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Ark

What exactly is Urban Planning?

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I keep getting small amounts of information off of career sites, but I still don't understand many things. You see, i'm an undergraduate senior although I might as well be called a junior because I spent the last year taking classes that led to dead ends - i'm having an unbelievably horrible time deciding what to do with my life.

Urban planning sounds like an interesting idea - I want to work in a creative field where I can let my imagination flow and while deciding between digital photography or architecture I came across urban planning. Simcity turned me onto the idea of city building and the fact that I live by Detroit has fueled by desire to change that beautiful (architectually) city back to the city it once was and stop what's currently happening to it.

But - I keep going to career counselors who seem to know next to nothing about what to expect. I go to focuscareer.com & careercruising.com everyday to check out career possibilites - but even they say nothing.

Some questions,

1. When sites say things like urban planners deciding the land use of areas - just how indepth does it mean? Can urban planners make proposals about architecture type, road layout, zone layout etc... Can they go as indepth to state the type of planning design? How about Parkways & Churches? Civic buildings? Do they go that indepth? I've heard stuff related to the environment too - how indepth does that go? Can I propose measures for water use? landfills?

2. What are the major differences between an urban planner & a regional planner? Are those simply the same thing with two different titles? Or does a regional planner decide a more general use for, say, a county or state whereas urban deals primarily with city? Are the salaries very low for suburban & rural planners & high for major city planners? How about Detroit? It's a major city, but a poor one. How is salary dealt with? Speaking of which - who pays for my "plans?" I'm guessing whoever needs my consulting.

3. Who would ask for my advice? I've heard politicans, business, etc... If that's the case then how does urban planning work for an individual business? Do "politicians" include city councils, mayors, etc...? Can I specialize in the city of Detroit or will I most likely have to go where i'm called?

4. If I change my mind down the road and want to become an architect or computer scientist how easy of a transition could I make? There seems to be absolutely no architecture BA programs around southeast Michigan. The closest are tech schools like Lawrence Tech. - but they require less gen ed. so i'd have to take another 3 years of school to get a BA in Architecture.

5. I'm not the most extroverted person - i'm not extremely introverted, but is urban planning a job where i'm "always" selling something? What are daily activities like for an urban planner? I realize I have to meet with people and try to sell them my idea, but will I be doing this everyday? I don't want to feel like i'm a salesman - i've always hated the idea of going to one of those business table meetings in front of the executive board and having to stand there with my powerpoint & PR smile... i've always considered that to be rather dull of a lifestyle (although I realize others consider it thrilling to make a selling point for a board).

6. Lastly, I go to the University of Michigan - Dearborn Campus. There is no urban planning program at the dearborn campus, does this undergraduate program sound efficient? I know the thing that matters most is the graduate, but I want to make sure i'm well prepared and this is the closest thing to it: http://www.umd.umich.edu/undergradprogram/...l%20studies.pdf

It's a PDF document. I plan on concentrating on the Urban Service area concentration.

Anyway, thanks in advance for the help.

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So many questions, Ark! And they're not with simple answers!

I'll start off by saying planners work in a variety of different positions with a variety of different specialties and a variety of different responsibilities. If you're a planner doing planning work you'll likely end up in one of the following three positions:

1. A municipal planner/zoning official. These guys work for a town/city/hamlet/whatever and help establish and enforce zoning laws in that municipality. You usually write the zoning laws and pray that mayor and council will support you. Often they don't, so you have to compromise--sometimes more than you want to. Depending on the planning dept you're working with you may be developing municipal land use/redevelopment/revitalization plans, or your department may outsource those to a consulting firm.

2. Planner for a state or regional agency/authority/etc. State agencies have planners too. Some plan projects that span many jurisdictions (such as regional transportation projects). Others develop statewide growth management initiatives or try to drive state housing/energy/environmental policies.

3. Planner in a consulting firm. This is what I do. Many planners work in consulting firms that many of the aforementioned agencies hire to put together a plan or study for them. Many municipal planning departments, for example, have a staff of 10 or so planners, but perhaps one or none are very specialized in transportation planning, so they hire a firm who has that specialized staff to do a study and inform their municipality's policy. As a consultant you'll get to do work for a number of clients, which keeps the work fresh and interesting, and puts you in new places from time to time.

All of these types of work have their advantages and disadvantages, of course, and when the time comes for you to start searching for careers, you will decide which sector best fits your goals.

So, on to your questions...

1. Planners can make decisions about land use and building typologies in areas of their jurisdiction. But you don't have the final say. If you're a municipal planner, you work with the community (the public input is important) to develop a plan and zoning ordinance that suits the needs of the community. If you're a consultant you'll work to recommend the same. You develop a policy. In the end, however, lawmakers make the decisions to adopt zoning ordinances or to approve or deny development proposals. And in many places, the political factor is strong, and not always fair. That part of the job can be frustrating.

2. The difference between an urban planner and a regional planner is indeed subtle. An urban planner working in a municipality will make policies for their town and be involved in site-specific planning. A regional planner is likely to work for a state, multi-state, national, or metropolitan organization. Their work is usually more in developing policies rather than specific sites or projects (though there are exceptions).

