Become an Urban Planner Now

Do you remember exactly when you wanted to become an urban planner? Neither do I.

June 28, 2016, 11:00 AM PDT

By Pete Sullivan

Public Hearing

Have you ever wanted to make a difference in your community? Consider stepping into a career in urban planning. | Maryland GovPics / Flickr

For those considering a career in urban planning, don’t wait for lightning to strike, suddenly sending you down the non-motorized path toward urban planning. Waiting for this moment only delays the most effective way to know if the planning shoe fits: Just try it.

One reason it is important not to wait on planning is that by the time most of us learn about our field it’s relatively late in the career game. As I wrote in an earlier article, "Teaching Urban Planning to Pre-Schoolers," the profession of urban planning struggles with an awareness gap. From a young age, children read books and watch videos about doctors, builders, chefs, mechanics, pilots, and businesspeople. But not urban planners. It’s unfortunate because the concept of urban planning does not have a minimum age requirement. Kids understand the meaning of putting the right things in the right place, and that’s what planners do.

But the awareness gap is understandable. I don’t expect non-planners to know what planners really do. I knew planners wanted to make better places, but even in my second year of graduate school I still didn’t really know what planners actually did inside the office. Planning is thankless at times, and grinding through staff reports to meet processing deadlines takes a certain journalist's grit. So why expect someone to convey this as a career choice for young people or feature public meetings on a TV show? (Thank you, Parks and Recreation, for curbing this trend.)

Greg Gayne/NBC | 2014 NBCUniversal Media, LLC

Because most of us do not learn about urban planning until high school or college, other traditional professions have at least a decade head start competing for our intellectual interest. This leaves less time to consider planning before needing to make early career decisions like choosing a college, picking an academic major, pursuing an internship, or some other post-high school endeavor. If you feel even the slightest pull toward planning, it may be wise to follow it now.

Next up: Suggestions on how to follow this path.

Pete Sullivan

Pete Sullivan, AICP, is a Senior Development Services Manager in Durham, North Carolina.

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