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Thread: What do people think of planning?

  1. #1

    What do people think of planning?

    This is probably an irrelevant question but what do professionals in engineering, architecture and construction think of the planning profession?

    In another forum board about planning, this was mentioned by a supposed planner on the profession:

    Allow me to elaborate. When you say that it's tough for everyone right now because of the bad economy, that is simply not true. Look at any science or technology related field. What is the unemployment rate for software engineers, electrical engineers, and statisticians? Probably around 3 percent right now. Why? Because people in those fields actually do something important that requires solid skills attained over a long period of time. Because people who went to school in fields like that took challenging classes. Because those people actually do something useful for society rather than pushing papers from here to there.

    Planning is a superfluous, nonessential field. Why do you think it's so easy to get into a top planning school? Why do you think that people graduating with masters degrees in planning have NO job offers upon graduating?

    I got my masters in planning from one of THE best universities in the country and the program was a complete joke. It wasn't intellectually challenging in the least. I didn't even give it a 100 percent effort and I can cruised by with A's in nearly all of my classes. Hardly anyone in my cohort found a planning related job upon graduation whereas friends of mine in other real fields at the same prestigious university were getting recruited by fortune 500 companies before they even graduated.

    What does that tell you? Planning = FAIL.


    I was floored by the inane remarks. This will not change my decision on going into planning but I am wondering if this guy was just a major troll or was really venting his feelings about his chosed profession.

    Do people really think about planning? Is it an irrelevant field? Why would anyone think so about this profession?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Tarf's avatar
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    All I have to say in response is this: every project I've seen where an architect or an engineer in charge was fail (at least for any project that was in any way complicated). I can't tell you how many projects I've taken over and rescued because the architect and engineer didn't know what the hell they were doing.

    We're the jack of all trades. They're the jack of one trade. Period.

    Just my $0.02.
    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)

  3. #3
    Cyburbian
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    Not entirely innane. I also went to one of the "top" planning programs and found it largely irrelevant and easy. While the professors piled on the work, it was grunt work rather than challenging.

    There's truth that a planning degree doesn't tend to train you for a specific task. It's a general degree that gives you a broad insight into the various aspects of what planners do. The real education is at your first planning job.

    Planning isn't a bad or irrelevant field. But key problem for those coming out of the "top" planning schools such as Harvard or MIT is that many of these graduates see themselves as peers of graduates from the med/law/business/engineering programs and quickly become frustrated at not having the professional and especially financial opportunities available to these grads from the other schools.

    I'll sound admittedly snide here and say that planning can be an ideal profession for someone who's content to be a midlevel paper pusher making a middling income and working at a county planning office. If you're ambitious - both financially and professionally - it's a limited field. A tiny minority will rise to the top as directors or heads of private firms / planning divisions but a great deal of it depends on luck and it's not an easy path as going to Harvard or Penn Law = big law firm in NYC or DC at a $150K starting salary. Even strictly from a professional perspective, planning projects take years and years to achieve and you can easily work on something for half a decade only to see the whole exercise cancelled for too many reasons. The private sector isn't without it's faults but it is still easier for a hardworking and ambitious worker to rise through the ranks in a corporation or private firm and rack up the increased salaries and benefits.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian MacheteJames's avatar
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    This is a topic that has been done to death on Cyburbia, but that said, I think that this is a profession in which the job market is exceedingly weak for now and for the foreseeable future and is one that I'd recommend you think very hard before committing to. This is a niche field (30,000 planners in a country of 300 million people) even during good times, and while there is a lot of good work to be done in the profession, you probably aren't going to get the opportunity to do it anytime soon with all of the retrenchment taking place. I hate to be a cassandra but don't want to see others make big life decisions for a line of work that won't give much in the way of return for all that you'll need to put into it. I'm sick of staring down the guillotine every budget season.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by manoverde84 View post

    [I]Allow me to elaborate. When you say that it's tough for everyone right now because of the bad economy, that is simply not true. Look at any science or technology related field. What is the unemployment rate for software engineers, electrical engineers, and statisticians? Probably around 3 percent right now. Why? Because people in those fields actually do something important that requires solid skills attained over a long period of time. Because people who went to school in fields like that took challenging classes. Because those people actually do something useful for society rather than pushing papers from here to there.

