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So, you're a NUMTOT who wants to be a planner for real reals ...

Dan

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So, you're a NUMTOT who wants to be a planner for real reals ...

Sorry to break the news to you, but your first job will NOT be making Los Angeles a car-free city, doing some buzzword urbanism installations in Austin, SmartCode calibration (with no T3 transect, because all suburbs suck, amirite?) in Seattle, or planning for the return of streetcars to Brooklyn. Unless you went to a top tier school and graduated towards the top of your class and have a phenomenal thesis or project and have connections, your first job will probably be a three-and-out as an assistant planner in Dothan, Goldsboro, Wichita Falls, or another fifth- or sixth-tier city, just like tens of thousands of planners that entered the profession before you. Why? Because 500 young planners applied for that Planner I position for the City and County of Denver, but only five bothered to apply for the Planner I job in San Angelo, and after nine months of brony-neckbeard-on-OkCupid-level rejection from the God Tier cities you read about every day in CityLab articles, you've got student loans to repay.

Los Angeles? Maybe if you're lucky, you'll land a phone interview for a distant suburb like Temecula or Yucaipa. Hope you went to school in California, because the first question you'll be asked on your interview from is "What do you know about CEQR?" New York? Competing against the hundreds of planning grads from schools in the city, for a handful of CDC and assistant planner jobs that don't pay any more than what you'd earn a couple hundred miles upstate in Utica or Oswego. You better know SEQRA, too, which makes CEQR seem like a Sunday walk in the park in comparison. Vancouver or Toronto? Despite the favorable treatment of planners in NAFTA, the hiring practices of Canadian municipalities tends to be Canada-first-Commonwealth-next-USA-no-way-eh? They'd sooner take in a planning grad from Australia or South Africa than a damn Yankee from south of the border. Sorry, but no Timbits and Coffee Crisp for you.

Anyhow, once you get settled down in Alamogordo, Enid, or Rolla, you'll be processing lot splits, boundary line adjustments, sign permits, setback variances, and if you're lucky, maybe helping out with a corridor or neighborhood plan. Much as you hate, hate, hate cars, you'll have to suck it up and count those parking spaces on that site plan for the new CVS, to make sure they've got at least 1 space per 200 square feet of gross floor area. Three handicapped spaces plus one per 2,000 square feet GFA. 9' x 18' stalls. 24' wide drive aisles for 90 degree angle spaces. Landscape islands at each end of every row of spaces, and interrupting islands to break up rows into runs of 10 spaces or less. Driveway throats at least 20' deep, or 40' if there's more than 50 spaces. A dumpster enclosure located where the front end loader can get to it without blocking the drive through aisle. Don't worry, it's just for a few years, until you get a body of work on your resume that reflects planning in the real world, rather than some theoretical studio projects inspired by Interurban Queen. Then, you can move on to better opportunities, in Greeley, Nampa, or maybe even a suburb on the southern fringes of Tacoma!

Sucks, doesn't it? You aren't going to ban cars for a living, and dev rev might seem like bureaucratic drudgery. Maybe you can convince the powers that be that CVS doesn't really need all those parking spaces, or that zoning shouldn't allow front yard parking in a downtown where they want to see more people out and about. Baby steps. Places, like people, have to want to change. In cities and suburbs -- yes, suburbs -- that are open to new ideas, you may have the opportunity to be an agent for incremental change, and make them better and more equitable places to live. Even without Japanese one-size-fits-all zoning, or the latest Europe-does-it-better idea from the blogosphere.
 

Veloise

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... at least 1 space per 200 square feet of gross floor area. Three handicapped spaces plus one per 2,000 square feet GFA. 9' x 18' stalls. 24' wide drive aisles for 90 degree angle spaces. Landscape islands at each end of every row of spaces, and interrupting islands to break up rows into runs of 10 spaces or less. Driveway throats at least 20' deep, or 40' if there's more than 50 spaces. A dumpster enclosure located where the front end loader can get to it without blocking the drive through aisle. . .
Dan probably wrote that from memory, without an edit.
 

glutton

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Messages
387
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11
For public sector, yes. But from what I've seen, most graduates of the bigger planning programs actually end up working in non-profits, consulting firms, research/academia, real estate development, or other private companies. Of my class of 40-45 planning students, I only know a handful that ended up in municipal planning.
 