3. Lots of parts to this question. If you're on the planning staff for the city of Detroit, then your work will be in Detroit. If you work for a state agency, your work will be all over Michigan. If you work for a consulting firm with an office in Detroit, you'll work from Detroit but have clients all over the place (and likely will have to visit them from time to time).

Your advice... again it depends on your position. A municipal planner informs the municipal officials. A consultant informs whoever his/her client is (government agency, corporation, etc). Yes, consultants often have corporate clients (a land developer, commercial chain, communications companies, etc), since many states require impact studies to be done for certain types of developments. Corporations therefore hire planning firms to do these studies for them. I once worked on a traffic impact study for a large multi-use development planned for a community in NJ.

4. Switching careers is easy when they're so closely related. Many people I went to grad school with had been engineers, architects, even English teachers. Your planning degree won't make you a certified architect (heck it won't even make you a certified planner. you have to pass the AICP exam to be certified), but if your planning focus is urban design, site planning, etc., those skills will help you in A school.

5. Planning is about reaching out to the public. If you're a municipal-level planner, especially, you'll have to attend public meetings, council meetings, planning board meetings, etc. You'll have to meet with civic leagues and PTAs in the neighborhoods you're developing plans for. It's a very community-focused job. Consultants do some of that too, but there's usually more room to hide in a cubicle and just do modeling work in a large firm. But, to get noticed in the consulting world, it's good to go out and win work. That means developing product, submitting proposals, selling your firm's business line, and winning jobs.

6. Just looking at the description it does seem like a reasonable program. But here's some advice... If you really are interested in planning, and you're in your 4th year of college, don't switch your undergraduate major now. Finish whatever program you're in and apply to graduate programs in planning. Trust me. A master's degree in planning will get you much farther than a bachelor's. In fact, for many jobs it's a prerequisite (that's not to say you couldn't start somewhere w/ a bachelor's and move up). But why restructure your undergrad career (which could cost you a couple years) to get a bachelor's when a couple years is all it would take you to get a master's?

I majored in History as an undergrad and by my 3rd year I realized it was not what I wanted to pursue. The summer after I discovered planning and used my 4th year to apply to grad schools. Now, 2 years later, I have a master's degree in planning and am working as a transportation consultant. Some people think making a transition from architecture or engineering to planning is odd, but people have made greater leaps!

I hope some of this info is useful for you. Planning is a great field. It's finally becoming sexy. If you've got more questions about the field, careers, schools, or whatever, please ask them. I'd love to recruit a small army of planners.

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I work for a regional planning agency in Massachusetts. Basically regional planning tends to focus on transportation issues, mainly prioritizing projects in Transportation Improvement Programs and coming up with Regional Transportation Plans, both of which are mandated by the federal government. Additionally, we do a lot of special studies for cities/towns in our region, including safety studies on roadways, congestion studies, bikeway studies, transit studies, etc. We do a lot of mapping as well.

Regional planning is often more advisory than anything else, i.e. we make recommendations to cities and towns in our jurisdiction for transportation/land use improvements and projects, but then it is up to them to actually pursue them.

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Thanks guys for your replies. It's been very informative and helpful, especially yours lammius. I'm still trying to decide between urban planning, computer science or environmental law, but with this new information I can explore a little more.

Thanks again.

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I work for a regional planning agency in Massachusetts. Basically regional planning tends to focus on transportation issues, mainly prioritizing projects in Transportation Improvement Programs and coming up with Regional Transportation Plans, both of which are mandated by the federal government. Additionally, we do a lot of special studies for cities/towns in our region, including safety studies on roadways, congestion studies, bikeway studies, transit studies, etc. We do a lot of mapping as well.

Regional planning is often more advisory than anything else, i.e. we make recommendations to cities and towns in our jurisdiction for transportation/land use improvements and projects, but then it is up to them to actually pursue them.

Sounds like you work for the MPO there, I worked for the MPO in Atlanta. From a non-planner view, I found regional planning more satisfying than city planners based on my past experience working for city governments. Just my opinion of course, but I found city planners more 'in the trench' while regional planners were 'in the sandbox'.

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Sounds like you work for the MPO there, I worked for the MPO in Atlanta. From a non-planner view, I found regional planning more satisfying than city planners based on my past experience working for city governments. Just my opinion of course, but I found city planners more 'in the trench' while regional planners were 'in the sandbox'.

Yeah, our MPO is technically a group of people that sit around a table and vote a few times a year, but we are the 'staff' to the MPO and do all the work. And I agree, city planning is so one-sided and usually turns into a zoning war. I much prefer being in an advisory role, even though a lot of times municipalities take our recommendations and tell us to go screw.

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All interesting stuff because this is what i want to pursue after i graduate next spring :thumbsup:

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This definitely is some interresting information.

Thanks for providing it, especially to Lemmius.

I have a few questions regarding the carreer of Urban Planning myself.

