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Thread: Does a planner need work experience in zoning at some point in one's career?

  1. #1
    Cyburbian Peter Bratt's avatar
    Apr 2005
    Ann Arbor, MI

    Does a planner need work experience in zoning at some point in one's career?

    Dear All:

    It has been a while since I've been at cyburbia, but I have a question to ask of my fellow planners. I since graduating with a Masters of Urban Planning back in 2008, I've done 1.5 years worth of college/business improvement district internships, 1 year of grant writing at a CDC, and 1.5 years of working for a 1 million plus city as a Redistricting Coordinator/State Legislative Coordinator. In my current position, I do a lot of work with federal and state agencies and officials, and have had a lot of fun. I'm getting a pay raise this October, and really like my colleagues.

    This past week I got a job offer to work for the Planning Department in the same city. The position is for a general planner that does current planning, specifically working on zoning issues for Historic District, Neighborhood Stabilization Overlays, and Conservation Districts. I've heard good things about the current planning group, and I'd get the same level of a pay raise if I took the job.

    I'm a bit undecided about whether to take the position. I went to school for neighborhood planning and demographics, and I've never really had much interest in zoning issues. However, my planning friends across the US really recommend taking the position if only to get some good zoning experience, saying that it is a highly marketable skill. My wife and I don't planning on moving anytime soon, but eventually I'd love to move back to the Midwest. My long-term career aspiration is to work as director of a community or college research organization that does demographic analysis.

    Does anyone have any thoughts? Should I enter zoning land, or stay in the land of intergovernmental relations? Thanks for the feedback!

  2. #2
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
    Jul 2009
    Colo Front Range
    Quote Originally posted by Peter Bratt View post
    Dear All:
    However, my planning friends across the US really recommend taking the position if only to get some good zoning experience, saying that it is a highly marketable skill.
    Every town at some point needs someone to process applications. Not every town will choose to pay a planner to make plans. Couples with dual degrees find it hard to move and find jobs, so shlepping applications might be a tolerable job until something else comes along.
    Give a man a gun, and he can rob a bank. Give a man a bank, and he can rob the world.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Salmissra's avatar
    Aug 2004
    Central Texas
    I'm not sure I would take it. My personal experience? Zoning is not the end-all, be-all and you don't have to have it to be a planner. Yes, some positions out there require it. Yes, you may be limiting yourself a bit later on down the line. Yes, most fresh-out-of-grad-school planners can't figure out what's allowed in a specific zoning with using a code book so you aren't alone in that.

    I've worked places without zoning. I've worked in lage cities where the planners are divided up and some didn't do zoning. Where I am now there's very little cross-over between zoning planners, historic preservation planners, subdivision planners, and zoning reviewers. Zoning is not required on a resume, IMHO.

    But it's your decision in the end. Do what's best for you.
    "We do not need any other Tutankhamun's tomb with all its treasures. We need context. We need understanding. We need knowledge of historical events to tie them together. We don't know much. Of course we know a lot, but it is context that's missing, not treasures." - Werner Herzog, in Archaeology, March/April 2011

  4. #4
    Mar 2012
    Easton, Maryland
    Expand your interests and stretch into a different avenue... move towards the zoning job.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian ThePinkPlanner's avatar
    Jul 2009
    South of Canada
    I don't think its a bad thing to have, and I think an education in actually writing and implementing text of regulations is a great thing for someone to have if they want to ultimately do work at the municipal or county level, or work in the consulting field. However, given what you've currently been working on, and seeing what you list as enjoyable, I think you'd be disappointed in the job. Your ability to land such a job without any experience in it probably speaks to the depth and quality of your resume as it is, as well as a community's willingness to hire people without it.

    Good luck!

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Masswich's avatar
    Nov 2002
    Ocean to the east, land to the west
    No but it really, really, helps if you ever will be involved in local land use policy to have had some implementation experience. No one should be writing zoning if they haven't had to implement it at some point. I say that because I wrote some model bylaws before I worked as a zoning planner and I had no idea what I was doing.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
    Mar 2004
    Where the weak are killed and eaten.
    If you want to be a director of a place that requires someone to do zoning, I can't see why you would not want to learn it. I have had zero opportunity to do zoning throughout my 20 + year career, but what I do does not require zoning or to manage folks that may need to work in zoning.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

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