    Planning is a superfluous, nonessential field. ..

    I was floored by the inane remarks. This will not change my decision on going into planning but I am wondering if this guy was just a major troll or was really venting his feelings about his chosed profession.

    Do people really think about planning? Is it an irrelevant field? Why would anyone think so about this profession?
    I agree that the remarks are inane and they may be a troll. And I agree that this has been done to death here.

    This is not to say that there will not be problems in our field for many years and it will be a very hard row to hoe for longer than that. It is simply to say that commenter was likely an inane troll.
    -------
    Give a man a gun, and he can rob a bank. Give a man a bank, and he can rob the world.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian
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    As a land planning consultant, I work with private sector architects and engineers on a regular basis (at least I used to when I was working a lot). My experience with many architects is that they believe that planners are under educated and under qualified design field third cousins who don't even warrant a proper state examination and license. Many believe that they could do everything a planner does much better but just don't really have the time so they allows planners to do the lower spectrum work of the design industry. We exist off the crumbs that fall from their table.

    Civil engineers are better. They believe that public planners are a total waste of time and energy and are only there to find minor errors in their work at best and concern themselves with trivial matters like the proper ratio of parking spaces and the minimum distances of setbacks. I've been fortunate because I've been a land planner for a long time and have taken the time to understand the basic mechanics of civil engineer and are careful not to obviously violate them in my design work. Actually I don't violate them at all anymore ( I used to every once in a while a long time ago). Good civil engineers see land planners creating better neighborhood designs and making them more livable. At least less like a non-sensical combination of right angle streets, intersections and cul-de-sacs (the only neighborhood design taught in civil engineer school).

    I don't believe the architects will ever give planners an equal level in the design industry. I believe if you know what you are doing and respect your boundaries, the civil engineers will.

  7. #7
    I'll sound admittedly snide here and say that planning can be an ideal profession for someone who's content to be a midlevel paper pusher making a middling income and working at a county planning office
    I don't mind that at all......well at least for the first decade or so.

    Is there really no dynamic original thing a planner can do beyond that though? No ventures that would be rewarding for him or her. Even Engineers and Architects start their own companies, go into real estate development/finance, develop some sort new thing, whatever. This cannot also happen to urban planners with so much experience?

    In the end, at this point, with such a bad economy I would be relieved to be working a job with a "middling" income.

    Also, I was under the impression that in Asia urban planning was a more respected field. Is it the opposite here because we lack the critical economic development?

    The private sector isn't without it's faults but it is still easier for a hardworking and ambitious worker to rise through the ranks in a corporation or private firm and rack up the increased salaries and benefits.
    The private sector is more lucrative than the public?

    All I have to say in response is this: every project I've seen where an architect or an engineer in charge was fail (at least for any project that was in any way complicated). I can't tell you how many projects I've taken over and rescued because the architect and engineer didn't know what the hell they were doing.

    We're the jack of all trades. They're the jack of one trade. Period.

    Just my $0.02.
    Love it

  8. #8
    Would not the experience and skills of planner be great to transfer over into construction management or project management later in life?

  9. #9
    Cyburbian dw914er's avatar
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    That sounds alot like a post we'd hear from Chocolate Chip.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Tarf's avatar
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    I should note that my experience is strictly with California, which is different than most states.

    Architects and engineers understand CEQA about as much as I understand design. They get themselves into all sorts of trouble by not bringing in a planning consultant early in the process. If we're not involved early, then typically a re-design is inevitable. And if we're not brought in at all, a successful legal challenge is likely (if it's controversial anyways).
    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)

  11. #11
    Cyburbian
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    Transferable, not industry-specific, skills carry over from one profession into another. During the job search over the summer, I studied transferable skills in great depth and came up with about 90-100 grouped into 9-10 categories. I am not giving out the full list but here are some examples:

    Communication Skills:
    1. Explaining technical concepts to laypersons
    2. Conceiving and communicating ideas

    Research/Analytical Skills
    1. Data gathering
    2. Spreadsheets
    3. Data manipulation

    Human Relations and Interpersonal Skills:
    1. Answer questions
    2. Handle complaints
    3. Interviewing

    Critical Thinking Skills (separate from R&A Skills):
    1. Identifying patterns, problems, and causes
    2. Predicting consequences/planning ahead
    3. Troubleshooting

    None of these skills are planning-specific and apply to almost all industries. Some job descriptions use more of one than another: a chemist would have more R&A and critical thinking skills, a radio DJ might have more people skills, whereas a child psychologist might have close to all of them.

