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Thread: Explanation of *planning*....how/what/where/etc.

  1. #1
    Cyburbian SW MI Planner's avatar
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    Explanation of *planning*....how/what/where/etc.

    I am sure most of us have dealt with this...well, at least I have ALOT!

    An old acquintance, family member, etc. asks what I am doing for a living. I tell them proudly (most of the time anyway), "I am a City Planner". In a heartbeat, they get that blank look on their face and respond, "Ohhhh........ and...... what exactly is that?"

    How the heck are you supposed to explain City Planning in a short, concise manner? I know most of us wear many different hats, which only confuses things. I usually say that I am responsible for planning, zoning, grants, etc., but it still leaves the person clueless.

    Just curious to see how many have this same issue, and how they try to respond.....

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    I just say we're a bunch of engineers that are bad at math.

  3. #3
          Downtown's avatar
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    Hmm... before I get the blank look, I sometimes get a very confused sounding "Town Planter? Like a landscaper?"

  4. #4
    Cyburbian
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    Its actually a great question? And its questions like these that cause such an identity crisis for the folks at APA and AICP. If we were all required to be certified, everyone would know what we do, right?

    You are right though, we do a thousand different things.

    But now as I am on the development side, all I do is harm the environment. Sioif asked that question today i would respond by saying, "I encourage Sprawl."

    But seriously folks..

    I think it fair to begin the response by saying "Planners help people decide what to do with their land." That should lead to inevitable followup questions.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Habanero's avatar
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    What I tell 'em

    I AM A DEMI-GOD!

    ha ha, no..

    Since I'm in-love with the field I get all starry eyed and tell them that I help design the city. I help the city maintain it's history and culture while maintaining ideals and values set forth by the elected officials. Then I get blank stares and quickly follow up and tell people that my job is hard to define, but planners make a difference, a profound difference, and if one child can grow up and fondly think of where they grew up, how beautiful it was, how amazing the city was on a whole, whether it be an amazing transportation system, abundant parks, or a stable economy, planning had an effect on that.


    p.s. When people hear "planner" they think I plan parties and meetings. Yeah... not quite..
    Last edited by Habanero; 13 Mar 2002 at 4:36 PM.
    When Jesus said "love your enemies", he probably didn't mean kill them.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian el Guapo's avatar
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    My Answer

    I keep developers from screwing the local government and the local government from screwing the developer. And I make sure both sides had to put some thought in to each and every project.

    Um, Im like a lawyer, but for land instead of like for law. But, not quite as sleazy.

  7. #7
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    My standard responses are "well, think of a combination of architecture, geography, sociology and economics" and "it's kind of like macro-scale architecture." They'll then ask "what does macro-sale mean?"

    My undergrad BS was in "Urban and Regional Planning and Analysis." My graduate degree says "Master of Urban Planning." However, I work for a small exurban community, and I've got the quaint, somewhat British-sounding official title of "Town Planner." I'm not working with anything "urban" -- big ol' high-rise buildings, subways and the like. I'm doing things like ...

    * Writing a unified development code.
    * Creating a retail strategy for development along the town's major traffic corridor.
    * Lobbying the DOT in their efforts to improve a major road that cits through our town, to ensure that we're not "stepped on" or that the stretch of road through the town is thought of only as a "speedway."
    * Lobbying the USPS, just for the privilege of permitting town residents to use the town's name in the return address of their mail.
    * Representing the town on regional committees regarding annexation policy, public transportation and environmental advocacy.

    Some members fo the public, in my experience, assume that we have a very tightly defined role, but also that we have far, far more power than we actually do. I think the impression that many folks have of "planning" is that we sit at a big table, and color maps. Wal-Mart goes here, big houses go over there, the expressway cuts through that neighborhood. "Why don't you do something about that slum?", as if I can wave my arm in the direction of the aforementioned blighted community and have bulldozers magically appear, their blades facing unpainted shotgun shacks. Yeah, right.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  8. #8
    Cyburbian
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    Most times when I say what I am, they just give me a blank look and change the topic. If they ask, I say I am the guy that tells people what they can do on their property, where to put thier buildings... After that, details bore them and confuse them. I once had to spend about 2 hours explaining my job to an ex-girlfriend, and still she does not really understand. Though I have had an opportunity to explain the field to a class of 15 year olds!

  9. #9
    maudit anglais
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    I tend to get past the blank look by explaining it in really simple terms like "you see that building over there? Before they could build it, they had to get approval, and I'm the guy who looks to see what the impact will be on transportation". In response to follow up questions I usually have to say "No, I can't put an all-way stop at such and such an intersection, and I guess you'll just have to pay your damn traffic tickets".

