Becoming a Calvinist: First Semester Wrap-Up

Jeffrey Barg's picture

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.

Most interesting assignment: Site evaluation and market study for a development project. I didn't know this going into it, but my Introduction to Property Development class was an especially fascinating perspective to get in my first semester. Since so many developers view planners as Public Enemy No. 1, it'll probably be useful to understand in detail what developers do and why they hate us. Sure, a lot of them are culture-killing agents of Lucifer, but they're in a risky business, and God bless anyone who wants to develop in an economic climate like this one. And they're not all bad. "If a tenth of you become low-income housing developers," our professor said to us, "I'll have done my job well."

Most disappointing realization: Appearances count. Remember this classic old Calvin and Hobbes strip?









It's absurd, but it's also not the worst advice in the world. Calvin, always wise beyond his years, was onto something. I came into this semester thinking: Isn't all that superficial? Why should something be more valuable just because it has some useless bell or whistle? But planning is as much about communication as anything. If you can't communicate your idea clearly and cleanly, it doesn't matter how brilliant you are. Our quantitative methods professor would always try to assuage our numerophobia by suggesting it was all about telling a story. We still weren't all that comforted, but she got the point across: If you want people to implement your ideas, those ideas have to be the best looking ones at the party. I used to laugh at Calvin and Hobbes. Now I have a whole box of clear plastic binders.

Most surprisingly interesting assignment: Cohort component analysis. Yeah, it sounds a little like a medical procedure. It's really a deceptively simple way of projecting future population, and it makes a lot more logical sense than just continuing growth trends. You look at how many people die in each age cohort, how many people move in or out of an area, and how many babies each cohort has, and voila, you have a population projection. I was even able to figure out how this works after only a couple hours of bashing my head against a wall. Once I stopped bleeding, I realized how cool it is.

Biggest thing I was unprepared for: Way back in my first Planetizen post at the beginning of the semester, I gallantly asserted that knowing how to do statistics regression was unnecessary. Uh, wrong.

Biggest mistake not to make: Spell Frederick Law Olmsted's name "Olmstead," and planning professors will shoot you in the face.

I guess the second most disappointing realization is that a month's vacation isn't really time off. Especially in this economy, we need to start applying for summer internships, like, yesterday. So that's how I'll be spending my next few weeks.

If you receive a resume in a clear plastic binder, you'll know who it's from.

Jeffrey Barg is an urban planner at the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. He can be reached at [email protected]



As a fellow first semester

As a fellow first semester planning student, I can relate - I also misspelt Olmsted as Olmstead. It also did not go over well with the professor.

Mike Lydon's picture

In the end...

...It really does all come back to Calvin and Hobbes...or Seinfeld.

I suggest you add some heavy card stock for the cover, under the clear binder...irresistible.



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