP itself - it's just a single test for every aspect of planning, which is something of an odd concept for this highly diverse profession).

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