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Thread: Am I on the right tracks or falling for an Utopian view?

  1. #1
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    Am I on the right tracks or falling for an Utopian view?

    I'm 22 years old and recently graduated from the International Business program of Florida International Univ. Having survived that and decided that I don't want to be an economist/accountant/anythingfinance I've been looking for a master's program that will help me make a turn towards a field I enjoy, and I've been considering Urban Planning.

    So here's where I stand now, and I would love for someone to help me figure out if my expectations are out of place or they are actually realistic, and tell me if they fit in the planning field:

    1 - My ideal career will offer me flexibility and freedom: travel and be able to work from abroad, take time off between projects and I would like to earn upwards of $80k/year.

    2- I assume urban planners work very closely with policymakers and the public sector, but, does that mean they are mostly public employees? How common is it for a private planning and design firm to exist and be successful? How does it relate to architecture in this way?

    3- Does the "Environmental" in Environmental Urban Planning really make a difference between it and regular planning or is it mostly extra wording for the title? Would I really be focusing in different projects, or at least different areas of a project? Green/Renewable energy production and distribution, recycling?

    4- About how big an area does a planner usually focus on during an average project? A whole city? A district? A neighborhood? A plaza? How often would I be working in an actual city master plan?

    Maybe I'm falling for an Utopian view of planning and design? My main inspirations come from biology and my ideal job would be to work on planning the new cities of the world (according to statistics there are many to come) as whole ecosystems that are as close to being self-sustainable as we can push them to be with current technologies. I've definitely been hypnotized by examples such as Bjarke Ingels's ZIRA ISLANDS MASTERPLAN. (Min 14, 33 secs. He is an architect but I believe this island falls mostly in the category of planning? Is that real-life planning at all, or is he the 1 in a billion that is making this kind of work?

    I know it's a long post but thank you for your patience and your help!

    Moderator note:
    ~Gedunker
    New members are not permitted to post URLs to help us avoid the place getting spammed. URL deleted. Thank you and carry on.

  2. #2
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    60 views

    Wow, so 60 people have just gone over my post and no one has had the impulse to write even a single line helping me...?

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Plus
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    Quote Originally posted by eliasmoskona View post
    I'm 22 years old and recently graduated from the International Business program of Florida International Univ. Having survived that and decided that I don't want to be an economist/accountant/anythingfinance I've been looking for a master's program that will help me make a turn towards a field I enjoy, and I've been considering Urban Planning.

    So here's where I stand now, and I would love for someone to help me figure out if my expectations are out of place or they are actually realistic, and tell me if they fit in the planning field:

    1 - My ideal career will offer me flexibility and freedom: travel and be able to work from abroad, take time off between projects and I would like to earn upwards of $80k/year.

    Doable, but not from the beginning. Also the takking loads of time off a long with making 80k a year will probably be conflicting.

    2- I assume urban planners work very closely with policymakers and the public sector, but, does that mean they are mostly public employees? How common is it for a private planning and design firm to exist and be successful? How does it relate to architecture in this way?

    There are private planning firms. Most planners I know are public sector employees. With that said private sector seems to pay worse upfront and the time-off (something you want) is also much lower.

    3- Does the "Environmental" in Environmental Urban Planning really make a difference between it and regular planning or is it mostly extra wording for the title? Would I really be focusing in different projects, or at least different areas of a project? Green/Renewable energy production and distribution, recycling?

    I'd guess this is up to you and your experiences. The environmental would mean that your studies had more of an environment/land use focus.

    4- About how big an area does a planner usually focus on during an average project? A whole city? A district? A neighborhood? A plaza? How often would I be working in an actual city master plan?

    This I believe would depend on the project and your experiences. Also the size of your municipality. I can't imagine that your first planning job will allow you the ability to go crazy with the city's master plan.

    Maybe I'm falling for an Utopian view of planning and design? My main inspirations come from biology and my ideal job would be to work on planning the new cities of the world (according to statistics there are many to come) as whole ecosystems that are as close to being self-sustainable as we can push them to be with current technologies. I've definitely been hypnotized by examples such as Bjarke Ingels's ZIRA ISLANDS MASTERPLAN. (Min 14, 33 secs. He is an architect but I believe this island falls mostly in the category of planning? Is that real-life planning at all, or is he the 1 in a billion that is making this kind of work?

