5th December 2017
Urban Planning Job Shadow
The process of planning our cities has been around for millennia, from ancient Egypt and Greece to the United States and Europe in the present day. Planning has succeeded and failed its goals many times, but it has always remained a necessary position in developed nations around the globe(Akimoto). The benefits, pay, work environment, and job availability all make planning an attractive field to me. Thus, after careful consideration, urban planning is a career that I might want to pursue.
The current job outlook for urban and regional planners in the United States is very good. There is projected to be a 13% growth in the number of urban planning jobs in the next ten years, compared to a 7% growth in all other occupations over the same period (Urban). This makes planning as a profession very lucrative, as it is highly likely that you will get a job right out of graduate school. Nationally, there are about 36,000 planning jobs, however, there are only between 80 and 170 in the Louisville Metropolitan Statistical area and no more than 320 in the state if Kentucky (Urban). This means that the majority of the jobs are clustered in major cities along the coasts of the US and in other large population centers such as Chicago and Denver.
Planning is also a nice field to get into because of the wide range of tasks that planners may have. I enjoy the possibility of not being constrained to one task my entire career and being able to do different things. Urban planners have hundreds of tasks that they are required to do depending on the type of planner that they are. In general, all planners will meet with public officials, hold public meetings regarding plans, conduct field investigations on neighborhoods or specific locations, and assess the feasibility of existing development plans and zoning laws (Seivers). Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. emphasized what the term city planning stood for. Olmsted said it represented
“a growing appreciation of a city’s organic unity, of the interdependence of its diverse elements (Akimoto).”
However, with a master’s degree in urban and regional planning, people can do multiple things. They may work in land use planning, advanced community planning, landscape planning, law, or transportation planning (Urban).
Within land use planning, planners may decide whether or not a planned project fits within the surrounding area and the current zoning laws (Levy). Planners and other code enforcers will also determine whether or not a business has everything that is necessary and up to code (Seivers). In my opinion, this is the boring side of planning, as you have to pour over lines and lines of code to approve a project or change zoning for a particular area. Many planners plan for the far future, which is oftentimes called advanced planning. This kind of planning is one of the most common, and almost all state and local governments have some branch of advanced planning. The Department of Advanced Planning with Louisville Metro, in which I interned with over the summer, works with planning for the future. They create neighborhood plans for urban neighborhoods within Louisville and long-range plans such as Louisville’s 2040 Comprehensive plan update. Landscape planning, otherwise known as landscape architecture, is not formally a type of planning, yet it is very similar. In general, landscape planners will analyze a landscape and design the land, planting design, stormwater management, and other activities that deal with parks and landscapes. The next form of planning is transportation planning. This is the side of planning that I shadowed with for my job shadow. Their most basic job description is to analyze and prepare for the future needs of moving people and goods to their destinations. However, transportation planners deal with much more specific things, such as developing new transit routes, roads, highways, bike lanes, and the developments next to them (Seivers). This type of planning interests me the most for reasons to be discussed. Finally, the last major field that planners work in is law. Planners who receive a joint law and masters of urban planning usually have the greatest salary (American). They specialize in many of the legal parts of urban planning and how laws can impact the urban environment.
To become an urban planner, one must receive a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in urban planning (Seivers). However, people enter master’s programs in planning with many kinds of Bachelor’s degrees, because it is not necessary to have a bachelor’s degree in planning to do graduate work in planning. Some colleges offer a bachelor’s of urban planning, yet few people choose to participate in those programs (collegiate). The best colleges that offer an undergrad in urban planning are the University of Cincinnati, Ohio State University, Cleveland State University, Ball State University, University of Memphis, The University of Illinois at Chicago and at Champaign-Urbana (Guide).
Instead of receiving a bachelor’s of urban planning and a master’s of urban planning, many people chose to receive a different undergraduate degree. This is usually because it is smart to get a different degree to fall back on just in case their master’s of urban planning does not go as planned (Seivers). Some people get different undergraduate degrees because they do not know what they want to go into when they get out of college. The wide range of degrees that people who go into urban planning include economics, geography, political science, and environmental design (Urban). Other planners are educated first in the social sciences like public administration, sociology, or government; others are trained first in the design professions like architecture, urban design, and landscape architecture. Still others have their undergraduate degree in professions such as public health, social work, nursing, or engineering. Many people with undergraduate degrees in the Arts or Humanities (English, Art, History) also choose to pursue a graduate planning degree (Collegiate).
