Jeffrey Barg's blog

Jeffrey Barg is an urban planner at the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. He can be reached at jeffreybarg@gmail.com.
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A Tree Grows in Pigeon Town

I don’t know what it is about New Orleans that makes me wax rhapsodic. But something about the city makes everyday life look poetic.

I returned to the Crescent City last week after having last visited just seven months ago, when a tree planting I participated in was marred by the tragic shooting of a 21-year-old just around the corner in a neighborhood known as Pigeon Town. I knew I had to go back.

Can't Buy Me Love--Or Plan For It

This morning I embarked with three dozen volunteers to plant 10 trees in Pigeon Town, a neighborhood in western New Orleans. The group was completing an eight-hour training on urban greening initiatives, learning everything from pruning methods to how to work with municipalities to find funding for beautification projects—which have been proven to improve everything from real estate values to crime statistics.

The training did not, however, cover what we were supposed to do when we heard gunshots ring out. That we had to improvise.

Trains So Fast They'll Make Mama Proud

To hear my mother tell it, I gave Joe Biden the idea for high-speed rail. Charitable and glowing, yes, but isn’t that what mothers are for? 

All the same, I can’t help but glow a bit anyway when I think about how far we’ve come as a country in embracing high-speed rail. 

I Am Not a Monkey, and Other Lessons From Planning School

Tomorrow morning, I'll don a long black robe, a funny-looking hat and an atrocious brown hood to cap off an adventuresome journey through planning school. Almost two years ago, I decided to leave a healthy career in journalism to enter a field that, by contrast, might still have careers a decade from now. It's been 21 months of angst, overwork, undersleep, and hours-long battles with American FactFinder. And it's been completely, totally worth it.

Here are a few of the best lessons learned from two hard-fought years of planning education.

I Like the Choo-Choos That Go Fast

These days, I have more in common with my nephew Sam than just about anyone else. He just turned 3.

Sam is a train fanatic. Sure, he loves the children’s classics—Thomas the Tank Engine, the Polar Express—but he can also tell you about the Eurostar and the Shinkansen. His recent first ride on Amtrak was like his locomotive bar mitzvah: Today, I am a passenger.

I’ve spent all semester working on a studio project making the case for true high-speed rail in the Northeast megaregion. I picked the studio because, like Sam, I’m thrilled by trains, but an added perk is that every time I come with some new picture or factoid about the big, fast choo-choos, I move up a notch in the running for Uncle of the Year.

Ferris Bueller: My Kind of City Planner

“Not that I condone fascism, or any -ism for that matter: -isms in my opinion are not good. A person should not believe in an -ism; he should believe in himself. I quote John Lennon: ‘I don’t believe in Beatles, I just believe in me.’ A good point there. After all, he was the walrus. I could be the walrus. I'd still have to bum rides off of people.”
—Ferris Bueller

Class Conscience: When Is Clean-Slate Planning Okay?

My classmate was up in front of everyone, flapping and flailing, pleading his case and getting shot down at every turn. It was a bit like watching a train wreck in slow motion.

It was also kind of like looking in the mirror.

I’m just more than halfway through a planning school studio project working on the beautiful (no, really) Lower Schuylkill River in Philadelphia. They’ve teamed up about 15 planner/urban designers with about 45 landscape architects, who, as I mentioned last time, are reasonably bonkers. That was about a month and a half ago; since then, I’ve begun to think maybe I’m the one needing a room with padded walls.

Ow! That hurt! Or: The Start of Planning School, Year Two

Forgive me Olmsted, for I have sinned. I have strayed. I have coveted. I have had doubts.

I have thought about kicking urban design to the curb like a mangy puppy.

Working in Planning? Quit Your Job!

It’s Thursday! Sounds like a perfect day to quit your job.

Stuck in the doldrums of office work? Itching to get outside as summer rolls around and the blue skies start looking more and more appealing? There’s never been a better time to pack up and leave, planners. Do it. Quit today.

Graduate School or Fight Club?: Finishing Up the First Year

Last week marked the end of my first year of planning school. It’s been by turns enlightening, angst-ridden, sleep-deprived, soul-baringly revelatory, stimulating and intellectually crushing.

The bulk of the second semester is occupied by a first-year workshop—kind of a studio with training wheels—in which groups are assigned a client for whom they do a site analysis, come up with alternative solutions and then suggest a final plan and way to implement that plan. You know, kind of like in the real world.

And, like in the real world, sometimes folks don’t always get along as well as they should.

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