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

Jeffrey Barg's picture

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.

Outside of the school environment, there are project leaders and bosses and people with the ability to hire and fire you. But in a classroom setting, the instructors are not professors but relatively hands-off professionals simply looking to guide you through the morass of your particular planning problem. On the ground, it's every planner for himself. Think SimCity meets Lord of the Flies.

My group worked on a suburban retrofit plan for a section of Cherry Hill, N.J., known as the Golden Triangle, and a couple late-game hiccups notwithstanding, we emerged all relatively happy and still respecting each other. (I know, boring, right?) The biggest pill in my group was me, gently requesting that everyone follow my handcrafted list of grammar and style rules. (One space after a period, dammit! No serial comma! Grrr!)

Some of the other groups weren't so lucky.

There's the perennial issue of people not doing the work they're supposed to-a problem that came up in nearly every group I spoke with. Tempers flared when one group member disagreed with the approach the others were taking and refused to go along with it. In a couple groups, individual members stopped speaking to each other altogether. And then sometimes team members would just disengage: One classmate told of someone who was constantly Gchatting the whole bloody semester, and didn't pay attention to a thing happening around her.

Kill the pig. Cut her throat. Spill her blood.

Fortunately, we have a summer to work off the angst. Everyone finished their projects, presented to their clients and produced books of their recommendations, even if doing so meant spending consecutive 14-hour days in the windowless basement of our department. Most folks have lined up summer internships-some in Philly, some scattered around the world-and we'll come back in September ready to start new studio projects, where we can learn to hate each other once again.

But even if we are working through the summer, it still feels like vacation since we have our evenings and weekends back-something we haven't seen since starting graduate school. Might have time to go down the shore for the day, cook real meals now and again, maybe even do some reading for pleasure. Anybody got any good book recommendations? I'm scanning my bookshelf, but I just keep coming back to Lord of the Flies.

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



Two spaces!

One space after a period? What? Are you trying to bring about the collapse of the world economy? Are you trying trying to get the ravens to leave the Tower of London and precipitate the fall of the British Crown? This will all happen if we start putting only one space after a period! Please don't destroy the world - put two spaces after every period. Please.

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