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Thread: What did you NOT learn in planning school?

  1. #1
    Cyburbian ecofem's avatar
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    What did you NOT learn in planning school?

    I was recently asked by my alma mater to serve on a speaking panel before a group of existing planning students to discuss essentially what my professors never told me about life as a professional planner.

    My list seems fairly obvious:the best plan doesn't always win, political minefields, late meetings, citizen activists, etc.

    I'm wondering what thoughts the throbbing brain has?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian stroskey's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by ecofem View post
    I'm wondering what thoughts the throbbing brain has?
    You won't change the world right away and you need to work your way up. Those with actual power (generally) have no formal planning education.

    On another note, I wished my alma mater focused more on the technical aspects of planning rather than the history. Maybe tell the students to take those classes if they are offered so they don't feel so adrift when they actually get a job.
    I burned down the church to atone for my transgressions.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian ursus's avatar
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    Nobody told me how much I didn't know about FINANCE or how much it would be part of my life working for cities with small staffs!

    New planners, no matter what ilk, would benefit from a cursory knowledge of finance. OH YEAH, and GRANT WRITING! Grantsmanship cannot be overstressed. Gotta write the grants and be comfortable with it if you want to work for smaller cities and get the good stuff done.
    "...I would never try to tick Hink off. He kinda intimidates me. He's quite butch, you know." - Maister

  4. #4
    OH....IO Hink's avatar
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    Consensus building and committee work. If planner's understood how important it was to be able to build consensus or work within the committee framework right from the get-go, they would be much better off. Unfortunately, we seem to work in a vacuum in our visions, and we don't always realize how the game is really played.
    A common mistake people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools. -Douglas Adams

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Plus
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    Committee work - that is why good classes require a team project/presentation which I am glad I had a few.

    How you support/assist other city/county depts or wear multiple hats - my example floodplain management and EOC

    Agreed finance/budget a is plus but what should be required is public speaking - more class presentations.
    Oddball
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  6. #6
    Cyburbian Tarf's avatar
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    While it was somewhat corrected in my graduate program, in my (semi-planning-related) undergraduate program, the professor (and dean of the program) always strongly asserted that "planning is not political."

    All I have to say about that, as a mature adult is, LMFAO.

    Even with my grad program addressing that issue a little bit better, it still remains as the biggest thing I did not learn about in planning school - that is, just to what degree planning is, in fact, political - and not just in the "traditional" political sense. It is political right down to the individual - individual neighbors, individual agency staff, etc., etc.

    Related to that, I've often found it interesting how local politics is so different from state or national politics. That is: it is not always the "crazy liberals" who scream and shout about all the bad things about projects; in many cases, it's people who you may otherwise think to be free-market types (or rather, people who are pro-free market at the national level, but the opposite at the local level).
    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)

  7. #7
    Cyburbian Plus Whose Yur Planner's avatar
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    How to deal with the public in less than pleasant circumstances.
    When did I go from Luke Skywalker to Obi-Wan Kenobi?

  8. #8
    Quote Originally posted by ecofem View post
    I was recently asked by my alma mater to serve on a speaking panel before a group of existing planning students to discuss essentially what my professors never told me about life as a professional planner.

    My list seems fairly obvious:the best plan doesn't always win, political minefields, late meetings, citizen activists, etc.

    I'm wondering what thoughts the throbbing brain has?
    Just echoing what has been said

    -Grant writing, evaluation and scoring

    -Maybe a little about the procurement process (the word was never uttered once once in my planning program)

    -Finance (my grad program touched on finance, but it could have been more in-depth)

    -How to navigate (or avoid) the politics. Donít take it personal when the commission approves an amendment that the planning department recommends be rejected since it flys in the face of the comp plan and would result in the destruction of environmentally-sensitive lands

    To sum it up, a little bit of a heads up on the real world would have been nice in addition to the theory.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian
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    The public.

    Politicians.

    Patience. While in grad school you can churn out a community plan in a semester, in real life it may be as long as a decade from the initial plan concept to final approval by the local elected authorities.

    Working as a midlevel bureaucrat in a regional government office where many people in your department will not actually have planning or planning related degrees. Talk about office politics.

    The last was probably the biggest eye-opener and the reason why I left the profession as quickly as I did.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian michaelskis's avatar
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    My undergrad program was great and we did a lot of hands on work and we were required to attend public meetings, write minutes, and talked how the public interacted with the Commission.

