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What is urban planning, really?

Kelli McCully

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I'm interested in urban planning, but really don't know much about it. This is my impression so far - that it is a rather broad profession dealing with anything from how to implement plans physically, to how to pay for them, to how they impact the people in the community. The most helpful thing I've found so far has been this website from the Canadian Institute of Planners: http://www.cip-icu.ca/English/aboutplan/career.htm. This is what I've mainly based my current limited understanding on. Can anyone shed some light on what urban planning really is? Is my impression correct, or am I off base? What career options do people with a planning degree have?

That's another thing - I have a bachelor's degree in Spanish and education - not particularly related to planning, if what I think I know is correct. What do people know about how that would affect a) entrance to graduate programs and b) career possibilities afterward?

I appreciate any advice people can give me - the little information I've managed to find out so far has really intrigued me, but I'd like to hear from people that are really out there doing it.

Thanks for taking the time to help out a potential planner!
 

mike gurnee

Cyburbian
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3,066
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Your impression is quite accurate. One major facet to planning is determining the public interest--to make certain you are planning what is really desired by the community. With growing numbers of Hispanics in the States, we are in need of bi-lingual planners. I am currently struggling with this now. Educating the public about the various issues is also very important--seminars, workshops, advisory board meetings and other group settings. So I see a planning future for a Spanish/Education udndergraduate degree.

Have you visited the American Planning Association's web site: www.planning.org/
 
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Well you sure came up with a much more accurate description than the babble that I usually produce regarding a definition for Urban Planning. It is very interdisciplinary.

Most schools (well, I'll just talk about the Canadian ones, cuz that's where I am) will probably want you to do at least a year of preliminary courses in Planning and then apply to their graduate program if that is what you are looking to do. The only thing is that you really have to make sure that you do extremely well in that single year, because schools often use this year as an easy way to grab a year's worth of tuition off somebody. So do well in that year, and come up with a top notch idea for your graduate thesis, find a prof who's interested in it, and then you'll be on your way into the lovely world of planning!
 
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I agree with Mike, planning can cover so many fields, I was in graduate school with geologists, environmental scientists, geographers, anthropologists, engineers, etc etc etc. Education is a pretty major component of many planning job descriptions, especially in community planning.

As for how graduate programs would view your background, if you really think you are interested in planning, I would contact some schools and just ask them what their requirements are. It seems to me that applications to most graduate schools have been down in recent years, so some programs may be broadening their view of what an acceptable background should look like.

Good luck!
 

NHPlanner

Forums Administrator & Gallery Moderator
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9,884
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Straight from the APA website...

What makes human beings unique? The fact that we can plan. Our greatest achievements--from the pyramids of Egypt to modern skyscrapers--have all resulted from our ability to envision the future and muster the resources needed to achieve it. That is what forms the core set of skills and philosophy underpinning the profession of planning.
Planning is not, of course, reserved for professional planners. We plan our day, think about our children's future, and plot an itinerary for a trip. Doesn't it make sense to think about the future of our communities and to take the trouble to ensure that the decisions we make today will result in a viable and healthy future?

Professional planners have studied the way our lives are influenced by physical, economic, and social forces. It's their job to help the rest of us shape the kinds of communities we want. Part of the job is done through zoning, the division of land into different types of uses to avoid nuisances and promote healthy and orderly development. Zoning is a tool, but it's not planning.

Planning involves many tools, including economic and demographic analysis, natural and cultural resource evaluation, goal-setting, and strategic planning. Besides being the only profession specially trained to look at how these elements fit together, planners bring something more. They can offer options--so that communities and their citizens can achieve their vision of the future. Planners are the key to implementing the wishes, hopes, and aspirations of citizens all across the spectrum. Isn't that what Thomas Jefferson had in mind when he envisioned a true American democracy?

By the way, the url for this passage is: http://www.planning.org/info/articles/whatis.htm
 

rayquay

Member
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Hispanic Planners

mike gurnee said:
With growing numbers of Hispanics in the States, we are in need of bi-lingual planners. I am currently struggling with this now.

