Working in Planning? Quit Your Job!

Jeffrey Barg's picture

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.

Don't do it for my sake. Just a month ago, I finished my first year of a two-year city planning program, so my classmates and I won't be looking for full-time jobs for another year or so. Right now we're all ensconced in our summer internships, where we attend public meetings, give input on projects our employers are working on, and in one person's case, learn how to avoid being eaten by wild bears. (She's interning in Homer, Alaska.) As long as we don't call in sick every Friday, we should remain gainfully, interningly employed through the end of the summer, at which point we'll return to campus and get to start paying tuition again.

But last night, at one of those public meetings that interns are wont to attend (the promise of free soft pretzels and soda can make us show up just about anywhere), I talked with a couple of friends who just graduated last month. All of them great, nice, talented people. None of them with jobs.

Help a brotha out, would you? Quit hogging all the employment.

Why do you think they were at the public meeting in the first place? Because they're interested and engaged and concerned with all things planning-related in the city. Uh, no. Did I mention the free pretzels?

Ignore reports of skyrocketing unemployment and economic doldrums. Go start a vegetable garden. Write that novel that's been kicking around in your head since college. Best of all, make yourself doubly useful by starting your own firm at which you need to hire some new (cheap!) labor.

No time like the present, planners. Fire off that resignation letter.

Remember, it's not for me or my classmates. We're fine with the Xeroxing, the grunt work, the "funny" pranks. It's for those hapless recent grads who could use a break. A couple have found jobs, but the vast majority are still looking, or are working unpaid, or are taking up in non-planning-related fields. After a couple years in grad school, some are back where they started. Smarter, but back where they started. Most of the time, you can look at the sunny city planning headlines and feel all chipper about the state of the field. But as these grads are quickly learning, chipper don't pay the rent.

If they don't find jobs soon, we'll be competing with them a year from now once we graduate. And nobody wants that.

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



What an unnerving column!

What an unnerving column! As a prospective planning student, this has me questioning whether grad school is a smart move. I thought planning was a very high-growth potential field (even in this economy), and Penn is certainly one of the top programs. I hope this anecdotal evidence isn't representative of most new PennDesign graduates.

Whatever gave you the idea that city planning...

Whatever gave you the idea that city planning was a very high-growth field...? In the current economy one of the first things to go are municipal planner jobs, which whether you agree or not, unlike fire, police, etc., are seen by many as "non-essential." (Municipal planning departments are probably the biggest employer of planners). Petaluma, California, for example, a town once known for its progressive planning, recently disbanded its entire planning department; I think that you may see more of that in the near future. Please be advised that planning, as professions go, is also relatively low-paying.

Moreover, many public sector job listings (in places like Planetizen, the APA website, Craigslist, or even your local newspaper) are bogus; the reason for this is that public agencies are often required to publicly advertise all open positions, while in reality they already have someone in mind within the organization to promote to that position. A tip off is if the advertised job description is so specific that it was probably tailored around one person’s resume. (I know, because I was the beneficiary of such an arrangement at a large public agency in NY I once worked for.)

The "Friday Funny" was probably just that, though perhaps written by a slightly insensitive trust-fund kid who likely never had work for anything and perhaps never will. A few of my classmates in grad school were in similar circumstance; if the job market didn't work out for them, well they'd just head off to Ibiza or Mikonos or Phuket. Like they say... life ain't fair.

Don't forget the golden rule! you needy, job-hopping, twitters..

I agree wholeheartedly that we need to create entry-level positions at our major planning related organizations, especially as the Pre-Boomers continue to retire and then when the large cohort of the Babyboomers retire.

However, your comments will come across as caustic to many Babyboomers (and older generations ). Remember these are people who grew up in the 40s, 50s and 60s who value conformity, respect and ‘paying your dues’. You might consider the golden rule and treat people the way you’d like to be treated. They don't want to be told to do anything from a punk like you!