    I looked up the Zira Islands Master Plan and that guy is maybe not one in a billion, but he sure is close. Real life planning sometimes is very mundane (unless you really enjoy the work!). You maybe figuring out parking for a new restaurant, or other similar things. So I think you are falling for a Utopian world view, but let me state the following.

    It is what you make of it. The likelihood of doing what your ideal job isn't very high, the likelihood of starting off with that job is basically zero. But, you can work your way up there. It won't be easy, and you have to read around these forums and actually read about the projects these planners are working on. I'm 24 and going to start my Master's program this January and while I have similar aspiration. (who wouldn't want to do such cool work!) I have after reading this website have a more realistic expectation of the job. I feel like it isn't that easy, your decisions can be disregarded on political whims, whatever decision you make will make some people dislike you, and there's more to it.

    The point is if you love it, and even if you don't achieve your goals you would still enjoy doing most planning work because you like planning, then do it. If it's do the awesome stuff or bust, I suggest perhaps pursuing a different degree/career path.


    I know it's a long post but thank you for your patience and your help!

    Moderator note:
    ~Gedunker
    New members are not permitted to post URLs to help us avoid the place getting spammed. URL deleted. Thank you and carry on.
    I bolded my answers.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by eliasmoskona View post
    I'm 22 years old and recently graduated from the International Business program of Florida International Univ. Having survived that and decided that I don't want to be an economist/accountant/anythingfinance I've been looking for a master's program that will help me make a turn towards a field I enjoy, and I've been considering Urban Planning.

    So here's where I stand now, and I would love for someone to help me figure out if my expectations are out of place or they are actually realistic, and tell me if they fit in the planning field:

    1 - My ideal career will offer me flexibility and freedom: travel and be able to work from abroad, take time off between projects and I would like to earn upwards of $80k/year. Probably not in planning. Maybe there is a small chance you'll get lucky. Don't count on it. Probably a better chance you'll have a hit record or beat Tiger Woods at golf. .

    2- I assume urban planners work very closely with policymakers and the public sector, but, does that mean they are mostly public employees? How common is it for a private planning and design firm to exist and be successful? How does it relate to architecture in this way? Fairly common, often arch firms have planners.

    3- Does the "Environmental" in Environmental Urban Planning really make a difference between it and regular planning or is it mostly extra wording for the title? Would I really be focusing in different projects, or at least different areas of a project? Green/Renewable energy production and distribution, recycling? Env Planning is a specialty within urban planning.

    4- About how big an area does a planner usually focus on during an average project? A whole city? A district? A neighborhood? A plaza? How often would I be working in an actual city master plan? It depends on the project and the firm/department and the planners' specialty.

    Maybe I'm falling for an Utopian view of planning and design? My main inspirations come from biology and my ideal job would be to work on planning the new cities of the world (according to statistics there are many to come) I doubt there will be too many new cities. Rather there will be adding on to existing cities. Our wealth is slipping away and there is no money for this sort of thing on a wide scale. as whole ecosystems that are as close to being self-sustainable as we can push them to be with current technologies We won't be sustainable until we either cut our population or our consumption drastically.. I've definitely been hypnotized by examples such as Bjarke Ingels's ZIRA ISLANDS MASTERPLAN. (Min 14, 33 secs. He is an architect but I believe this island falls mostly in the category of planning? Is that real-life planning at all, or is he the 1 in a billion that is making this kind of work? It is just for the rich. We won't do anything like that for the other 99%, trust me. They're on their own.


    In red throughout.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Tarf's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by eliasmoskona View post
    My main inspirations come from biology and my ideal job would be to work on planning the new cities of the world (according to statistics there are many to come) as whole ecosystems that are as close to being self-sustainable as we can push them to be with current technologies.

    Ahh, the good old optimistic days of college...

    Cities these days don't just crop up out of the ground. Rather, over many years of development, a critical mass comes together and the community members eventually determine that they simply hate the County (or equivalent) planners/government, then opt to incorporate themselves into a new city.

