Earlier blogs have explored books and journals for finding out about the basics of planning history. In this blog I add to this by listing a just few of the places it is important to recognize as a planner. It is of course difficult to make such lists but students ask for them with some frequency. Of course, places are one thing and planning processes quite another--and in planning process is very important. Upcoming blogs will deal with plans and processes.
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.
As planners, we try to live the urban lifestyle, minimize our carbon footprint, and even grow our own vegetables. I once saw a colleague wearing a button which read “Riding transit is sexy.” Lose the car, bike or walk to work. Hey, if you’re adventurous, you can even take the bus. But this is easier said than done. I’ve lived in New Haven, Boston, Philadelphia, and now Miami. And as every year passes, I find it more and more challenging to cling to my planning ideals.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.