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Doohickie

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1,232
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I dunno, we have a young gal as the bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure planner here in Fort Worth. She doesn't have the funding she needs to do the totally awesome stuff, but she does oversee installation of lots of paved miles. There is a city bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure plan and they do a little more than pay lip service to it. It helps that our mayor is an avid cyclist.

Things aren't going as quickly as she (and her cyclist friends) would like, but you can look at the long range plan passed 12 years ago and see the progress made against it, including several miles of trail and three significant bike/pedestrian bridges over the Trinity River.

And one of my bike riding buddies from a group I ride with landed a similar job in Arlington, TX, which is nowhere nears as progressive as Fort Worth when it comes to transportation (not that Ft Worth is very progressive really). But she's getting a chance to at least move the needle a bit.
 

Suburb Repairman

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I think that is Dan's fundamental point... you won't be a world-changer, but you might be able to incrementally change the world for a community that may not have access to a bunch of resources.

There are a lot of places that were largely written off not even 10-20 years ago... Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Fort Worth, Fayetteville... these are places that managed to have a bit of a moment, followed-by methodical, incremental advancement. Even San Angelo has made some serious strides, as have Amarillo and Lubbock. APATX is having their state conference in Waco this year, and there's actually some cool stuff percolating there (beyond the stuff the silo & shiplap king & queen have been HGTVing their ways to fame on).

And re: Arlington... I hope she hangs with it there. I feel like Arlington might be headed in a good direction if a few things fall their way and they get someone strong elected in there to push things along. I remember when Fort Worth was talked about in the same way early in my career.
 

DVD

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For me it all comes down to, you have to learn the game before you try to change the rules. I've been doing this for over 10 years and I'm still learning the game. What can I get done? I ask for improved bus shelters or a little more landscaping around them. Most of the time I don't get it, but I try. I get a couple projects to reduce parking or set up shade structures between parking and store entrances. Go me.
 

HomerJ

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I ended up falling into one of those (anti-automobile crusade) jobs early in my career and I can say from my end it's not the picnic people make it out to be. Sure, I ended up getting rid of my car (to "walk the walk" so to speak) and enjoyed living the same lifestyle that I was paid to demand others consider themselves. At the end of the day though, the resources were too limited and the political support was such a pendulum that I could never find an appropriate work-life balance and it ended up just sucking the life out of me.

Bottom line for me, I think a little naive optimism in a career is a good thing, especially for new urban planners, because otherwise nobody would ever take any chances. Eventually, we do all have to come to terms with realizing our limitations, and in my opinion it's better to spend your time focusing on the things you can control over the things you can't.

#Plannertruthbombs
 

Suburb Repairman

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For me it all comes down to, you have to learn the game before you try to change the rules.
This is actually a good NUMTOT lesson... the best way to break the rules is to learn the rules really well so you know their exact weak spots and how best to exploit them.

Fighting a battle with your fire department about street widths? Consent to the 33' paved width, but have 6' buffered bike lanes installed on each side or do marked 9' parallel on-street parking on both sides. Add corner bump outs with no parking at intersections that reduce the crossing distance to 25'. Challenge the egos of the fire truck engineers that "they aren't good enough drivers to navigate tighter corner radii" and when they "prove you wrong" go measure the radii they were able to meet and write it into the code (I know a guy that did that and used video of it to support tighter corner radii). Those crazy soccer moms/dads that often become crazy NIMBYs? Weaponize them with data about narrower streets slowing down cars and making it more comfortable for walking. How do you do that? By building credibility over time. When you build credibility and trust anywhere, they'll let you push some pretty progressive stuff.

Oh, and smaller units of government are typically more agile--it can be easier to enact change in small places versus big places once you've got some credibility/trust.

You can still be subversive AF in this profession... you just gotta be smart about it.
 
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DVD

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Oh, and smaller units of government are typically more agile--it can be easier to enact change in small places versus big places once you've got some credibility/trust.

You can still be subversive AF in this profession... you just gotta be smart about it.
I can attest to that. Working for a small rural county I could get changes done in days. Working for a mid sized suburb it would take a few months to get a change and occasionally we could slip in some progressive stuff. Working for a large city nothing gets changed without a couple years to work it out. I believe a city wide change here requires 17 public hearings not to mention meetings with local neighborhood groups, developers, legal "experts", and who knows what else just to gain that trust. Progressive ideas tend not to make it through the grinder.
 