What are you doing to try and recruit hispanic planners?
 

jordanb

Cyburbian
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3,232
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25
Urban planning chiefly consists of sitting on the internet and bitching about your job. ;-)
 

Habanero

Cyburbian
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jordanb said:
Urban planning chiefly consists of sitting on the internet and bitching about your job. ;-)
Geez, cyber-woody for negativity much? Why don't you try practicing random acts of intelligence and senseless acts of self-control?


Anyhow, I agree with Mike. Much of what you've described is right on. I think a program should look more at your grades and entance scores than anything else, but maybe I'm just an optimistic kind of person who knows people can change their minds about a career path.
 

Michele Zone

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7,657
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Kelli McCully said:
What career options do people with a planning degree have?

That's another thing - I have a bachelor's degree in Spanish and education - not particularly related to planning, if what I think I know is correct. What do people know about how that would affect a) entrance to graduate programs and b) career possibilities afterward?
Some thoughts, from someone who is not yet a "planner" and may never officially hold such a title:
I have my Associate of Arts in Humanities. This has meant taking a few extra classes to fill in the science I did not take because I am now pursuing my Bachelor's in Environmental Resource Management with a concentration in Land Use Planning and Policy.

I also homeschool and a lot of the work I do is pro bono (ie the pay is zilch) in the area of education. Not just educating my kids but helping other home educators figure out how to best educate their own kids. I don't think that any of that -- the AA in Humanities (and I took 4 quarters of French and two of Classic Greek -- "translator" was my dream profession when I was 17) or the background as unpaid educator and unpaid "educational consultant" (to give a fancy title to running my mouth online in homeschooling forums) is a hindrance to my future profession. In fact, I think it is a strong basis for how I think and, well, I think that I think just fine and that is kind of what folks will pay me for. Right?

Besides, the best solutions often come from someone who has a different background and "thinks outside the box". Some of the most influential statistical work (changing American laws and policies and he is why we no longer put lead in gasoline) comes from a guy with a degree in physics who couldn't get a physics job after college and took a statistics job with the government after college with the CDC or some such. Medicine is an incredibly conservative field and this fact shapes the minds and approaches of those with such a background. Physics is a very risk-taking, experimental profession: the faster you throw out your ideas, the quicker you can find out which ones have merit and which don't. His work is so controversial, he had to leave government to keep doing it. Fortunately, the prize money (kind of like the Nobel Prize or some such) for his groundbreaking work helped him afford a house on the salary of a college professor so he can keep shaking people up on the side, pro bono.

Long way of saying: think of your background in Spanish and Education as an asset and don't sweat the small stuff of maybe needing a few extra classes to finish your degree. Is is what you WANT to do? (You certainly would be an asset to any community with a large Hispanic population. Demographic trends suggest that this need will only increase with time.)

I also now have my Certificate in GIS and I have picked out the college where I want to get my Master's in Planning and Development Studies. I attended a job fair there once and some other stuff they have sponsored. "Meet and Greet" type stuff. At the job fair, I met people who had the degree I want. One of them worked for transportation planning for the state (I think). One of them was a commercial real estate developer. One was a self-employed consultant. I no longer remember the other titles. They all did different stuff. So, I think what I end up doing with a Master's in Planning will depend on a lot of things -- including personal choice.

Just my 2 cents.
 

Doitnow

Cyburbian
Messages
500
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16
Planning is also about having a Vision and then trying hard to translate it into reality. :p

Your expertise would lie in being the the Jack-of- All. After all, its also a speciality, guys!!
 

OhioPlanner

Cyburbian
Messages
304
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11
No problem with your undergraduate degrees. We have several undergraduate Spanish majors in our planning program at Ohio State University. These students have found it helpful in working in minority neighborhoods to be able to serve as a translator when necessary. We also have a student with an undergrad in education.

People come from very diverse undergraduate backgrounds and find that they do perfectly well in planning school.
 
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