    The only thing that I did not learn was some of the 'business' end of being in a private practice.
    Not my monkey, not my circus. - Old Polish Proverb

  11. #11
    Cyburbian
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    I learned that there are politicians out there that will do everything in their power to undermine planning. It's not just disagreements about policies, it's that they don't feel planning should even occur in the first place. Like politics getting in the way of hiring a planning director for 5+ years is not something I expected to see.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    In my view, echoing above,
    o a formal PoliSci class that includes a game I played in one of mine - it took several weeks and was a set of teams running a campaign to get elected. Once you understand what it takes to get elected, you look at them differently.

    o Also basic customer service skills.

    o And something about technical drudgery and moving a lot of paper around.

    o And how many of your plans will become nice shelf art, and a stack of them are effective door stops.

    o And some sort of natural science class that helps planners understand basic environmental concepts so "sustainability" isn't tossed around in every third sentence like it is inevitable or achievable.
    I, personally, think the history aspect is important, as we never learn anything from the past and continually repeat mistakes. Giving everyone good history may mean someone actually learns from the past, realizes this has happened before, and magically doesn't repeat the mistake.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian MacheteJames's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Hink View post
    Consensus building and committee work. If planner's understood how important it was to be able to build consensus or work within the committee framework right from the get-go, they would be much better off. Unfortunately, we seem to work in a vacuum in our visions, and we don't always realize how the game is really played.
    I'd actually argue that consensus never really happens, and even when you think you have it, you probably don't. How many of us have completed projects in which despite thoroughly canvassing the community, we're called up weeks or months following the project's completion and bitched at because "I hadn't heard a word about this until now! You ram-rodded this thing through and I'm just now learning about it!"

    I'd also add that the concept of 'community' that we like to throw around as grant application boilerplate may not really exist as such. Except for the smallest of towns, I'd say that there is no monolithic community. There are only interests.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by MacheteJames View post
    I'd actually argue that consensus never really happens...

    I'd also add that the concept of 'community' that we like to throw around as grant application boilerplate may not really exist as such. ... There are only interests.
    Wishin' I woulda said that!

  15. #15
    Cyburbian beach_bum's avatar
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    Presentation skills, very important in my job, more important than what I actually know in some instances!
    "Never invest in any idea you can't illustrate with a crayon." ~Peter Lynch

  16. #16
    Cyburbian ecofem's avatar
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    Great responses, guys... I really appreciate hearing your thoughts!

  17. #17
    Cyburbian Coragus's avatar
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    Public speaking and presentation skills. The ability to make an effective presentation and think on your feet during the Q&A afterward can not be overstated.

    Also, I don't know how to teach this, but a new planner has to learn the ability to leave the work in the office and not lay awake at 3:00 AM thinking about the angry mob from the night before.
    Maintaining enthusiasm in the face of crushing apathy.

  18. #18
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Thinking about it mine was pretty good all around - somethings, like public presenting or customer service, take alot of practice and I don't see how a 2 year program (my Master's) could really be effective.

    But I guess, as evidence my experience and professional niche so far, I would have liked more on the construction and use of a zoning/subdivison code and intended/unintended consequences of regulations. Also, the different types of regulatory environments - as-of-right, mandatory commission/board review, etc.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

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  19. #19
    I agree with all that's been stated. I would also like to include interpersonal relations with coworkers, other agencies, and the public. I say this from the position of not having my degree in planning or engineering. However, I've learned from some of the best in the business and that has far exceeded anything that I've seen in my career as far as the newly graduated.

  20. #20
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    Large government bodies/agencies/MPOs dont actually do any of the "planning" that involves critical thinking. "Planning" at these places is simply account management and organization.

    Plus a lot of agenda items. A lot.

  21. #21
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    I always wished I had learned more about land development.
    It wasn't until I started doing work on the ground that I began to understand how planning weighed into the actual built form discussion.
    The language itself took me 2-3 years to learn, outside of my degree.

    In a sense, it would be so useful for planning curriculum to include holistic visioning - where the faculties from say, environmental, planning, engineering, architecture, etc...come together to achieve something. Oh, and the law students too, don't forget them...lol

  22. #22
    Cyburbian dvdneal's avatar
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    I thought my undergrad did a decent job of history, design, and trying to teach regulations and public participation. I think they could go a little more in depth for things like making a finding and how the court views those findings. I think there can always be a little better work on taking away the grand illussion that you'll change the world as a fresh out of college planner. Once I did my MPA I learned a little more about how departments work together or solving problems between departments (or not). At least I was better equiped to look at more than one side of a problem.
    I don't pretend to understand Brannigan's Law. I merely enforce it.

  23. #23
    Cyburbian
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    I actually felt planning school gave me a pretty good foundation across the board. I can't really point out to one big missing thing. Practica even helped fill in the (frequently missed) gaps in terms of "soft' skills like dealing with stakeholders and the public. Some things that were optional shouldn't have been, so one has to make sure one takes the right classes (in my program, for example, the classes that taught real estate economics, economic impact assessment, planning estimation and programming, fiscal systems, housing economics, and other related theory and skills were mostly elective). I took classes in the area, but you could have easily have gotten by without taking any of them.. which would've been regrettable, as most traditional planning jobs require or would benefit from at least introductory knowledge of some of the basic associated skills. Treatment of land-use law was also a bit too cursory, I found out once I got to the real world. Other areas that might've used a bit more attention are logistics and servicing and parking. Lots of transport planning classes but nothing about where you park stuff or how you service stuff.
    Last edited by Cismontane; 19 Dec 2012 at 2:40 PM.

  24. #24
    Cyburbian ursus's avatar
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    Economics. I have always wished that real estate finance (Cismontane mentioned) and economics of development in general had been a bigger part of my coursework in planning. It would have made my first years as a planner a lot smoother if I'd had a good foundation in the finances of development.
    "...I would never try to tick Hink off. He kinda intimidates me. He's quite butch, you know." - Maister

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