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glutton

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I ended up falling into one of those (anti-automobile crusade) jobs early in my career and I can say from my end it's not the picnic people make it out to be. Sure, I ended up getting rid of my car (to "walk the walk" so to speak) and enjoyed living the same lifestyle that I was paid to demand others consider themselves. At the end of the day though, the resources were too limited and the political support was such a pendulum that I could never find an appropriate work-life balance and it ended up just sucking the life out of me.
I echo this. I did the big, progressive city life briefly, LOVED walking and biking and bussing everywhere, but it paid really low for the cost of living and my job took over my life - to the point where I didn't have time to do most of the cool things associated with being in a big city, like all the take advantage of learning and networking opportunities, museums, nightlife, friends etc. Everyone is very ambitious and workaholic. AT the same time, however, if you don't try to sip the kool-aid and "live" the dream at least once and learn from the best, it's going to be hard to build credibility and skills to push progressive stuff in smaller places. I live in a mid-sized city now and we love hiring tired people from the coasts (and millennials) because they bring a fresh perspective and a wider range of project experience. In return, they are happy for the lower cost of living and quality of life benefits that comes with moving to a smaller city, and excited to bring about change all while being able to buy a house and raise a family. But it's hard to do that if you've never left and experienced larger, progressive cities firsthand, at least in the transportation planning world. In my experience, where you get your first job has a profound impact on where you end up later and what sorts of opportunities open up to you later on. I definitely acknowledge, though, that finding a great first job is difficult to do if you don't come from a large, well-known planning school with a large alumni base, aren't good at networking, or don't go to school near where you want to work.

In a way, it's like trying to break into the fashion industry...it's extremely difficult to make it and gain credibility if you didn't go to FIT or have some experience in New York. Or like breaking into tech - yeah Des Moines and every other mid-sized city now has new tech growth, but it's not the same as starting your career in San Francisco/Silicon Valley and then moving elsewhere with your skills once you're sick of (or priced out) of the big city. The experience, contacts, projects and skills you get in a big city experience provide powerful leverage to move literally anywhere else in the country after a few years. Obviously, this approach is not possible nor necessarily desirable for everyone; issues like student loans, cost of living, sense of community, extenuating circumstances and family/personal situation are real. But it really depends on how set you are on your goals and ambitions, and what or how much you're willing or able to sacrifice to pursue them.

td;lr: Big cities are awesome for 2-3 years of hustle, challenge, and career growth - although difficult to get at first, once you get something, the career development opportunities and general magnitude of urban planning work happening in the large coastal cities are unparalleled. Using those skills and experiences gained there as leverage, it's relatively easy to move out and flex your creativity in smaller places as other things start becoming a priority in your (more adult) life, like buying a house, settling down, starting a family, etc. In my experience, it's not that difficult to go from big region to small region, but it's harder and will take many, many, years to take the opposite approach by taking whatever job you can get in X small town and trying to inch your way up from small rural locality -> suburb -> mid-sized city -> big city. Again though, it really depends on what your eventual career goal is, how much importance you want to place on developing that vs. other things in life, and personal circumstances. This advice is only applicable to people whose goal it is to eventually make it to a larger city and those who may want to specialize in a certain sub-area of planning. General land use and zoning, for example, can be learned pretty much at any scale, as long as there is development and growth happening. It's harder to get the opportunity to work on a transit or multi-modal transportation planning, though, if you're in a smaller area that has put very little investment in or doesn't have the resources or political will for building a multi-modal network. I don't know as much about other sub-fields, but I imagine it might be similar; for example, to really learn park and environmental planning well, your best bet would be to try to go to places that are known for innovative work in that field, like Minneapolis.

Also, this thread only discussed opportunities in the public sector, which I agree are few and far between in any geography, and competitive. An easier approach to try to break into the big city markets is to try boutique consulting firms, engineering/architecture firms, non-profits, and research organizations and then try to segway into public sector. These opportunities are easier to obtain through networking since the HR process may not be as rigid and formal as public agencies.
 
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