    That is to say, planners these days do not create new cities from scratch; rather, we help unincorporated areas develop in as "smart" a manner as possible, and some ultimately end up becoming cities. However, at their inception, such areas tend to be fairly low density and not even close to what one might consider "sustainable."

    The best we can do these days is help inform decisions such that the conditions are ripe for such areas to evolve over time to become more sustainable. In fact, "suburban infill/redevelopment" is one of the hotter topics in planning today - that is, how to convert sprawl-oriented communities into something that is more sustainable.

    Note that despite the name, these tasks *generally* are not associated with "environmental planners," as it's more a function of urban designers and long-range planners. Environmental planners tend to be focused on individual projects, and seek to minimize/avoid environmental damage on a site-specific scale. (There is environmental planning in long-range comprehensive planning, but I still assert that the kind of "sustainable planning" you're looking for is going to be more readily available in a career oriented towards long-range planning/urban design). Put another way, environmental planning tends to focus more on measures to prevent likely damage to the environment from a project; long-range planning seeks to avoid those problems in the first place through design.

    I'm sure others may disagree, but that's been my experience over 10 years as an environmental planner.
    In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move. (Douglas Adams)

  6. #6
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Tarf View post
    Cities these days don't just crop up out of the ground.
    There are certainly exceptions to this, or at least very large-scale addendums to existing cities. Masdar and Songdo City are two that come to mind. But to be honest, I don't think these are very good planning and I can't imagine it would be all that satisfying designing them. Sure, at first it would be a wide open sandbox where you can do everything "right", but as the project progresses your ideas get trimmed and trimmed as the financiers realize that all this wonderful stuff we dream about is just crazy expensive. Then even if it does get built you come to realize that a good city is more than a collection of fancy buildings and perfectly engineered streets. Songdo is largely empty now, and even if it ever does fill up it will be the business park of residential development; no character, no social cohesion, no culture. These are things essential to a satisfying city that cannot just be "designed".

    As for your other questions:

    80k with lots of time off - Good luck. You can have one of those, but not likely both. If you work in a public office you'll make little money but you should have defined hours and you can work yourself up to a good amount of vacation time (one guy in my last office had 5 weeks a year after 25 years of being there). If you work in private firms there is definitely potential to be pulling in some cash (especially at the higher levels), but don't expect to be jetting off each month for your vacation. There is no "time between projects". Your company's survival depends on having a steady stream of work.

    Are planners mostly public? - Certainly lots of them are. But there are also lots in the private sector. A lot of municipalities (especially small ones) will hire private firms to do streetscape studies, or reviews of development impacts, or even to do their municipal plan review -- basically anything they don't have the capacity to do that's not worth hiring a unionized public planner for who's hard to fire when the project is done. I know of some firms that specialize in doing every element of planning for rural municipalities that can't afford to hire their own full time planner. You could also end up working for a real estate developer or utility company or any other firm whose business is tied to land use.

    Environmental planning - I am not an environmental planner and have had limited experience with it. The environmental planners I do know focus a lot on things like floodplain policy or sea level rise issues.

    How big of a project - That really depends. A lot of public planning is processing someone's rezoning file or maybe writing a new sign bylaw. You could be working on the municipal plan, but keep in mind that most municipalities only review their plan every 5 to 10 years and actually write a new one every 25 years or so. Even if you are working on a new plan it won't be like playing Sim City where you say, "And this is where we'll put the houses, and this is where we'll build a concert hall..." The work you'd be doing in the private sector is hugely varied and really depends on your skills, your firm, and the work available.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian
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    Almost sounds like real estate development may be more up your alley. Admittedly that field is really hurting at the moment. It would at least incorporate your previous skill set well plus they have a direct effect on the built environment unlike planners. Plus they make enough money that you can take time off between projects if you so choose.

    Planning is often pretty mundane. They essentially set the rules that development has to follow. They usually don't have any direct control as to how things ultimately look. That is usually left to a developer and their architects. Planners just tell them what they can and can't do in their projects.

  8. #8
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    Thanks!

    Thank you very much to everyone who replied. Your answers have been really helpful and I'd say I have a much more defined and realistic view on what the career is and what it can offer me!...

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