It has been two months since I completed my first year of the Master of City Planning at MIT. Returning home to Baltimore, I felt exhausted from the rigors of the program, accomplished because of the mere fact that I completed a year of said program, and enlightened by the many class discussions, projects and experiences that I enjoyed – and not enjoyed – during the school year. I also returned to Baltimore excited about the project that I would work on as a Mayoral Fellow in the Department of Transportation.
On a recent business trip to Australia, I had the opportunity to visit with an interesting group of social planners called The Hornery Institute. Specifically, their charter is “to assist communities in becoming better places to live, learn, work and play.” The Hornery Institute was established in November 2000, in recognition of Lend Lease’s Chairman, Stuart Hornery and his commitment to community and people. To mark his retirement, the shareholders and employees of this great company formed a not-for-profit organization that allowed Hornery and his dedicated, hand-picked staff to continue working on independent projects to make communities more fulfilling.
I am enjoying the last day of my Independent Activities Period (IAP) – the period after winter break in which all students at MIT can take one of many non-credit or for-credit course offerings at MIT, set up a winter externship, or just do nothing. This amounts to six weeks of bliss!
“Did you know that there is a special rule from City Hall to make sure each house has plenty of light and air, Mickey?” the wise frog asked.
“No, I haven’t heard about that.”
“Well, there is. Blue Nose told me about it,” answered Flap Foot, hopping about to limber up his stiffened legs. “It’s is called zoning. It is a good rule, like brushing your teeth, only this rule is for people who build buildings.”
One of the most interesting things that I have learned in school thus far is the history of the urban renewal program. As a budding urban planner, I have often used the term “urban renewal” interchangeably with “urban revitalization” to describe the process of neighborhood improvement via economic and housing development. Regardless of the term I used, I was very clear that revitalization – or renewal – was a catch-22. The implementation of business and housing developments would jumpstart a neighborhood deemed blighted and consequently, only affluent residents could afford to enjoy the amenities of the revitalized neighborhood.
Lastmonth’s blog outlined how to find books recommended by many planners—important,classic, or accessible.
However,summer is also a time to push your viewpoint a bit further. For those wantingreadings that might push you tothink differently about planning, the following lists are useful startingpoints. (And a note to planners—we need more of these lists reflecting different placesand people and issues!)
Randal O’Toole’s recent policy study from the Cato Institute, “Roadmap to Gridlock” is s worthy read for all professional planners, no matter what their ideological or professional stripe. Undoubtedly, most planners probably consider someone who maintains a blog called the “Antiplanner” more of a bomb thrower than a serious policy analyst. But this dismissive attitude throws an awful lot of good work by the road side, and a good example of that is O’Toole’s “Roadmap to Gridlock.”
Many viewers may not fully appreciate movies as a visual story-telling medium, but that fact came home to me dramatically the other night while watching “Juno,” the off beat, smart and funny film that just snagged a best screenplay Oscar. The deliberate use of architecture and public spaces, in particular, was quite effective although you probably won’t find these references in plot summaries or synopses.
The Wacker’s Manual of the Plan of Chicago: Municipal Economy, first written in 1911 as a way to educate Chicago students about the City’s Plan of 1909, provides remarkable insight into America’s diminished socio-cultural ambitions.
Many students choose planning over business school because they want to serve the public and change the world. However, saving the world is a complicated task. What kind of school will prepare you? As in many parts of life there isn’t a simple answer but a few key points can help frame your search. And remember, you don’t need to answer all these questions before you apply—get a good enough list and then investigate them some more once you have real offers.