    To successfully move from one industry to another, it is not enough to say "I'm a planner and I have great skills for your company ." You also have to understand HOW the other industry works. I now work in a company of about 50 people and am the only one with a planning background/AICP even though I don't work in planning anymore. I studied the intricacies of the industry over the summer to get a better understanding of typical projects, and discovered where MY transferable skills would be of use. Understanding the history helped me to "speak the language" during the job interview, yielding me several job offers. I work full time in GIS now: rather than working with design guidelines, comprehensive plans, transportation studies, and the occasional map, I now work full time with metes and bounds, azimuths, coordinate systems, projections, and varying quality of spatial data. It is distantly related to planning, but it is still a headache at the end of the day (although I'm not complaining). Even though few if any planners work in the industry I still keep my AICP as there are "some" connections with planning and my credentials afford me a higher degree of credibility in the office and offsite with clients.
    "This is great, honey. What's the crunchy stuff?"
    "M&Ms. I ran out of paprika."

    Family Guy

  12. #12
    Glorified social science degree? This is what was mentioned by the questionable poster in the other forum,

  13. #13
    Cyburbian Tarf's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by manoverde84 View post
    Glorified social science degree? This is what was mentioned by the questionable poster in the other forum,

    I make a damn good living with my glorified social science degree.
    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)

  14. #14
    I make a damn good living with my glorified social science degree.
    that's good to know.

  15. #15
    Quote Originally posted by dw914er View post
    That sounds alot like a post we'd hear from Chocolate Chip.
    Haha! When I go for a beer with other planners, the beliefs of Cyburbia's own Chocolate Chip will occasionally come up in conversation. His eternal negativity on the planning profession is legendary.

    Back to the OP, my guess is the self proclaimed planner from the other forum was probably trolling, but there are some elements of truth in his post. Many of my peers from planning school were disillusioned once they entered the real world. It's not so much the bad economy, which played a roll, but more so the politics that can be found in many jobs. I had an engineer once as a supervisor who viewed planners at the very bottom of the pecking order. It was annoying, but I did my work (and some of his too) with a smile. Planning is what you make of it.

  16. #16
    Cyburbian rcgplanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Tarf View post
    I make a damn good living with my glorified social science degree.
    Haha, as do I. I like being a planner, but as I approach 30 I wonder if this really what I want to do for the next 35 plus years. I am not sure, all I know is that I am not in any hurry to go back to school to take on even more debt, decsions... decsions.

    Back to the main topic, I have been pretty lucky that I haven't ran into to much resistance from other professions as a planner. Ironically my major roadblocks come from other city departments who try to cut corners and bend the rules when submitting for city projects. I always try hard to make sure city projects get just as much review as any other project.

  17. #17
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by nrschmid View post

    To successfully move from one industry to another, it is not enough to say "I'm a planner and I have great skills for your company ." You also have to understand HOW the other industry works. I now work in a company of about 50 people and am the only one with a planning background/AICP even though I don't work in planning anymore. I studied the intricacies of the industry over the summer to get a better understanding of typical projects, and discovered where MY transferable skills would be of use. Understanding the history helped me to "speak the language" during the job interview, yielding me several job offers. I work full time in GIS now: rather than working with design guidelines, comprehensive plans, transportation studies, and the occasional map, I now work full time with metes and bounds, azimuths, coordinate systems, projections, and varying quality of spatial data. It is distantly related to planning, but it is still a headache at the end of the day (although I'm not complaining). Even though few if any planners work in the industry I still keep my AICP as there are "some" connections with planning and my credentials afford me a higher degree of credibility in the office and offsite with clients.
    Good info! I always wondered whether I should expand my GIS skills or not. I felt the one semester intro course I took in grad school was a starting point but not comprehensive enough.

