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Thread: What is a typical day as a planner like?

  1. #1
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    What is a typical day as a planner like?

    I'm an unemployed civil engineer considering attending grad school in urban planning this Fall. It appears that urban planning job opportunities are pretty dismal currently. Even so, I haven't ruled out going to grad school. I don't think I can see myself pursuing civil engineering for the rest of my career. Civil engineers, in my experience, aren't given much opportunity to come up with creative ideas that improve communities. I enjoy researching what other cities have done. I also like interacting with the public, etc.

    I've talked with a handful of planners about their work, but I'm looking to get more input.

    My primary interest is transportation planning, particularly bicycle/pedestrian planning & design.

    My question is, what is a typical day as a planner like? Better yet, give me a rundown of what you did at your last day of work.

    Much appreciated!

  2. #2
    A typical day as a planner is pretty similar to the typical day of a civil engineer. Sit on your ass in front of a computer, talk to people on the phone, attend meetings, give the occasional presentation, talk to the occasional client, avoid your boss, eat leftovers out of Tupperware, try not to get hemorrhoids.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Plus JNA's avatar
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    Not to cut you off but we had this thread before:

    A day in the life of a planner... What do planners do day to day ?

    Got 15 replies.
    Oddball
    Why don't you knock it off with them negative waves?
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    Why don't you say something righteous and hopeful for a change?
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    Broke parts take a little longer, though.
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  4. #4
    I always thought that transportation demand modeling is a niche fit for a civil engineer/planner since its heavy on the numbers side. Also, probably an isolated incident, but below is an article from a small community in Florida that was looking for a candidate to wear both hats.

    Whats happening here is that Im a civil engineer; Im not a planner, Morrison said. My time is best spent with the engineering issues the City is facing right now, not with the land planning issues.

    Its my understanding when we hired the civil engineer that they were going to be doing the city planning and the city engineering, which is where we were going to save the money, Commissioner Scott Jamison said. Thats what I thought the deal was.


    http://www.alachuatoday.com/index.ph...cal&Itemid=426

    Quote Originally posted by chocolatechip View post
    A typical day as a planner is pretty similar to the typical day of a civil engineer. Sit on your ass in front of a computer, talk to people on the phone, attend meetings, give the occasional presentation, talk to the occasional client, avoid your boss, eat leftovers out of Tupperware, try not to get hemorrhoids.
    And kill a lot of trees.

  5. #5
    I've never been a transportation planner,but like most planners I have found myself dealing with transportation issues, because obviously, cars are everywhere. My last day of work I arranged to meet with some people from the environmental department to do a preliminary review of the potential impacts of putting a small parking lot across the street from a cluster of buildings where a bunch of people worked. They were having trouble finding parking spaces and having to walk a ways. The issues we discussed were: historic preservation of area where parking was proposed, nearby residences, wetlands immediately adjacent, and if there really was a parking problem, if not now, would there be in the future. Talked with higher-ups about the results, presented departmental opinion to decision makers. Also talked on the phone with Verizon Wireless rep who was interested in putting a cell tower in jurisdiction. Possible lease agreement.. what is the value of the lease? security issues? Also had engineering department come up with cost of improvements to aging airstrip and bringing it up to code. Incorporated this data into a report on efficacy of spending money now or decommissioning airstrip for good.

    In all cases, you as a planner are bringing people together, and bringing people closer to making decisions. You help investigate, negotiate, and prioritize projects and their impacts to the economic, physical, and social environment. Whether you're doing current or long range planning, this is more or less true. You're a jack of all trades, because you need to know how to communicate with environmental people, engineers, the people you are delivering services to (if you are a private firm this is mainly clients, if you are public agency this is residents in your jurisdiction). Communication is absolutely key, it's practically your entire job. A person who sucks at technical skills can get by if they're a very good communicator.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian
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    Interesting. Seems like everybody has GIGS syndrome.

    I have a Planning Masters and I've decided to go back for an engineering degree.

    Seems to me, engineering is more stable and tangible work, as in ... planners design but how often does that need to be done?

    It seems Engineers have more daily work to do and that Planning is something that can be done on the side if you get into the right company and position.

    But some of this is speculation. I just don't know...

  7. #7
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by jobaba View post
    Interesting. Seems like everybody has GIGS syndrome.

    I have a Planning Masters and I've decided to go back for an engineering degree.

    Seems to me, engineering is more stable and tangible work, as in ... planners design but how often does that need to be done?

    It seems Engineers have more daily work to do and that Planning is something that can be done on the side if you get into the right company and position.

    But some of this is speculation. I just don't know...
    In my experience Planners don't design. Planners analyze and interpret. Design is left for designers. But that's all depending on where you work, I suppose.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian HomerJ's avatar
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    It's funny. Since my recent switch to this new position, I find myself on a commission that easily has over 20 agenda items at every meeting. That means I have plenty of cases coming in to keep me busy (which was not really the case at any of my previous positions). I agree with chocolatechip on the point that being a "communicator" is really the best way to describe a planner. To me, a good planner recognizes that development projects may not (and probably will not) get done quickly or efficiently because of all of the different individual interests that get involved along with all of the potential red tape. Sometimes, making sure every affected party is involved and informed on the process is really the best you can do and I think most planners earn their keep by being the individuals willing to make that difficult but necessary phone call.
    Insanity in individuals is something rare - but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Huck View post
    In my experience Planners don't design. Planners analyze and interpret. Design is left for designers. But that's all depending on where you work, I suppose.
    Yea, I think I know what you mean.

    So, really engineers do as much design or more than planners in a sense, particularly in land development and transportation? Or at least it's a possibility.

    I think early in their career everybody just wants to do something more interesting than what they do. They come out of school bright eyed and bushy tailed and then consider career changes when they find the job isn't as mentally stimulating as they were led to believe by academia.

    I'm past that stage. I just want a steady paycheck doing something semi-interesting in an area where I want to be. And it seems to me Civil Engineering offers a better chance of that than planning for me. Maybe...
    Last edited by jobaba; 11 Jul 2012 at 12:28 AM.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian
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    I currently work as a mid-level designer in an engineering firm, although I have a non-design planning degree, so I can still do research and analysis. I learned most of design from working closely with landscape architects for several years. I design site plans up through preliminary platting, mostly for town centers, master plan communities and subdivisions, although there is still a ton I am learning on the job including sharpening my mind to REALLY think geometrically. I am still scratching my head that there is this work going on right now because I haven't done it in years and I don't see a construction boom anytime soon. This is the second planning job in a row that I have worked for an engineering firm. Planners play second fiddle to engineers: a $100,000 planning contract still pales in comparison to a $2,000,000 civil engineering project. MOST engineers think in very black and white terms, however there are a few of them who are still equally as gifted as planners, at least physical land planning. Entry-level engineering jobs will pay higher but I think it can take longer to move up the ranks than other professions, and even then, you are moving up based on your engineering skills, passing the PE, etc.
    "This is great, honey. What's the crunchy stuff?"
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