And your comments might really ‘hit home’ since many of them have suffered financially in the recent past. Maybe they are still working to pay for the outrageously high tuition for their own children, or have to continue to work due to poor retirement account performance or some other family situation such as divorce, or worse a sick spouse.

And if you think it is hard to go to work on a Monday morning when you are in your late 20s wait till you are in your late 50s.

Also, I am sorry to report that even before this most recent recession, Gen Yers have started developing a very bad reputation in the current work force. Let me review the some of the common perceptions (or misperceptions) I have heard:

First, they are seen as high-maintenance employees, maybe due to growing up in the ‘everybody gets trophy’ society. Managers feels that they require a lot more direction and attention than other generations, but then they are brash enough to indicate that ‘I don’t do that kind of work’ even if it is a normal duty of the position (and they are summer students or interns). Needy

Second, they are perceived to want instant, individualized feedback all the time. And they don't repay to that special attention with loyalty because they are thought to have a short attention span, and are constantly looking for a promotion or a better job and won’t stay in one position for any length of time. Job-hopping

Thirdly, right or wrong, it is perceived that Gen Yers spend entirely too much time playing with their cell phones and surfing the web (on facebook, twitter, or whatever) while at work, but aren’t willing to help their older colleagues with help in these 'confounded machines', and although they are very technically competent, they don’t even seem to want to help un-stick a printer jam or even re-fill the paper tray. Twitters

Living in a Glass House, Are We?


The only thing caustic on this page is your response to Jeffrey Barg’s obviously tongue-in-cheek post. While your comments regarding Gen-Y workers may have a grain of truth, I find it bit ironic that a Baby Boomer (presumably) would dare criticize any generation, given his own.

The boomer generation has been at the helm through countless disasters. They’ve sat by whining and moaning about taxes while sending government spending through the roof. On their watch, we’ve gone from the largest creditor nation to the largest debtor nation, with China now the single largest holder of U.S. Treasuries.

The boomer generation, growing up during one of the brightest spots in American history began the trend of spending more than you earn, both as a society and on a personal level. They then, of course, passed this wonderful habit onto their children, the Gen X and Gen Y’ers you seem that they seem to have so much of a problem with. Because they came of age in a time of such unprecedented prosperity they convinced themselves that their good fortune was entirely their own doing and in no way related to the sacrifices of those who came before them. Given this good fortune combined with their own arrogance, the boomers quickly gravitated toward the right-wing politics of Ronald Regan and George W. Bush, complete with the accompanying utter disdain and lack of concern for those worse off than themselves and the abdication of any responsibility to society as a whole.

You’re mention of “paying dues” is laughable considering boomers entered the workforce at a time when you could still land a lot of middle class jobs without a college degree, and if you did have a college degree, well jobs were waiting for you. Oh, and you weren’t saddled with obscene amounts of debt when you graduated. Generation Y is the one paying dues, starting out our adult lives at a time when we’re in the midst of two wars with no end in sight, competition with India and China for jobs, the largest economic downturn in 80 years and a trail of destruction left behind the previous president who coincidently, was one of only two boomer presidents. The other will be remembered as wholly unremarkable, save for the public spectacle surrounding his bedroom antics.

I'll be the first to admit that we Gen Y'ers have our flaws, but next time you boomers decide to deride Gen Y, Gen X, or anyone else for that matter, take a second and look at yourselves and the world your generation has created.

Good points


I thank you for pointing some of the historical advantages that the Boomers have had and pointing out part of the negative legacy they are leaving behind. This is an important yet highly sensitive topic. In fact, I almost wrote my comments from that point of view, but decide to be 'caustic' as a response to the Gen-Y author,with whom I have much sympathy (although I don't know this person). He did come across tongue-and-cheek to my ears, but not, I think to his older colleagues. The point is that each generation has its values, beliefs, etc, and we can sometimes inadvertently get our signals crossed and cause unintentional fires.