  18. #18
    We are the ones herding the cats in the development process. We are the ones making sure the i's are dotted and the t's are crossed. We are the ones who look out for the good for the whole, not a select few. We are the gate keepers in the process. We are the ones that keep the project legal. We are the ones looking 5, 10, 15, 20 years down the road. We are not the ones who suffer from hubris, at least not for long.
    When did I go from Luke Skywalker to Obi-Wan Kenobi?

  19. #19
    Cyburbian Tarf's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Whose Yur Planner View post
    We are the ones herding the cats in the development process. We are the ones making sure the i's are dotted and the t's are crossed. We are the ones who look out for the good for the whole, not a select few. We are the gate keepers in the process. We are the ones that keep the project legal. We are the ones looking 5, 10, 15, 20 years down the road. We are not the ones who suffer from hubris, at least not for long.

    That would make a great signature tag line thingie.
    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)

  20. #20
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    Well, for the record, software engineering unemployment is more like 5 or 6 percent. Regardless, there is a difference in perceived "value" of Planners v. Software Engineers now because the software engineer makes a concrete product that can be sold and so there is a measurable amount of money to be made from it. A Planner, to oversimplify, is ensuring the retention and expansion of social value for the public (and not one individual company, for example) so the perceived "profit" is different. The profit really is the improvement of quality of life and protection of the health, safety and welfare of the public. Not all that sexy, but certainly necessary. We ensure compliance with rules that are very important. We help communities realize collective visions and forge ways forward collectively. These are not easily quantifiable things, but no less necessary to the healthy functioning of society. Very often, planners are involved in creating the well-functioning social and built environments within which innovation and economic success occur.

    And for the record, Electrical Engineering unemployment was at record levels in 2009 at 9 percent according to the most recent info I could find. So, I don't think they are faring all that well, either. Unemployment in any given field doesn't render it superfluous or unnecessary anyway. A lot of planning employment is driven by construction, so if housing and commercial starts are down, planners will be laid off. At least certain types of planners.

    Which brings me to the point that planning is a very diverse field and it doesn't sound like that poster has a very good sense of the breadth of what a planner might actually do (even though they supposedly went to a top planning school)

    If there is a profession worse off that planning, I would say its architecture. Is that superfluous and a waste of time, too? Someone needs a little attitude adjustment...
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  21. #21
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    Quote Originally posted by MacheteJames View post
    I think that this is a profession in which the job market is exceedingly weak for now and for the foreseeable future and is one that I'd recommend you think very hard before committing to. This is a niche field (30,000 planners in a country of 300 million people) even during good times, and while there is a lot of good work to be done in the profession, you probably aren't going to get the opportunity to do it anytime soon with all of the retrenchment taking place. I ... don't want to see others make big life decisions for a line of work that won't give much in the way of return for all that you'll need to put into it. I'm sick of staring down the guillotine every budget season.
    I didn't see any replies to this further down the thread, but I'm curious to hear other viewpoints. I'm half-way done with an MCRP (Master's in Community and Regional Planning), and trying to weigh all the pros/cons of finishing the degree. It's going to mean taking on more debt ($12k-20k), and job prospects seem slim. Of course, that's really the biggest drawback. I'm very passionate about urban design, community, sustainability, sense of place, etc. etc. but I can't really justify the expense when the overall trend seems to be 'austerity' at all levels (public/private).

    Anyone have any magic knowledge/advice on this? What about finishing the degree and doing a certificate in GIS?

  22. #22
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by kcow View post
    I didn't see any replies to this further down the thread, but I'm curious to hear other viewpoints. I'm half-way done with an MCRP (Master's in Community and Regional Planning), and trying to weigh all the pros/cons of finishing the degree. It's going to mean taking on more debt ($12k-20k), and job prospects seem slim. Of course, that's really the biggest drawback. I'm very passionate about urban design, community, sustainability, sense of place, etc. etc. but I can't really justify the expense when the overall trend seems to be 'austerity' at all levels (public/private).

