Last week, I was on a panel speaking to college freshman majoring in architecture (you know, because BCPlanning is for the children) about the field of city planning and what planners do. It was a great discussion talking about the ins and outs of planning and most of the students seemed enthused about what planners and design professionals do for a living. Everyone on the panel was positive about the profession but stressed that we are in a recession so future planners are going to have to be very proactive and creative when finding their own path to their careers.
After the panel was over, I was talking to my colleagues on the panel when one of them said, “Should we really be encouraging theses students to go into planning when there is so much apathy internally in the planning and design world?” Did we do a disservice to these kids by not saying, “Look here kids, you’re first years in planning are going to suck…and that’s even if you find a job, you sorry bastards *insert evil Mr. Burns laugh.*” Now obviously our current opinions have shaped by the recession which has cut back our ability to do progressive planning due to a lack of funding and staff.
But honestly even before the recession I always told my office interns who were being promoted to planners that they have to be extremely patient and that they are going to have to do a lot of grunt work before they work on anything cool. This sounds like good advice for any young professional going into a job but you really have to emphasize it to young planners because planning schools do a bad selling jobs about the reality of being a low level city planner. Now it’s a tough sell, no one wants to discourage students from exploring and finding new avenues of how to do city planning. However it is unfair to sell students on the idealisms of Jane Jacobs and the theories of New Urbanism if they are going to be stuck reviewing permits at a zoning counter for a year or two. Granted being at the zoning counter will make them learn the tough ins and outs of planning but it’s a pretty damn brutal transition from school to work.
The Zoning Counter was prominently featured as one of the rings of hell in Dante’s Inferno
But back to the question, should we encourage student to go into planning? I’m sure in a few years when the economy is back on the upswing my answer as well as my colleagues would be a solid yes. But in the meantime my answer would be a cautious yes. The planning field is diverse enough where someone can literally make up there own path or start their own business. There are no easy paths right now in planning so if anyone plans to make it right now they are going to have make their own way. Good luck.