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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Drawing Blanks: Urban Design and the Power of the Pen

With just two weeks to go in my second semester, I like to think that I know just about everything about being a planning student by now. But when 100+ prospective students came to our campus open house last week, an easy question stumped me:

“What about drawing?”

At first I thought she was asking if she needed to have an art background coming into school. A thousand times, no. But instead she was looking to learn how to draw as a planner, which is a much trickier proposition.

When The Planners Go Marching In

There’s just one problem with academia. Sometimes it can be so … academic.

In the interest of getting out into the world, I’m writing this post from Nawlins (nee New Orleans), where 16 other Penn planners and I are spending our weeklong spring break doffing our tops for beads and booze doing pro bono city planning work. For most of us, it’s been nothing short of a paradigm shift—and the week ain’t over yet.

“Who Am I?” And Other Very Practical Questions

From the first day of the semester, I could tell my Urban Design Methods course was going to be different from the others I've taken in planning school so far.

“Call me at home. I’m up till midnight,” the professor told us. I’m not up till midnight.

He asks us questions like, “What is your design identity?” “What three adjectives describe you as a designer?” “Who are you?” It makes grad school feel kind of like therapy. Really, really expensive therapy.

New Jersey: It’s Like Ohio, But Even More So

The second semester in planning school at Penn is defined by a major project in which students are broken into groups, given a problem region, and tasked with, in the space of three months, coming up with a plan comparable to what professionals do in 12 to 18 months. Over those three months, the students get intimate with their designated locale, exploring every nook, cranny and underused land parcel.

Helloooooooooo, Cherry Hill, New Jersey.

There’s an old John Gorka song called “I’m From New Jersey.” It goes, “I’m from New Jersey/ It’s like Ohio/ But even more so/ Imagine that.” I’d bet good green cash he was driving down Route 70 when he wrote that.

Anybody For Some Duck Duck Goose?: Planning School, Semester Two Begins

On Friday, in the first week of my second semester of planning graduate school, we did the hokey-pokey. We put our right foot in, put our right foot out, put our right foot in, and then we shook it all about. We turned ourselves around. That was what it was all about.

The demonstration was all about pointing out common ground and how people were rooted in order to approach problem solving and conflict resolution. It sounds a little squishy, I know. But it got the point across, and more important, it introduced the dance to one international student who had never heard of the hokey-pokey.

Becoming a Calvinist: First Semester Wrap-Up

Four months, thousands of pages and $60 worth of printing later, my first semester of planning school is over.

Really? That’s it?

Not that I was understimulated. Plenty of big assignments kept me up later than my girlfriend would’ve liked. But in the working world, four months isn’t that long—it’s a big project, a new initiative. In grad school, apparently, it’s reason enough to take a month off.

So without any further ado, a few highlights and lowlights from the first semester. Not too many lowlights, though. A few of my professors read this blog.

Grad School: Like a Conference, but With Less Sex

Most of the time it’s not that hard to kind of forget that I’m a grad student. It often feels like a long, ongoing conference, but without nametags: We hear speakers (sometimes known as professors), have long lunch breaks, do exercises, then retire to the bar at night to talk about all of it.

More similarities: None of our classrooms would be mistaken for hotel conference centers, but a bunch of them are windowless and characterless. People are cordial, but also kind of angling for a job. Everybody’s friendly, and sometimes, people hook up.

Then reality comes crashing down like a pile of books: oh yeah. Exams. We have to take those.

Urban Design After The Age of Depression

Hey, have you heard we’re all screwed?

Last week Penn hosted the “Reimagining Cities: Urban Design After the Age of Oil” conference. If you were there, or if you read the liveblog of the event, you saw speaker after speaker tell of the doom and gloom facing the planet. Climate change! Carbon emissions! Decaying infrastructure! Nine billion people! In the words of the classical philosopher Shawn Carter, we got 99 problems, but a bitch ain’t one.

Frankly, it’s all a little depressing.

Championship City

The following post will likely result in the revocation of my Philadelphia residency.

It’s heretical to say, especially on a day when the city is on fire (not literally; okay, mostly not literally) with excitement. But the city planner in me almost wishes the Phillies hadn’t won last night.

Of course I wanted them to win the World Series. Twenty-five years is a long time for any city—let alone a four-sport city—to wait for a championship, and it’s definitely Philadelphia’s time. I’m thrilled to pieces they pulled it out.

A Vote for the City

The answer is: “Because people today would rather not work and instead just sit at home collecting welfare checks.”

And the question? If you guessed, “What should you not say in a room full of city planning students?”, congratulations! You win. We would have also accepted, “FDR began a ton of new federal programs during the New Deal. As long as we have a $700 billion financial bailout, what programs would you enact or not enact as part of a New Deal today?” Thanks for playing. We have some lovely parting gifts for you.

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