I am currently working towards my Bachelors degree. I originally was studying Human Geography, but now I've just changed my major to Planning. I am, however, still taking all available courses in Urban Geography (as it is what I've originally focussed on). So I kind of have a double major.

I am studying at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands, but I hope to pursue graduate studies in the US(even though that can be quite expensive for foreign students).

Here are my questions:

1. Do all Master (Graduate) programs in the US take two years to complete?

2. I've found a list of accredited planning programs in the US, composed by the Planning Accreditation Board. Are the Planning programs in this list the only Urban Planning programs in the USA (or are there more programs)?

Does your urban planning program need to be accredited (by the P.A.B.) if you want to find a job in the field of Urban Planning? Here's the list (it's a .pdf file): http://showcase.netins.net/web/pab_fi66/20...ed_Programs.pdf . By the way, the P.A.B. is sponsored by its partners: the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP);

the American Planning Association (APA); and the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning (ACSP).

3. I know that the Planning program I'm studying mainly prepares students for Planning jobs in the Netherlands, but not for jobs abroad. I get the idea that Planning programs at universities are firmly embedded in their national context, in other words: a degree from a US university would mainly prepare you for Planning jobs in the US, a degree from a Dutch university mainly prepares you for jobs in the Netherlands. Is this true for US universities?

4. Do degrees in fields related to Urban Planning- for example, Urban Geography- open up job opportunities in the field of Urban Planning? Or do employers insist on hireing (sp?) graduates from Planning programs?

Thanks in advance for taking the time to answer my questions! :)

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It's funny Ark, other than the part about Detroit, you described my questions to the T. I've been trying to research this field for a long time but when it comes time for me to pose my question to an actual person, I run out of ways to describe Urban Planning as an occupation when asked. People often ask me "What exactly is urban planning?" I usually draw a blank to that question. I know what it is, I just can't describe it, so I am so glad you asked these questions. The answer provided by lammius really opened my eyes.

I'm currently a Senior Psych major that switched from a Biology/Pre-Med major last year. Despite being a senior, due to my change in majors, I will be in school for at least another year just trying to finish this Psych degree up. I originally wanted to go into Public and Human relations, but I have now changed my mind. This decision is mostly just from what I have learned from Urban Planet in general. When I was younger, my career goal was architecture and I made a lot of early steps into the field, only to change my mind to become a Pediatric Neurologist by graduation. This is what led me into pre-med and eventually psychology. About a year or two ago, I became fascinated with skyscrapers and photography. That love turned me onto this website just by chance which has gathered my interest so much that I've been playing with the idea of Urban Planning for some time now, which brings me back to my architecture roots. I currently attend UNC Charlotte, which does not have an Urban Planning bachelors, but does have related masters programs.

In the professional's opinion, what is the likelihood of a plain psychology degree going towards an Urban Planning Masters?

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Ronald, I'd say any private company in the U.S. would LOVE to have someone with a European planning background work for them, and any school would love to have the same as well. Planning is a much more important part of life in Europe and Europe's planning practices are often the envy of many planners in the U.S. You should be fine.

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Thank you for your encouraging words, Recchia! Planning is indeed a very important part of life, planners get tought to involve many 'local (neighbourhood-based) authorities (like civilian representatives) ' in their decision-making process here, though I'm sure there exists something similar in the US.

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Hey, I too have a few questions; luckily I'm a college freshman, so I can kind of plan ahead based on the advice of y'all.

I'm currently a Political Science/German double-major at a small liberal arts school. I have two career paths I'm considering; Law (and perhaps a foray into international affairs), and Urban Planning. For years I wanted to be an architect; to design beautiful high-rise buildings, low-lying landmarks, and just about any other type of building that would put my mark on a city. The lofty goal was kind of crushed by the failure of several math courses in high school, and a D- in Physics. So much for the engineering aspect...

But with urban planning, how would one enter the world of design in particular? As in, the aesthetic and functional layout of new projects, the growth of urban areas, and other design-related things? Are such goals more urban-DEVELOPING related (and if so, how would I possibly get involved with that)? I'm not even sure if that's really a career, but it's something I would love to pursue, if possible. Any advice would be very, very appreciated!

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Hey I have question too, what are the the advantages of doing a dual urban planning masters degree and a law degree...usually four year program. Or for that that matter, already having one of those and then going back for the other??

My main question what extra advantages does a person having with a legal degree, when it comes to urban planning. What type of jobs can they function in as opposed to just having that masters degree in urban planning.

Thanks if anybody can answer that.

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^ I knew a transportation planner that went for a law degree. Just as there is always a specialization in law - there is regarding planning issues. But I don't know about the other way around - probably specializing with contracts, which there are always a lot of.

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Hey I have question too, what are the the advantages of doing a dual urban planning masters degree and a law degree...usually four year program. Or for that that matter, already having one of those and then going back for the other??

My main question what extra advantages does a person having with a legal degree, when it comes to urban planning. What type of jobs can they function in as opposed to just having that masters degree in urban planning.

Thanks if anybody can answer that.

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