(The comments below were originally written in response to someone referring to me as a troll in another thread. Since I don't like being misunderstood, I decided to post the following. It is rambling, not well-written, and quite possibly partially deranged from the lack of adequate caffienation, but it is honest.)
My negativity about planning was not entirely predicated on my own circumstances. I had four very good years working for one of the most well-respected planning firms in California, of which I look back on in great fondness, and then for the Navy, which although at first was very challenging due to certain supervisory personalities, in the end turned out to be a pretty damn good job. I left that job and moved back to California, not because I didn't like working for the Navy, but because my father in law has cancer and we just had a baby and wanted him to have as much time with her as possible. It was a hard decision to move back to the west coast, but it was also a simple one; it was the right thing to do. I don't expect to do so, but if need be, I could get my old job back fairly easily, and I would be _fairly_ content; however, we are happy being closer to family.
Now that people know I'm human, and don't lumber through the forest with a club slung over my shoulder, I'll say that my negativity toward this profession was and is absolutely warranted. I felt as if I was a casualty of MIS-education, where all these professors and old practitioners taught one thing, and the world taught another. In this sense, my education didn't begin in school, it began as soon as I graduated. California was swept up in the housing boom, inflating the number of available opportunities way above anything that could be sustained long term. New Urbanism was shoved down our throats, and I fought back. Fuck, we even had one firm from OC come up and try to sell us "New Suburbanism" (one of the best examples of a design/development firm taking what already existed and constructing their own fake-ass paradigm out of it... sound familiar?) I never hid my disillusionment. I challenged my professors, openly arguing with them, because I wanted to understand and they did not speak the truth. While every other student sat shit-faced from consecutive nights of drunkenness, I asked questions that mattered. Later, as I wrote EIRs for New Urbanist developments all over the state, I found myself repeatedly describing the impossibility of their effective implementation and their essential dumbness.
Of all my negativity, I save the best of it for New Urbanism. You have to understand; I came from Cal Poly, a well-respected design school, and New Urbanism was cutting edge shit. It was spawned from the great egocentric minds, the Fountainhead architect-planners, the megalomaniacs, and therefore it attracted the same types of individuals who wanted to play a part in it, the visionEERS, attracted to Pretty Picture Planning like wasps to hot dogs. I am happy that NU seems to be rightfully relegated to the historical shit-bin of obscurity, and even happier that APA, in their willful ignorance and stupidity, still talk about it like it matters.
As far as what planning was supposed to be during the heady days of 2003-2007, it was all fabricated from the start: New Urbanism, the number of jobs, our worth as sought-after professionals, the fight against sprawl, the value of much of our education, our ability to better the world through institutional change.... It was all predicated on a pretense of pragmatism. As far as what much of planning is, to a large degree it's a very inane profession. Making a difference becomes a very elusive goal, with many obstacles. I for one, am not willing to make the enormous trade-off of years spent sitting at a desk for that one good thing that actually got put into the ground. I don't see that trade-off as noble; I see it as a waste of human potential, because there is a metric fuck-ton of other good things you can do with your time.
Now, planners and planning students are simply trying to come to terms with the new reality of what planning is. It's all still being worked out, and through no effort of planners themselves, but through the hand they are dealt by the New Economy. I don't envy the professors; my god, what do they think they can teach that will serve their students over the long term? Do they think students should still pay to hear about climate change? Do they think students need to hear about Daniel Fucking Burnham, Garden City planning, and all the other irrelevant history? One thing they should be teaching, though, is every aspect of the housing boom and bust, and the financial impacts of growth, not just its environmental impacts, because in the end, it's the former that drives most decisions. Students will serve themselves well if they learn how to frame everything in financial terms. If I could offer advice to university planning departments, I would say teach less about the environment, less about fucking consensus-building, and more about finances.
Finally, to put the last nail in this rambling, half-eye-opened post, I am an Absurdist, subscribing to the Church of Absurdism. Not because of my planning experience--although that has certainly given a worthy contribution--but because of other life experiences. The world is spinning irrevocably, irretrievably toward the elimination of human civilization. It may come in 100 years, or 100,000 years, but we're past the point of no return, we haven't spent our finite resources on space exploration, and so, someday, the human race will be dead and gone. My personal hope is that dinosaurs will rise again, because they were awesome. I don't believe this gives us a pass to do whatever we want; I think the environment and all living species should be respected, because a healthy planet is a happy planet, and in our good treatment of it, it may permit us to be cast off later rather than sooner. I call this Pragmatic Absurdism: Our presence doesn't really mean anything, but as long as we're here we may as well live responsibly. For example: Global warming doesn't matter in the long run, but in the short run, we may as well do what we can to help stave it off, if only to partially absolve our consciences when Greenland eventually resembles Wisconsin. Because responsibility and morality doesn't arise from what we think is possible, but from embracing what is not.