In college, many people chose to minor in a field of study. A minor generally takes about 15 credit hours depending on the minor and complements your major. The most common minors for urban planners, from increasing popularity, are community development and redevelopment, land use or code enforcement, transportation planning, economic planning and development, environmental and natural resources planning, and urban design (American).
The Masters of City Planning (MCP) and Master of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) are the most common masters for urban planners, and the only master degrees accredited by the Planning Accreditation Board. The University of Louisville is the closest University to offer either of these degrees. The in-state tuition and fees at U of L for the 2013-2014 year were $6,294 (Planning). However, The University of Louisville is not a highly rated university for a Master’s of Urban and Regional Planning because it is only 10th in the Southeastern United States (Guide). For me, this does not pose a large problem. Getting a Master’s degree is a good excuse to get out of your hometown and explore another place, which is what I would hope to do.
The work environment for many urban planners played a large part in my decision on whether or not to pursue this as a career. Planners get out of the office multiple times a month, examining site locations and environment. Planners will oftentimes get out of the office to look at a potential job site before they begin their work (Seivers). These ‘job sites’ may range from an entire neighborhood, when planning a neighborhood plan, to a bus stop or string of bus stops when deciding where to move stop locations. Sites may also include underutilized tracts of land planned to be turned in to some form of development in the inner city or the country. At my job shadow, Nick and a co-worker, Elizabeth Frank, told me how they had worked on stop consolidation for Dixie Hwy. They looked at stop data and the locations of stops to determine whether a stop could be taken out to improve travel speeds for local buses, and then repeatedly drove up and down Dixie Hwy examining each bus stop’s location and accessibility (Seivers).
Planners also hold public meetings for the community to comment on planned zoning changes, transportation projects, and development projects (Urban). Smaller informal pop-up public outreach activities are also held, in which I helped with at my internship. Public meetings provide opportunities to get outside the office, however they many pros and cons in my opinion. The pros include informing the community on topics that interest me and impact them, hopefully in a good way. You get to meet new people as well. The largest con, in my opinion, is the public speaking, something which I despise very much. Public speaking is a must in many urban planning positions, and planners who do not possess good public speaking skills will often work for those that do. These skills range from informing the public of upcoming events to presenting your idea to a group of politicians to get your plan funded. Many good plans that are poorly expressed are unlikely to be funded (Levy).
The vast majority of planners work in government, with 81% of all planners working in government. Of this 81%, 68% work in local government, such as with TARC or the Department of Advanced Planning. The other part of the 81% is spread throughout state and federal governments. The rest of planners work in planning firms, architectural firms, hospitals, and others (Urban). This does not make a huge difference to me because both of my parents work government jobs as well and are doing just fine.
The majority of planners work in cities rather than suburbs or small towns (American). This means that their offices are generally in walkable areas where culinary options and cultural attractions are within a short distance from the office. To me, these are great advantages of working at a place. Both TARC and the Department of Advanced Planning are located in or near downtown Louisville, which is both easily accessible to the rest of the city and not in the middle of suburbia area. Being able to get to work without a car is also more important to me than to most other people, which would be easier to do when working in downtown.
Urban planners make a fair salary with mild benefits. In 2016, the national median pay was $70,020, or $33.66 per hour (Urban). However, because this number is an average of all salaries in the United States, it is a little skewed. In the US, planners often make much more along the coasts and in large cities such as Chicago and Denver. This is most likely because the cost of living is more expensive in those places than it is in Louisville.
As experience is gained in the field, average pay goes up. nationally, a beginning salary is around $49,000 (American). However, because average pay in Louisville is lower than in other areas, a beginning salary is also lower. Nicholas Seivers, whom I shadowed had a beginning salary of $42,000 in 2013 (Seivers). And Tony Mattingly, who worked in the Advanced Planning Office, had a measly starting salary of $38,000. On the other end, Gretchen Peterson Millliken, the director of Advanced Planning, who has decades of experience yet has only worked with Louisville Metro for 6 years, makes $90,000. And the director of planning for TARC, Aida Copic, who has worked with Louisville Metro for 12 years, makes $75,000 a year (Seivers). These numbers ring true for what the data shows, that with experience, salary goes up (American).
Urban planners have a fair job satisfaction, but it can be a very frustrating job at times.