    Anyone have any magic knowledge/advice on this? What about finishing the degree and doing a certificate in GIS?
    Well, once you said MCRP, I knew where you go to school. FTR, you can get a certificate in GIS at CNM for pennies on the dollar. I had considered that when I finished as well. It seemed like a good skill to have. Even being a GIS Monkey at least at first to get experience seems like a manageable job and decent employment. Not sure I would want to make that a career, but you have to start somewhere.

    I know that employment prospects for our school (and many others) is not great at the moment, but I will say that school, and especially your last year where you have more opportunity to work on real life projects in more depth (through advanced studios) or even intern, often serves as the "in" for getting a job. Whether its an internship or, as happens from time to time, a paid contract job, its a way to show people what you can do and get a foot in the door. That's how it worked for me, anyway, though I was probably the last class out before the stuff hit the fan. The year after mine, I don't think anyone had a FT job upon graduation.

    PM me if you want. I really enjoyed the program and feel it gave me a great foundation to a whole range of planning and semi-planning related work. But I did go into debt for it. I don't regret it, but recognize its a real concern. Just don't forget about the long term. Will you be more employable if you don't finish? How might that impact job growth/salary potential in the future? Things to think about and a hard call to make. Good luck!
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  23. #23
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by kcow View post
    I didn't see any replies to this further down the thread, but I'm curious to hear other viewpoints. I'm half-way done with an MCRP (Master's in Community and Regional Planning), and trying to weigh all the pros/cons of finishing the degree. It's going to mean taking on more debt ($12k-20k), and job prospects seem slim. Of course, that's really the biggest drawback. I'm very passionate about urban design, community, sustainability, sense of place, etc. etc. but I can't really justify the expense when the overall trend seems to be 'austerity' at all levels (public/private).

    Anyone have any magic knowledge/advice on this? What about finishing the degree and doing a certificate in GIS?
    Well, to try and make this not OT, what I think of planning right now in this context is you are half-way there. Too late now IMHO. I guess you can bail and stock shelves at Lowe's and pay off part of your loan for nothing, or you can finish and stock shelves at Lowe's, intern, and serve drinks to hotties to pay off your loan until the backlog clears in 5-6 years and you find a planning job some time around then, depending upon how strong are the networks you created in grad school and how well you interview. Or you can bail and maybe switch to public policy and be a city manager or staffer to one then be a city manager later.
    -------
    Give a man a gun, and he can rob a bank. Give a man a bank, and he can rob the world.

  24. #24
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    Quote Originally posted by PennPlanner View post
    Not entirely innane. I also went to one of the "top" planning programs and found it largely irrelevant and easy. While the professors piled on the work, it was grunt work rather than challenging.

    There's truth that a planning degree doesn't tend to train you for a specific task. It's a general degree that gives you a broad insight into the various aspects of what planners do. The real education is at your first planning job.

    Planning isn't a bad or irrelevant field. But key problem for those coming out of the "top" planning schools such as Harvard or MIT is that many of these graduates see themselves as peers of graduates from the med/law/business/engineering programs and quickly become frustrated at not having the professional and especially financial opportunities available to these grads from the other schools.

    I'll sound admittedly snide here and say that planning can be an ideal profession for someone who's content to be a midlevel paper pusher making a middling income and working at a county planning office. If you're ambitious - both financially and professionally - it's a limited field. A tiny minority will rise to the top as directors or heads of private firms / planning divisions but a great deal of it depends on luck and it's not an easy path as going to Harvard or Penn Law = big law firm in NYC or DC at a $150K starting salary. Even strictly from a professional perspective, planning projects take years and years to achieve and you can easily work on something for half a decade only to see the whole exercise cancelled for too many reasons. The private sector isn't without it's faults but it is still easier for a hardworking and ambitious worker to rise through the ranks in a corporation or private firm and rack up the increased salaries and benefits.
    This is excellent. Absolutely accurate.

  25. #25
    Cyburbian MacheteJames's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by BurntPlanner View post
    This is excellent. Absolutely accurate.
    ChocolateChip, is that you?

    My experience in the field is that it does not reward the the ambitious happy warrior who wants to kick professional ass. In fact, it seems to have a way of turning those in this category into cynical clock punchers. Perhaps this is the fate of all young idealists living in times like these.

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