Ann Forsyth's blog

Ann Forsyth is professor of Urban Planning at Harvard University.
Ann Forsyth's picture
Blogger

Deciding if You Want to be a Planner

Not sure if you want to be a planner? Recently my colleagues and I have received a spate of emails from prospective students around the world wanting to know whether planning is a field they should pursue. Their extensive lists of questions show that this is a pressing issue for them. This entry answers some of the more common questions and aims to help prospective students come to programs with a shorter and more focused set of topics to explore.

Finding a First Job in Planning

Finding a first full-time “real” job in planning seems a daunting task at present. However, cities are growing, infrastructure is being funded, and there will be jobs for planners. The following tips can help one navigate the market.

Be prepared to go to Kansas. By this I mean that there are certain places much loved by young planners—New York, Boston, San Francisco—and these are not the best places to start looking for early planning jobs. Sure they have them. For low pay. Where you’ll find yourself at the very bottom of the totem pole with years of photocopying ahead of you before you make it to the zoning counter.

Recap on Two Years of Advice

Two years ago the Planetizen editors asked me to contribute a monthly blog posting. The first one appeared in February 2007 and I have managed to submit posts monthly for two years. In accepting the assignment, I decided that I needed to have an angle. I write, teach, and practice about the substance of planning so I decided to do something else—provide advice for students on how to enter and succeed in planning programs. Martin Krieger at USC already provided a terrific advice column for doctoral students so I decided to focus on students in professional planning programs.

Skills in Planning: Writing Literature Reviews

Terrorized by the literature is the title of a chapter of Howard Becker’s excellent book, Writing for Social Scientists (1986, Chicago). Whether through terror or misunderstanding, the literature review is one of the areas that students in planning find most confusing. While I have dealt with the literature review briefly in my blog on writing proposals, the tips below provide more detailed advice on how to compose a literature review and how to find important literature in the age of information overload. 

Skills in Planning: The Planning Portfolio

With the return to prominence of physical planning and increasing use of GIS, planning students are becoming interested in developing portfolios of their work. This blog entry provides tips for this process exploring why portfolios are useful, who they are aimed at, and how to design the portfolio. It provides many of the resources needed to design your own!

Skills in Planning: The Time vs. Quality Opportunity Curve

Recently I’ve been writing about skills that planners need—the findings from surveys of employers and the key role or writing in the planning skill set. Skills like writing, graphics, data analysis, and the ability to listen are obviously important. As Ethan Seltzer and Connie Ozawa’s 2002 survey found, however, several more general skills are also key. I reported these in an earlier blog and they include: working well with the public and with colleagues, being a self-starter, being able to finish work on time and on budget, and understanding public needs.

Communication: Online Advice about Writing for Planners

What do planners do? Last month I highlighted the findingsof several surveys of planners aiming to identify core skills for theworkplace. They highlight the importance of skills in communication,information analysis and synthesis, political savvy, and basic workplacecompetencies and attitudes. In all these surveys, however, the ability to writewell is at or near the top.

Defining the Planning Skill Set: Resources for Students

At the beginning of semester students are signing up for classes and planning their degrees. Lately, a question I have been asked quite frequently is which classes will make new planners most employable? Students ask if computer aided design or GIS will be key. However, surveys of planning practitioners show that a far more basic set of skills is important—skills in communication, information analysis and synthesis, political savvy, and basic workplace competencies and attitudes.

Below, I highlight three of these studies from across three decades:

Images for Planning: Free Internet Resources

Visual communication is becoming more sophisticated in planning, however many online image sources are restricted and require payment for use. Others, such as flikr.com and Google Images are extremely useful but have uneven quality and information provided about the images can be difficult to assess. While flckr.com and Google Images will remain a key resource, a number of other online image databases provide more consistent metadata along with free access.

Reflecting on Planning and the Planet: Summer Readings that Help You Think

Lastmonth’s blog outlined how to find books recommended by many planners—important,classic, or accessible.

However,summer is also a time to push your viewpoint a bit further. For those wantingreadings that might push you tothink differently about planning, the following lists are useful startingpoints. (And a note to planners—we need more of these lists reflecting different placesand people and issues!)

Pages