“Sometimes a planner’s brainchild gets more than a little battered during that long trip from the drawing-board to reality (Levy).”
This quote summarizes what oftentimes happens to a planners’ plans as they go through the levels of government approval. Planners must also deal with what happens when the public interest and a client’s loyalty are at odds with each other, and sort it out. Because of these reasons listed, urban planning is not good for someone with a low frustration tolerance (Levy).
Despite this, planners may receive a myriad of benefits. Those that work with private firms may get to live in a different city every few months which I would add underneath the benefits category. Planners that work for city government receive benefits that most other city workers would, such as a pension and lots of sick and vacation leave. The amount of vacation leave granted to employees of the city of Louisville is a lot more leave time than those working in the private sector. Other small benefits specific to the city of Louisville include free rides on TARC and discounts at the zoo and at some hotels (Seivers).
Other things that have interested me throughout the years are also reflected in my decision to pursue Urban Planning as a career path. These things include mapmaking and GIS, environmentalism, politics, and a drive to make the world a better place.
I have always been interested in looking at maps since I was young, and planning gives me an opportunity to do this with GIS software. To me, looking at maps of both here and afar has always been ‘fun,’ and getting to do this on a semi-regular basis is something that has piqued my interest in both planning and GIS. Within urban planning, GIS tools are used to spatially construct landscapes and help architects figure out problems by analyzing the data inside GIS maps and programs. This makes it an unavoidable tool for most planners (Tom).
Environmentally, planners plan so that way we can live a more sustainable future. Environmental issues have always interested me, thanks to my mother working at Air Pollution Control District (APCD) and my father at the Department for Environmental Protection (DEP) in Frankfort. The ability to make changes in our growth to pollute less and be more environmentally friendly is important to me, no matter how small it may seem.
I have always been mildly interested in politics, and politics and planning work well together. It is important to know politics and policy-making when planning something. Political actions may hinder or interfere with the process of planning, as politicians may have different ideas than planners. Other political actions that may hinder planning is the poor implementation of projects, loss of resources, biases, and unnecessary lengthening of the planning process (Levy). This part played a small role in my overall decision.
I believe that a goal in everyone’s life should be to make the world a better place than you found it. This is why my drive to make the world a better place has led me to urban planning, which I believe is possible with a career in urban planning. Sure, it isn’t saving lives like a doctor, but If I can do one thing that can help one person, then I have succeeded.
Akimoto, Fukuo. “The Birth of ‘Land Use Planning’ in American Urban Planning.” Planning Perspectives, Volume 24, No. 4, October 2009, Pp 2, 3, 5. Ebsco, October 1, 2009, http://web.a.ebscohost.com.proxy.kyvl.org/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=7&sid=bf85d743-1ff9-4a9d-b363-ff1c4f4d5ff0%40sessionmgr4007
American Planning Association. American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP), 2016 Salary Survey, 2016, https://www.planning.org/aicp/.
“Collegiate Schools of Planning.” Guide to Undergraduate and Graduate Education in Urban and Regional Planning, 20th Edition, 2014, http://c.ymcdn.com/sites/www.acsp.org/resource/collection/6CFCF359-2FDA-4EA0-AEFA-D7901C55E19C/2014_20th_Edition_ACSP_Guide.pdf Pp V, 1-9 229-231
“Guide to Graduate Urban Planning Programs.” Top Schools for Urban Planners, 5th Edition, 2017, https://www.planetizen.com/store/books/graduate-guide
Levy, John. Contemporary Urban Planning, 11th Edition, Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, 2017, Pp 1-10, Google Books preview. https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=ezMlDwAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PP1&dq=contemporary+urban+planning&ots=yiDRXlV1Ea&sig=tWLvP-qD0YBdwO9ENvtghjGQZiY#v=onepage&q&f=false
“Planning Accreditation Board (PAB).” Accredited Planning Programs, March 3, 2017, http://www.planningaccreditationboard.org/.
Tom Reljic et.al. “An Overview of GIS Applications in Landscape Planning.” School of Landscape Architecture review, 2017, pp 1, 3. Ebsco, http://web.b.ebscohost.com.proxy.kyvl.org/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=0&sid=c377b191-c7c6-4ac8-9b34-608b9cc9c3f4%40sessionmgr104
“Urban and Regional Planners.” Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, October 24, 2017, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/urban-and-regional-planners.htm.
Seivers, Nicholas AICP. Personal Interview. October 13, 2017.