Ultimately, we (all generations) are in this together, and we have a lot of work to do. Part of the frustration I sense from the planning community is that the planning process that we shepherd as professional deserves more attention, and that too often it can be derailed by the politics of the day and the political need to get elected tomorrow.

And for the record, I am a Gen-Xer. A latch-key kid born in the seventies who is stuck at work forced to contribute to endless boomers retirement parties (of well paid professionals) who will mostly walk out the door without sharing their knowledge in an environment where entry-level jobs seem to have been cut to keep the payroll rolling for the greying staff, talk about un-sustainable!

jprice is correct

jprice is right on the money. I have my own consulting business and I would not hire a new grad for the same reasons. Their sense of entitlement is staggering. I would have starved rather than sponge off my parents and I entered the planning workforce when a job requiring a masters degree paid about 15K, My advice...get rid of the piercings and stupid tattoos, put on some decent clothes, unplug and be willing to accept the fact that when you are in an entry level job, there will be people telling you what to do. They are called "your boss".

Come to Asia!! jobs in middle east, china, india, singapore, etc

Well, it is time for planners to explore beyond your comfort areas.

I'm from Singapore, working on projects in china and middle east and have been in vietnam for the last 2 years. If there is a need for planners, it is in Asia.

Try to find some internship before you make the big move. If you like travelling, there's much to explore in this part of the world.

Transport planners, environmental planners and economic planners are most sought after. Time to shoot that resume!

The real question- is a Master's Degree necessay?

Perhaps the enormous costs borne by newbies in the field would be more reasonable if they decide to get into planning during under-grad years. This widespread notion that you have to get a bachelor's and THEN decide what your career will be seems misguided to me. And how much of parents' (or one's own) money is spent in this 6-year approach?

And do employers really get a better new employee when comparing a person with a bachelor's degree who has focused their efforts on a career choice and wanting to "get to it" ASAP to one with a master's who's been in the academic bubble for 2 more years? Perhaps the real reason that internships for those in master's programs are pretty much required is so are forced to get an exposure to reality before getting hired. The cynic in me suspects that in some cases, the required internships were created to remind arrogant students that they do have to pay some dues.

As to the value of a masters degree--I am reminded of an incident at a restaurant near Cal Tech. During spring visitation of prospective students, one obnoxious guy (very taken with his academic prowess at an early age) was foolish enough to brag "I have a masters in X" and the room erupted into laughter. The guy was otally flummoxed, until someone finally explained that at CalTech, even the lowest-level lab techs typically have masters' degrees. Perhaps the lesson to be learned: education is always good, but don't assume education alone makes you THAT special. In a competitive environment, be it the rarified academic world at Cal Tech or today's market place, what is going to make you stand out?

Insensitivity A-/Cluelessness A+

Dear Mr. Barg,
Apparently the construction and planning industry is doing quite well in your state, but in many other areas of the nation there is a bit of a economic crisis underway. As a result, many planners with decades of experience have received, or will receive, lay off notices. Your attempt at making a light hearted joke of planners quitting their jobs to enjoy a day of sunshine is charming.

No doubt your blog has endeared you to experienced planners nationwide. Good luck with your interviews when you graduate ; )

Is it just me?

I hope everyone hasn't forgotten their sense of humor. Jeffrey, I thought your post was meant to be satirical, and it was. Unfortunately, I hope this isn't the case. I just finished my first year of two in a program for regional planning and my main worry is all the student loans. I think I'll have to come to grips with being poor for about ten years before I graduate!

Brand new! Urban Grid City Collection

Each city has its own unique story. Commemorate where you came from or where you want to go.
Grids and Guide Red book cover

Grids & Guides

A notebook for visual thinkers. Available in red and black.
Book cover of Unsprawl

Unsprawl: Remixing Spaces as Places

Explore visionary, controversial and ultimately successful strategies for building people-centered places.
Starting at $12.95
Melissa and Doug Town Blocks Wooden Play Set

Block play meets role play

New! Town block set from Melissa and Doug Toys