  10. #10
    Member Mary's avatar
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    I usually divide it up into current and long range planning give a brief discription of the stuff you look at in a good comp plan process and then tell them current planning is doing all the things with land control that is required to make the comp plan work. Some times I think I actually get general understanding at that point especially if they have any experience with Government and Government rules. I also some times get shock that people try to look at so many factors in how a community develops. Of course I'm now working for a community who's comp plan is so old it may as well not exist *Sigh* but I'll skip pointing that out to people who don't even know what planning is.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    I say I work to make the city a great place to live... and that I work in city hall, that I work with zoning regultions, that I work with the public, and that I also work with real estate developers. Most of the people get it, and there is no further explaining to do. Usually they ask if working with the public is a pain in the ass, then they tell me how bad their subdivision/neighborhood is, and then they tell me the bus system is too slow. There is nothing sexy about the job, so the only gloss that I can muster is "...to make the city a great place to live." People like to hear that, so usually folks aren't bored when I tell them about my career. Unlike bturk, I don't mention anything about technical stuff, cuz that's the kiss of death for most conversations with most people. (No offense to bturk, though my experience in life is that the perception of engineers or "engineering" is a pretty good cue that one is stuck with a pretty boring life... not sexy at all!)

  12. #12
    Member seannelson's avatar
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    Several of my friends constantly ask "what have you planned or zoned today?" That never gets old

  13. #13
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    Beaner..... ME? NOT SEXY?

    This is my department christmas party photo. I guess the Margaritas were going down good when Prudence suggested we go for a dip in the Mayor's pool...

    I'm the one on the right -

  14. #14
    Cyburbian el Guapo's avatar
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    You can't...

    tell me that the guy in the pink Spandex outfit isn't a little happy! Yep, I looked. And you will too now.

    Have you ever noticed those mullets guys on the beach who's mullet blends into their back hair that disappears into the top of the swim suit. We call those Arkansas Mullet Backs.

  15. #15
    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    bturk, that image is great! Does anyone see any **camel toes** on those dudes?!! GROSS!

  16. #16

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    I tell 'em I'm an archaeologist. And since I really was prior to becoming a town planner, I have lots of fun telling stories about getting to name sites that I discovered, digging holes in the ground, cannibalism among ancient Native Americans, etc.

  17. #17

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    Well, this is't what I tell 'em, but.....

    When I was studying for the AICP exam a few years ago I bought some exam seminar tapes from a national conference. The best section of the tapes revolved around this guy whose job it was to psyche everyone up for test taking.

    He said, "...planners tell architects and engineers where to put it!" Love it!

    I had the same problem explaining to friends and family what I did for a living. Now that I've advanced to County Manager, they think that I am some kind.evil politician who rapes mothgers and eats children.

    Actually, its kind of fun working in a profession shrouded in mystery.

  18. #18
    Member Mary's avatar
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    There are times when mystery is fun but usually where work is concerned it's nice when the people who are forced to come see me to get permision to do something to have some idea of what I do or why they are sitting in my office.

  19. #19
    Gunfighter Mastiff's avatar
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    My standard is:

    "I get paid with tax dollars to piss everyone off..."

    Great for parties. And when I refuse to answer any follow-up questions, I really DO piss them off!
    -----------------------------------------------------------------
    C'mon and get me you twist of fate
    I'm standing right here Mr. Destiny
    If you want to talk well then I'll relate
    If you don't so what cause you don't scare me

  20. #20
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    Ahh memories

    Mastiff wrote:
    Great for parties. And when I refuse to answer any follow-up questions, I really DO piss them off!
    In my younger days when I would attend parties more frequently I would just lie and tell people I was a grad student so I didn't have to deal with all thier whining and complaining about their neighbors shed, their drainage problem, etc. Now I'm too old to get away with that one so I had to come up with a better lie that they wont ask me about - "I'm the regional Herbalife representative!"

    PS - Prudence tried to get away with "train conductor". Horrible horrible, tragic mistake....

  21. #21
    Cyburbian pandersen's avatar
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    KMateja wrote:
    Hmm... before I get the blank look, I sometimes get a very confused sounding "Town Planter? Like a landscaper?"
    Pretty close to my experience. Once upon a time, while getting a hair cut in windsor, Ontario, the subject of my profession came up. I explained that I was an "urban planner". The hair dresser informed me that her boyfriend was one too. I asked here where he worked and her reply was that he was working on the ambassadoe bridge. Apparently, the boyfriend in question was an "URBAN PAINTER".

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